By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
RICHLANDS, Va. —
Food and football. What could be a better for Brett Compton, a 6-foot-1, 270-pound senior offensive and defensive lineman for the Richlands football team?
“Oh yeah,” said Compton, with a smile. “Thanksgiving is always my favorite time of the year.”
Thanksgiving dinner will be followed on Friday by the Blue Tornado (9-3) traveling to Giles to face the Spartans (12-0) in the Group 2A state quarterfinals. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
“We will practice (this) morning and then we will get off and go enjoy Thanksgiving with the family,” Compton said. “We might have to work off some of the overeating we did, but we are definitely ready, we are ready to get after them Friday night.”
The winning team advances to the state semifinals the following week against either Riverheads or Goochland.
“They are a good team, but I believe we can handle them,” said Compton, who starts at left guard on offense, and is a backup nose guard on the other side of the ball. “They have a lot of tradition of winning games, they want to make it all the way too, but I think we have more heart and determination to get there.”
While offensive lines are rarely the primary focus of a football team, that just may be the case in this one.
“We are always looking forward to the challenge,” said Compton, whose brother, Brandon, was the starting center for Richlands’ 2006 state championship team. “We are just ready to play and we are ready to show them who is best.”
Giles’ single wing attack is predicated by success from its offensive line, keyed by the center who must snap the ball, not to a quarterback, but to any number of speedy Spartans who roam the backfield in search of the ball and a hole.
The Spartans have done it well over the years, having won three state titles, while Richlands has claimed two.
“His job has to be tough, he has to direct snap it to one of the two backs that they keep in the backfield or their H-back, his job has to be tough,” said Compton, who started at center last year and early this season for the Blues. “I give him credit for that, he has got to do a big job and he has to be really good at what he does.”
Compton is confident in his own line, which will try to its job on Friday and open holes for Colton Staten or protect quarterback River Michaels, giving him time to throw the football.
“Just blow their line up and just move the ball down field, run the ball a lot, just take it and blow their defensive line off the ball and get down the field and score real quick,” Compton said.
Which, in reality, is exactly what Giles plans to do.
“That is what they want to do,” said Compton, whose uncle, Jeff Compton, played for Richlands, graduating in 1991, the year before the Blue Tornado won the state title in ‘92. “Our defense will have to clog up the holes and make sure they don’t get any big runs and take it to them 110 percent and never back down.”
The left side of the Richlands offensive line has been intact all season, led by tackle Landon Mance, Compton and Devin Lawson at center. The Blues have been injury-riddled on the other side, with Anthony Cordle and Matthew Ball having missed some action, but have been ably replaced by Brady Hess and Joey Robinette.
“We have played about seven of them,” Richlands head coach Greg Mance said. “We are really pleased with them, but with the injuries, mixing and matching them and switching positions is what we have had to do.”
Compton has been a mainstay for Blues, having moved from center to guard earlier this season, allowing Lawson to move into his current role.
“Brett is a chip off the old block...He is a very good football player,” Mance said. “He is very aggressive, he is an old-school throw-back, he loves to hit, he comes off the ball, if you look at his helmet it is beat to pieces.
“He has just done a great job for us. We moved him to left guard and he has just been solid all year and has graded out as one of our best linemen, we couldn’t be happier with him.”
Defensively, stopping the single wing is tall task. Giles is known for its powerful offensive line, and speedy backs like Brett Whitlow, Brian Mann and Tyler Perdue. Replicating that offense in practice is nearly impossible for teams that might see that offense once a year.
“Coach (Dennis) Palmer has told us to read our keys, trust our keys and not necessarily look to where the ball is going, but read our keys, read the backs and see which way they are going,” Compton said. “We are just really going to have to play hard and not let them bust out any big runs and clog up the holes and play real hard defense.”
Compton was one of three offensive linemen — in addition to Lawson and Ball — who have found playing time in recent weeks on defense.
“I have only played maybe three or four weeks of defense,” said Compton, who has spelled Donnie Zheng at nose guard. “I have enjoyed it, it is definitely fun to do.”
“He has played some defense here lately, we kind of switched some over here late in the playoffs,” added Mance. “It gives us a little bit more size, they are quick, they have done a great job this year with Colton and River, we are very pleased with the offensive line.”
Richlands has dealt with plenty of adversity this season, losing Gray Baker prior to the season with a knee injury, and missed Staten, Cordle and others, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
“We are always ready to accept the challenge, we have been challenged all year, with Gray being down and Colton getting hurt later on in the year,” Compton said. “We have always been challenged to make bigger holes this week for our backs and we have always took that as a challenge.
“We are ready to show them who the better offensive line is and we are going to come in and we are going to win this ball game.”
Michaels has stepped in for Baker at quarterback and performed admirably, allowing Ben Brown to stay at receiver, and all Brown has become is one of the more versatile players in the area.
“River has done wonderful, he has done a good job of handling the pressure,” Compton said. “(Here is) somebody who really didn’t take that many reps over the summer, and he has done a really good job.”
The same can go for the offensive line, which seems to finally be meshing at the right time, although Ball is still hampered by injury.
“We are definitely more together than we have been all year,” Compton said. “Everybody is healthy on the offensive line, this is the best we have ever been.”
There is a definite family feel to this particular game, with Mance and Giles head coach Jeff Williams not only second cousins, but they are also brothers-in-law.
Compton wants to make sure it is Mance who is smiling after the game.
“It is a fun game to play in,” Compton said. “Coach Mance having family on the other side of the line, hopefully he is going to have some bragging rights at the end of Friday night.
“We can say, ‘we came down here and we beat ya’ll.’ It is real fun to part of it, it is amazing.”
Compton feels much the same about playing at Richlands, one of the more tradition-rich programs in Southwest Virginia.
“It is wonderful, I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Compton said. “I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else, Richlands is a great place to play for.”
Richlands almost didn’t get to this point. The Blues trailed Virginia High late last Friday, but Ben Brown was able to strip the ball from the Bearcats in the final minute, dash 85 yards for the touchdown, and then catch the winning touchdown in the third overtime for the 37-34 win.
“When he scored that last two-minute touchdown, that was amazing,” Compton said. “People were thinking we were down, people in the stands were leaving when they saw we were down, but this team, we don’t quit.
“We have taught ever since we have been here not to quit, never back down, it is just that determination and heart.”
The Richlands faithful will make the trip to Pearisburg on Friday, hoping to see their Big Blues move into the state semifinals, which, not all that long ago, was an almost annual occasion for a football-crazy town.
“We are expecting a big crowd down there Friday night and show them what Richlands is all about,” Compton said. “We are about football, we are a football town and we won’t take anything less than a state championship.”
—Contact Brian Woodson