By MIKE DAVIS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
RICHLANDS, Va. —
A rivalry will be renewed tonight when Richlands and Tazewell meet at Bulldog Stadium.
The Blue Tornado (3-3) and the Bulldogs (1-5) have recorded classic battles over the years and the records are meaningless when the opening whistle signals the start of the skirmish.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge for us because Tazewell has a very good football team,” Richlands head coach Greg Mance said. “Their record doesn’t indicate how they’ve played this season. (Even though) they’ve won one game this season, they could’ve easily had three or four wins.
“Tazewell is a very athletic team and they have some great receivers in Jesse Mountain and Juwan Jordan and Malik Davis is a special player at quarterback. He’s a tremendous runner and he has a cannon for an arm. He puts pressure on you to keep him in the pocket.”
It’s not just the passing game. Tazewell has also shown the ability to move the ball on the ground.
“Tazewell has good running backs, it looks like (Jacob) McReynolds will be back this week and he’s a three-year starter up there at running back and he does a great job,” Mance said. “The offensive line also does a great job, they’ve run the ball on everyone we’ve seen and they’re explosive.”
The last time Tazewell beat Richlands was in 2003 when the Blue Tornado made it inside the 10-yard line three times and failed to convert. The Bulldogs went on to win, 12-10, which turned out to be their only win of the season.
Since then, Richlands has rang up nine straight wins over Tazewell, but they’ll have to dig deep to get their tenth.
“It’s going to key for us to get off to a great start and weather the storm,” Mance said. “Tazewell is good in all phases of the game, Tommy Keene does a great job with special teams. They got an onsides kick on us last year and a couple the year before, so they’re going to put pressure on us with their kicking game.
“We’re going to have to have a great game to come out with a victory, because right now we’re running on about two cylinders.”
Richlands is coming off their third loss of the season after the Bluefield Beavers pillaged the Tornado in the second half to get one in the non-district win column, 38-14.
Richlands was playing without starter River Michaels at quarterback and lost Colton Staten early in the game and his status is questionable tonight. Staten has over 500 yards rushing on the season with barely over four games of service due to the injury bug.
The Blues bench has had to grow up quick with players who have never seen their name on a starting lineup.
Ben Brown could get the nod at several football teams as the starting quarterback, however, his receiving talents are as coveted as a wideout in the Tornado scheme if Michaels is under center to face a Bulldogs defense that has manufactured a reputation of being stubborn.
“Defensively, they have a bunch of athletes they fly around the football and they’re a very physical football team,” Mance said. “Stevie Mitchem and Coach (Shane) Allen has done a great job with those guys. They have size, they put pressure on you.”
“Tazewell held Marion to 20-some points and they have a great football team, they held George Wythe to 15 or so points and they also have a good football team, so, their defense is really playing well right now. We’re impressed with the great job Shane Allen is doing and we can see improvement each week.”
Tazewell has been knocking on the door for wins with consistency beginning three weeks ago when they scored 30 points in the fourth quarter against Chilhowie. Last week, Tazewell played Marion tight until a couple second-half scores put the Hurricanes in front for the win.
With the depleted starting lineup across the halfway point of the season, the Tornado has had to call on reserves to toe the line.
“We’ve need guys like Zeke Vance to have breakout games and we’ve been waiting for that to happen,” Mance said. “Benny Brown and Frank Taylor have been consistent all year long along with Ben Culpepper. (Tonight), they’ve got to step up and play well, Donny Zheng has got to play well and we had some guys step up all week in practice.”
“We’ve played a tough schedule (this year) and you need that because it will exploit your football team. Our record may not show it, but we’re getting better each week and the kids are progressing in practice.
“The receivers are doing a better job catching the ball. Before they were doing a great job in practice, then, it didn’t translate on Friday night. But, you’re going to see the receivers do a much better job in the second half of the season.”
With an electric crowd on hand for tonight’s game, both teams will feed off the atmosphere created by big plays on both sides of the ball.
“We’ll have to match Tazewell’s intensity,” Mance said. “They’ll play their best game of the season and hopefully we’ll take a big crowd with us to make some noise. I’ve heard more interest in this game than in years’ past.
“We’ll have to play our best to come out with a win.”