RICHLANDS, Va. —
By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
RICHLANDS, Va. — Eight wasn’t enough for Richlands.
In the final season of the Southwest District, the Blue Tornado continued its dominance, defeating Tazewell 65-33 on Saturday afternoon at Ernie Hicks Stadium/Emats Field to claim its ninth straight SWD championship.
“I will smile on that one, the ninth one was nice,” Richlands head coach Greg Mance said. “It is hard to win nine games in a season, much less win nine consecutive Southwest District championships.
“That is a credit to our program, to our assistant coaches and these players. They bust their hind end year round and take a lot of pride in wearing that jersey so winning nine in a row is really special.”
Richlands (9-1, 4-0), which hasn’t lost a SWD game since 2007, scored 41 points straight points after falling behind 7-0, and finished with 543 yards, nine touchdowns and a field goal.
Tazewell (2-8, 2-2), which had won two in a row after snapping an 18-game losing streak, came in confident, but Blue Tornado junior linebacker Frank Taylor said his team felt much the same.
“We knew they were hot coming in here and we weren’t going to underestimate them at all because if you underestimate an opponent you will lose,” Taylor said.
That wasn’t a problem in this one, which was an emotional contest with a several personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct calls, including the ejection of Richlands receiver A.J. Johnson, who had been accessed a personal foul earlier and later apparently blew a kiss to the Tazewell crowd during a play along the Bulldogs’ sideline.
Johnson, who had three catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns, is expected to miss at least one game because of the infraction.
“It is unfortunate it happened, it is really going to hurt our football team, but these kids have been resilient all year long,” Mance said. “They have bounced back and found a way to win and we will have to work hard the next two weeks and find a way to get through this first one.”
That ‘first one’ is the playoffs. Richlands earned the top seed in the Region IV, Division 3 postseason and will play either Abingdon or Cave Spring in two weeks. Surprisingly, Tazewell will also keep playing, having earned the final playoff slot, and will travel next Friday to Marion.
“Once we get to the playoffs it is 0-0, it is a new season,” Tazewell head coach Shane Allen said. “With the way we came on in the second half of the season, we’re learning, we’re taking baby steps, we have a long ways to go, but I was thinking maybe we can get in the playoffs and make a good run.”
While Richlands ran for 301 yards — including 211 (and two touchdowns) by Colton Staten — the Blues also took to the air, with Ben Brown throwing for 242 yards and five touchdowns.
Brown, who is the sole starter now that Gray Baker is out with a knee injury, was right on target with all of his 10 completions on this day, including scoring passes for 11 and 16 yards to Todd McGlothlin, 29 and 39 yards to Johnson, and another 3 yards to Eric Johnson.
“I have been concentrating on that a lot the last two weeks, just working on my mechanics and trying to get better,” Brown said. “I was upset for (Gray Baker) having to miss the rest of the year. I felt bad for him, I knew I had to step up and get ready to go.”
Tazewell jumped on the board early, when Cody McCann threw long to Jalen Jordan, who came down a jump ball and ran the rest of the 79 yards for the 7-0 lead 54 seconds into the game.
McCann threw for 176 yards and three touchdowns, with Jordan catching three passes for 158 yards and scores of 79 and 69 yards. The Bulldogs struggled to run the ball, gaining 137 yards, most of which came on long touchdown runs in the second half by Carter Rasnick (65) and John Absher.
“We knew Tazewell was going to throw it up,” Mance said. “We practiced it all week and Jordan and the (Jessee) Mountain kid are outstanding receivers and McCann puts it out there where they can go get it...”
Richlands answered that score with 21 first quarter points and 20 more in the second. The Blues continued to get good field position, taking over at the Bulldogs’ 40, 39, 27 and 11 in the opening half.
Tazewell turned the ball over three times, twice on fumbles recovered by Eric Johnson and once on an interception by A.J. Johnson.
“I think the atmosphere got to us a little bit, the kids had a great week of practice and I think we got here to a changing of venue and playing on a Saturday and playing for a district title,” Allen said. “I think that got to us a little bit, but it just comes down to blocking and tackling and covering.
“We didn’t do those things well, we had some big plays early, but we didn’t execute the way we should be.”
Richlands continued to score, tallying 41 unanswered points to build a 41-7 lead with 2:30 left in the first half.
“We knew we had to get on them early and not give them any hope so they laid down after that,” Brown said. “Our defense stepped up big and had some big stops and we just take advantage of those situations.”
Tazewell finally scored again on another long pass by McCann that Jordan caught and then ran 69 yards. After recovering the ensuing onside kick, Tazewell drove it again, with Rasnick catching a short pass and going 11 yards for another touchdown, narrowing the margin to 41-19 at the break.
“They have got a great program and they did a great job of taking away the running game and make us one-dimensional,” Allen said. “We still made some plays, we scored enough points in the first half to be in the ball game, we just gave up too many big plays.”
Both teams struggled with penalties, combining for 23 infractions for 232 yards. Nineteen of those calls came in the opening half.
“We played our hearts out, they put up some points in the air, but we just kept the ground game to a minimum if we could,” Taylor said. “If we clean up penalties we are going to be okay and we are going to work hard coming into the playoffs.”
Richlands outscored Tazewell 24-14 after the break. McGlothlin, who finished with four receptions for 81 yards, finished with two touchdowns, as did Staten, A.J. Johnson and Eric Johnson. Chandler Click added a 13-yard touchdown run and Brown had a 29-yard field goal and eight extra point conversion kicks.
The Bulldogs will travel to Marion on Friday to face the Scarlet Hurricane in Tazewell’s first playoff berth since 2009. Tazewell lost an earlier meeting this season 38-18.
“I said that from day one, these are great kids and we are talented, we just have to learn the mental part of the game of come out and treating every practice and every play as if it is the most important game and just deciding when to go,” Allen said. “I think they are starting to realize that.
“We got that win a couple of weeks ago and then got another one, These kids have been through so much, they have worked their butts off and I can’t be more proud of these kids. They never gave up, they kept fighting no matter what, they fought to the end.”
Richlands had an early exit from the playoffs last season, losing in the regional finals to Cave Spring. Taylor didn’t play much in that game, but he certainly hasn’t forgotten about it.
“Just looking out there and being so sad that the season was over and seeing our seniors hang their heads,” Taylor said. “We have that in our gut and we remember that feeling.
“We do not want it again so we are going to work as hard as we can to make it further and do better and reach our potential for this season.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
RICHLANDS, Va. —
By BRIAN WOODSON
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