By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
MARION, Va. —
Shane Allen is no longer a rookie coach and the Tazewell Bulldogs are no longer sitting home for the Virginia High School League playoffs.
Tazewell, 2-8 in the regular campaign, visits Marion (6-4) to open the Region IV Division 3 “second season” Friday. One month ago, the Scarlet Hurricane tamed the Bulldogs 38-14 in a Southwest District contest.
This will be Tazewell’s first playoff berth since 2009. The winner will travel to Tunstall next week
It will also be the second time around that the Bulldogs have faced sensational Ethan Richardson, the Marion halfback who last week scorched Abingdon for 186 yards on 32 carries. He did better than that in October, when he piled up 251 rushing yards and scored five times against Tazewell.
In the past two seasons, Richardson has gained almost 2,600 yards and scored 36 TDs.
“I said the first time we faced them (Marion) that he (Richardson) may not be the biggest, or the fastest, or the strongest runner in the state, but take it all around, I think he is the best runner in this part of Virginia,” notes Allen. “That guy never quits. If he gets in the open — and he does pretty often — most of the time he will get a big run or a touchdown.”
Behind a developing offensive line, combined with the aerial combination of Cody McCann to Jalen Jordan and the ground attack of Jacob McReynolds, the Dogs have turned things around since that game at Marion to earn a post season slot.
Tazewell scored 81 points through the first seven games. In the past three weeks, the Bulldogs have put 87 on the board. McCann (1,266 yards passing/9 TDs), Jordan (36 catches/862 yards/9 TDs, and McReynolds (138 carries/686 yards/8 TDs) have carried the offensive load late in the season.
“We have jelled a little late in the year,” admits Allen. “Remember, when we played Marion a month ago, we had just lost running back Malik Davis to an injury, Cody (McCann) was out with an injury, and halfway through the second half we had three freshmen on the field for every defensive snap.
“Marion has a fine team, and that combined with our situation at the time, was too much for us to overcome. Now that we have settled in with this lineup, I like our chances a lot better.”
Marion overcame a 17-point deficit with several big plays late in the game to stun Abingdon last week while Tazewell fell hard in the season finale at Richlands. That ended a two-game winning streak, the first such effort in three seasons for the Bulldogs.
Now the Hurricane and Tazewell have both earned a date with destiny as the VHSL playoffs begin.
“We’re glad to have Cody back and we’ll need everybody,” says Allen. “Marion plays good defense. They will load up the box and force you to beat their strength. They will come at you all night.
“Offensively, they’ll try to spread you out and find a way to get the ball to their playmaker. They won six times against good competition because they are a solid ball club.”
Allen’s defense continues to play hard, led by Guye Turner with 46 solo tackles and 85 overall. Jordan has a pair of interceptions, Diante Cecil has recovered two fumbles, Carter Rasnick has added both solid offensive blocking and steady defense, and veterans including Nick Goad, McCann, and Mikey Wright have anchored the defensive front to help the team turn in a new direction.
McReynolds (40.6-yard punting average) has done a dandy job assisting
with field position, as well.
“I’m excited for this team, these kids getting a chance at the playoffs,” grins Allen. “Sure, the coaches like it, too, but I’m so happy for the players. I told them everybody’s record is the same now.
“We’re taking it one game at a time. I am proud of the way this group has kept on working, kept on hitting, kept on playing every down. Now that effort is paying off and here we are in the regionals. Now let’s see how far we can go.”
Joey Carroll’s Hurricane toppled Chilhowie (38-15), Northwood (41-16), Rural Retreat (34-26), Abingdon (23-17), and Carroll County (35-6). Marion lost to Fort Chiswell (24-21), George Wythe (17-14), Richlands (24-14), and Graham (21-20).
Tazewell was defeated by George Wythe (42-0), Graham (34-15), Blacksburg (27-8), Giles (50-30), Lebanon (17-14 3OT), Virginia High (35-0), and Richlands (65-33).
Kickoff Friday is at 7:30 with coverage on 100.1 FM.