By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
PEARISBURG, Va. —
As important as the offensive line is to the execution of the single wing offense, without fast backs to hit the holes and run for daylight, it doesn't work.
That isn't a problem at Giles.
"We have got great backs back there that we feel like can haul the mail for us really well," Giles head coach Jeff Williams said. "They are all strong and they are all fast, just a great group of backs."
That includes the 5-foot-8, 151-pound Brian Mann, a speedy sophomore, who is one of several talented runners that will lead the Spartans (13-0) against Riverheads (12-1) in the Group 2A state semifinals on Saturday in Pearisburg. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m.
"We are really excited about that," Mann said.
The winner will travel next Saturday to Salem to face either Buckingham County or Brunswick in the 2A state championship game.
Getting to that point is the task ahead.
"Every kid dreams of winning a state championship and going with the teammates through the dream," Mann said.
While fullback Brett Whitlow has had a terrific junior season for the Spartans, rushing for 2,144 yards and 28 touchdowns, Mann has served as a perfect complement, running for 1,127 yards and 16 scores, including 146 yards and three touchdowns in last week's 48-14 playoff win over Richlands. That included scoring runs of 75 and 23 yards in the first quarter as the Spartans jumped out early, taking a 27-7 lead after the opening 12 minutes. Whitlow added 271 yards and four scores, with both of them following the potent Giles offensive line
that allowed the Spartans to burst through huge holes, with six of seven touchdowns coming from at least 23 yards away.
"We are always hoping we can jump out on a team like that," Mann said. "The linemen did an amazing job of creating big holes for the backs and we just hit them."
It's not just Whitlow and Mann. Tyler Perdue, who rotates with Mann at tailback, also has 808 yards and 16 touchdowns, while blocking backs John Teats and Dusty Boggess have provided big plays all season for the Spartans, who last reached the state semifinals in 2006, eventually losing in the finals to Goochland.
That was one year after Giles won the Division 2 state title, the third in the school's history.
Mann was confident from the beginning of this season that the Spartans would still be playing in December.
"We always think we can be in this type of situation," Mann said. "It is all about teamwork and motivation."
That all starts on offense with the line, which includes center Brett Suroski, guards Chantry Pennington and Jonathan Jennelle and the tackle rotation of Hunter Epperley, Cameron Perkins and Brandon Harless, while Cody Rhodes is the tight end.
"They are really good," Mann said. "The coaching staff tries to put them in a good situation and coaches them hard every day in practice."
All the Spartans have been drilled in the unique single wing offense their entire lives, and Mann wouldn't want to run any other type of system.
"No, this is the single wing, it is a tradition," said Mann, who has worked in it since the fourth grade. "It is really fun."
All of the Giles backs are fast and quick, hitting the holes in a hurry and then taking off toward the end zone.
"I guess I was born fast, but I run track too," Mann said. "Me and John run track and we just try to work on our speed in track."
He is confident it could be hard to catch him when he gets out in the open field, and that has been proven often this season.
"You have got to think that," he said, "and just run hard."
He does. Williams is glad to have Mann as one of his men on Giles' side of the ball.
"Brian is a heck of a player...Brian is a kid that works hard, he works hard in the offseason in the weight room, he is on the track team, he is a sprinter on the track team and he works hard at that," Williams said. "He is just one of those kids that when he is doing something he is going to do it the best he can.
"He plays basketball, he is just a three-sport athlete and when you have got those type of kids playing football for you, it is really special, it really is when you have got those kids doing all that."
Giles is known for the single wing, but the Spartans can also throw the ball on occasion. They threw it once against Richlands, a pass by Mann that appeared to be dropped, but he called it an overthrow. Either way, that threat to put the ball in the air is another weapon possessed by the Spartans.
"We run it, run it, run it, and then out of nowhere we pass it," Mann said.
It's not just Mann that can throw the ball. It comes down to whoever had the ball when the play is called. The plays are called from the sidelines and relayed by the blocking back, normally this season by Tanner Martin.
"It is just whoever is in there, it is just however it works out," Williams said. "They both can throw the ball well, it is just a matter of who is in there, him and Tyler are alternating in there at tailback. They have just done a great job of working that out for us this year between both of them."
Up next is a potent rushing attack from Riverheads, a roster that includes 6-foot-4, 325-pound junior Michael Herndon, who has committed to the University of Pittsburgh.
Mann knows what to expect against the Gladiators, a rather appropriate nickname for the type of football both of these plays.
"They are a tough football team," Mann said. "It is going to be physical and we are just going to rely on our line. We have to be physical and hope for the best."
Giles will have the advantage of playing at Steven C. Ragsdale Stadium for a fourth straight week, which means huge crowds and a train horn that blows loud to celebrate touchdowns or other big plays for the home team.
"It is a amazing, the train horn is just amazing, we have got a great atmosphere," said Mann, who even knows the origin of the train horn. "Terry Freeman started it a few years back, I guess you could say he is a really big fan, a super fan."
Only four Group 2A teams in Virginia are still playing, and the Spartans are one of them.
"It is real nice," Mann said. "It is just nice being out here practicing for another week knowing other teams are not able to practice."
As for taking the next step and getting back to the state finals for the first time since 2006, that is the motivation ahead for the Spartans, who are having to play an 'extra' week this season, with the playoff having been expanded to five rounds last year.
"It is just an extra week of practice and just playing another tough football team and I hope we can get there," Mann said. "It would mean a lot, a lot of hard work and dedication knowing that you have made it to the top two teams in the state in 2A."
— Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org