2012: Woodside vs. Bethel

2012: Woodside vs. Bethel (Rob Ostermaier, Daily Press / November 3, 2011)

Five weeks … can you believe it?

That's how much time is left before the high school football season officially kicks off. And unlike last year, we won't have to put up with those stupid political ads in the meantime. (Wait … we have a governor's race here … never mind).

There are several interesting pegs, like some change of addresses (Marshawn Williams from Hampton to Phoebus), three new coaches (Brandon Kelley at Gloucester, Bernard Griffin at Warwick, Glenn Tidwell at Menchville), and a different playoff system (thank you, VHSL) that will no longer have Hampton and Phoebus in the same division.

Speaking of the Phantoms … for the first time since 2008, they are not the defending champion. They are, however, the clear favorite in the district — which, despite the VHSL's realignment, remains intact.

Whether the PD will produce another state championship remains TBD. But with the start of a new season only five weeks away, here are five games that should be fun viewing.

Aug. 24: Phoebus vs. DeMatha (Virginia Beach Sportsplex)

The Phantoms had to get permission from the VHSL to play earlier than the official start date, but they feel it's worth it. Phoebus tried to play a national opponent last year but couldn't get out of its contract with Churchland.

DeMatha, coached by former William and Mary running back Elijah Brooks, expects to return 18 starters from last year's 9-3 team. The Phantoms are coming off a 12-1 season that ended with a 54-0 loss to Lake Taylor, their worst since 1976.

It will be the first time a PD team has played an out-of-state school since 1998, when Hampton went against Northeastern in Elizabeth City, N.C.

Aug. 29: Denbigh at Tabb (Bailey Field)

One of the good things about reclassification is that it allows something like this. The Patriots and Tigers both ended up as Division 4 schools, so they can play each other without one being penalized for playing down.

This will be the first time teams from the PD and Bay Rivers have played against each other since the 1989 season. In '88, this area was treated to one of its greatest games ever when Tabb beat Hampton 10-7 behind Terry Kirby's 187 yards.

The Patriots are coming off a 2-8 season in which they had only six seniors. With the expected returns of quarterback Terrence Dingle and others, Denbigh could be one of the Peninsula District's most-improved teams.

Sept. 6: Western Branch vs. Bethel (Darling Stadium)

No doubt, the Bruins carried some bitter feelings into the offseason over how 2012 ended for them.

In the quarterfinal round of the Eastern Region playoffs, Bethel took a 21-20 lead over Western with 5:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. But Brady Schomburg's 30-yard field goal with 46 seconds left gave Western Branch — which had four turnovers — a 23-21 win.

The teams will have a different look. Western is without workhorse back Josh Marriner, who is now at Connecticut. Bethel lost 20 seniors but returns highly recruited lineman Ricky Walker — and don't be surprised to see him catch some passes as a tight end.

Sept. 20: Woodside vs. Bethel (Darling Stadium)

With Hampton the likely No. 2 pick in pre-season, the Wolverines and Bruins figure to be third and fourth — one way or another. This game could wind up particularly significant when the Class 6A (gonna take a while to get used to that) playoffs roll around.

The last two games between these teams were pretty one-sided (45-19 Bethel in 2012; 30-20 Woodside in '11). But the three before that were anything but routine with scores of 30-27 (Woodside, in overtime), 67-35 (Woodside) and 38-35 (Bethel at the gun).

Sept. 27: Hampton vs. Phoebus (Darling Stadium)

For the first time since at least the late 1990s, this game — which, by the way, is in dire need of a cool nickname, like maybe "The Neighborhood Brawl" — will be played in September. It'll be the fifth game for each team.

It will be the 46th game of the series, which began in 1976. The Crabbers have won twice as many (30-15), but the Phantoms have taken eight of the last nine.

An intriguing sidebar: Williams, the Crabbers' leading rusher the past two seasons, is now a Phantom. So is Joe Addison, the Crabbers' backup quarterback last season.