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November 18, 2013

Friday Night Lights Rewind

Virginia's two five-star commits, Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown, went head to head on Friday night in what was a big weekend for Cavalier targets, as Blanding's Bayside squad traveled to Chesapeake to face Oscar Smith in the first round of the VHSL 6A South Playoffs.

The two friends did not meet on the gridiron in the regular season and took different paths to reach this game. Brown and Oscar Smith have been simply dominant, after opening up the season with a big win over a great Lake Taylor team on national television. On offense, the Tigers have lit up the scoreboard, throwing the ball all over the field and leaving opposing secondaries struggling to find answers. On defense, Brown has led a stiff defensive line that has dominated the opposition and given up very few points all year long. Smith entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in its region and following a 35-0 win over the Marlins looks like co-favorites, along with fellow undefeated squad Ocean Lakes, to make it to the State Championship in Charlottesville in December.

Blanding and Bayside had a much harder time getting into the postseason. Early in the season, the Marlins' defense kept them in games when their offense seemed to be finding their way. After losing their starting quarterback and five-star running back Taquan Mizzell to graduation as well as their coach to retirement, there was a lot of "new" at Bayside this season. The Marlins were able to shake off a rough start and rally to make the post-season, mostly on the back of the future Cavalier safety. Blanding got more and more carries on the offensive end via a Wildcat package and it helped them string together some late-season wins, finish 6-4, and qualify for the playoffs.

In the end, it wasn't really a fair fight on Friday night. Oscar Smith rolled to the shutout victory and advanced to the next round. Both Blanding and Brown played well in the game, but for the former, his high school career is over. Blanding and Bayside's run to the playoffs is to be commended, considering the amount of youth they have on their roster. The Marlins made the playoffs in all four of Blanding's high school seasons, not a small accomplishment considering the high level of competition in the region.

Because of Virginia's on-field struggles this season, many have speculated as to the status of UVa's two five star commits. It is difficult for any team to have that type of success with high-end talent in the same recruiting class, and UVa is one of only two schools, along with Alabama, to have two top ten players nationally committed for the 2014 cycle. With UVa dropping seven straight games and heading into this weekend's matchup with Miami at 2-8, it is understandable that people could think that could cause these two blue-chippers to reconsider their futures.

But after the game, both Blanding and Brown were quick to put an end to any speculation. The UVa commits told CavsCorner that they are both totally on board with the Cavaliers and are excited to start their college careers. That is great news for head coach Mike London, who was in attendance Friday night with assistants Vincent Brown and Chip West.

Next up, Brown and the Tigers will host Grassfield in the second round. Oscar Smith blew out Grassfield 42-0 back in October and will again be the heavy favorites to move on and get one step closer to the state title game.

That game was certainly not the only big one this weekend for UVa targets in the 757, as four-star wide receiver Jamil Kamara and Bishop Sullivan Catholic capped a dream season on Saturday night, beating Potomac 50-44 to win the VISAA Division II State Championship.

The Crusaders finished the season a perfect 12-0, winning the title for the first time in school history. Kamara was as great in the final game as he was all season. The talented playmaker caught three touchdowns, of 26, 53 and 33 yards, and had well over 100 yards in the victory. With the game tied at 44-44, Kamara made a huge catch that kept his team's drive alive and led to the game-winning score late.

It was an epic season and a thrilling championship win for the Crusaders. All season long, their offense was tough to stop, as Kamara formed a strong tandem with quarterback Blake LaRussa. The Crusaders' quarterback totaled 53 passing touchdowns and 3,794 yards in an impressive campaign, and came up huge in the final contest, throwing for 233 yards and scoring five total touchdowns. Kamara had a big hand in that success. Although he missed one game with an injury, the senior wideout still caught 70 passes for 1,400 yards and 24 touchdowns. Kamara began his high school career at Princess Anne, and transferred to raise his game and play at a higher level. That move paid off, and now he is a state champion.

The star receiver is the biggest remaining target for the Cavaliers' 2014 recruiting class. Long considered the runaway favorite for Kamara, UVa has some stiff competition now. He has taken official visits to Michigan State and Wisconsin already, and is planning trips to Pittsburgh and South Carolina before wrapping up the process and announcing at the U.S. Army All-American game in January. Before that, Kamara will also participate in the Chesapeake Bowl, and plans to make a trip back to Charlottesville as well. UVa is hoping that the four-star playmakers' long-term friendships with future Cavaliers like Blanding, Brown, and especially Corwin Cutler will pay off, and help lead him to Charlottesville. The Wahoos certainly need an injection of talent on the offensive end and the late addition of Kamara will be big for whomever is under center for London's team next year.

Away from the Commonwealth, another UVa commit had a huge night on Friday.

One couldn't have scripted a better senior season for running back commit Jordan Ellis. Carrying the load for Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Ga., Ellis led the Lions to the postseason following a disappointing 4-6 season a year ago. Peachtree Ridge features several other future college players and plays in the highest classification of Georgia's high school football system. That makes the future Cavalier's success even more impressive.

In their playoff opener, Ellis came up huge in a 59-20 blowout victory over Lassiter. In a game that was back and forth early, Ellis put up quite a the first half, helping the Lions get out to a 38-20 halftime lead. The future Virginia running back rushed for four touchdowns on 250 yards in the first two quarters alone. His third touchdown run of the night was his longest, going for 78 yards. Ellis finished the game with 23 carries for 262 yards and six touchdowns, and only played until midway through the third quarter, when Peachtree Ridge inserted its backups. Those six touchdowns set a school record, breaking Ellis' previous mark of five scores.

For a player with a two-star rating, Ellis has certainly turned some heads in his senior season and may be one of the nation's most underrated running backs. For the year, Ellis is near 1,500 yards rushing and has more than 25 touchdowns in just 11 games. Next up, Peachtree Ridge will travel to Dacula in the next round of the daunting Class-AAAAAA Georgia playoffs. Although UVa already has some talented players at the running back position, Wahoo fans should be excited about what Ellis will bring to Charlottesville in the fall. But the ride isn't over yet for the Peachtree Ridge star.



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