James Wood to tackle Heritage in first playoff game since 2014

The James Wood High School football players are in uncharted territory tonight as the Colonels travel to Heritage in the Region 4C quarterfinals.
James Wood hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2014 and the Colonels haven’t won a postseason game since 2009.
Coach Ryan Morgan doesn’t believe that the moment will overwhelm his squad (7-3), which finished third in the Class 4 Northwestern District.
“Hopefully our program has been kind of building up to this the last few years,” Morgan said via telephone this week. “This is the expectation — that we should be in the playoffs and that we should be playing later into November.
“I think this is another step for the kids. They came up having some confidence based on the past few teams that we’ve had and that we’re getting better. It’s time for them to get into the playoffs and to get a chance to see what they can do on a little bit bigger of a stage.”
The Colonels face a Heritage (8-2) squad that got off to a blazing 6-0 start which included a 32-27 over 2019 state runner-up Tuscarora and a season-opening 28-25 win over Northwestern District champion Kettle Run. The Pride finished in a three-way tie for second place in the tough Dulles District, but earned the second seed in the region based on power rankings.
“Heritage kind of reminds me of Kettle Run, not necessarily in their style of play, but they seem to be a solid team all-around,” Morgan said. “They have a good offensive line, a solid quarterback and running back. They’re well-coached on defense. They don’t allow a ton of big plays.”
The Pride is led by quarterback Braden Smith, who has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Sean Robinson delivers some thump at running back and receivers Kyle Alt, Deshawn Allen, Junior Darko and Omari Cornwall all can beat you deep.
“He’s a good all-around athlete,” Morgan said of Smith, who is excellent at buying time in the pocket for his receivers to get open and scrambling when necessary. “He can throw the ball and he’s a good runner. They’ll use him a little bit, especially when they go under center, on some naked bootleg rushing attempts. If he’s back there in shotgun, he can keep the ball or if he gets out of the pocket or we don’t stay in our rush lanes he can get upfield pretty quickly.”
The Colonels got a pretty good idea what it takes to slow down Heritage last week as Loudoun County picked off Smith three times in a 21-7 victory.
“It’s good when you have somebody on film who can give you a little bit of a blueprint on how they were successful against that team,” Morgan said. “Loudoun County has a good team and different personnel than we do and you can’t just copy everything that they do. They can give you some ideas, not only what you can do against them, but what types of things Heritage might try to do to certain alignments of ours that might be similar. That was a good game to watch.”
Morgan says the Colonels must get some pressure on Smith. Caleb Keefer (8 sacks) and Brendan Cassidy (7.5) have been the top pass rushers, while Ryan King (6 interceptions) and Jaden Ashby (4) have been ball hawks in the secondary.
“They have so many athletes at the skills positions that if we don’t put pressure on him then one of those guys is going to break free, whether it’s underneath or deep,” Morgan said. “You can’t let [Smith] sit back there and pick us apart because it’s tough to cover anybody six or seven seconds let alone with the three or four receivers that they have.”
Like Heritage, the Colonels will try to rebound from a loss in their regular-season finale. James Wood was tied with Handley through three quarters before the Judges pulled away to a 26-14 triumph.
“I think our kids will bounce back pretty well,” Morgan said. “It was definitely a frustrating loss, but we were going toe-to-toe with Handley until late in the fourth quarter.”
Morgan believes that type of hard-hitting game with lots of fanfare will help the Colonels be ready for tonight’s clash.
Ashby set a school mark with a 99-yard touchdown run in the contest and leads a James Wood offense that is very dangerous, too. The Colonels boast a 1,000-yard rusher in Wes Brondos and Jared Neal has thrown for 16 touchdowns.
“I think they’ve come back ready to play,” Morgan said of his players. “I think they’ve come back excited that we are in the playoffs for the first time in seven years and that we are going to at least play one more week. I think the seniors are proud of what they have accomplished, but are hungry to keep going on later in the postseason.”
Morgan said the key tonight will be discipline on both sides of the ball.
“All of their skill guys are pretty good,” he said of the Pride. “We have to make sure we line up correctly and that we don’t allow big plays or at least limit the big plays over the top.
“When we’re on offense, we think we can move the ball, but we have to get the ball to the right spots. Jared needs to make good decisions at the quarterback position and we as coaches we have to make sure we’re adjusting properly and just taking what they give us.”
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