Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 28, 2013

Traditions clash as Richlands tackles Giles’ single wing attack

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

RICHLANDS, Va. — Greg Mance was there when the single wing began at Giles High School way back in 1978.

It is still there. Now Mance has to stop it.

“That is a credit to the school and the tradition because you can’t find many programs that have stuck with one offense for the time Giles has,” said Mance, a 1982 graduate of Giles, who is now in his 17th season as head coach at Richlands. “That is what makes them special. They made the commitment to that, that is their history, that is their tradition and they are great at what they do and that gives them an advantage on any Friday night. You can’t get a scout team to simulate that...”

Call is a friendly family feud, with plenty at stake for the winning team.

Richlands (9-3) will visit Giles (12-0) tonight in the Group 2A state quarterfinals, with the survivor moving one step closer to a state championship game appearance on Dec. 14 in Salem.

At stake is a home game next weekend in the 2A semifinals against either Goochland or Riverheads. Kickoff tonight is slated for 7 p.m. in Pearisburg.

Playing this late in the season is nothing new for either team. Giles has won three state titles, last winning the Division 2 crown in 2005, while the Blue Tornado won the second of two Division 3 championships in 2006.

Add the fact that Mance and Giles’ head coach Jeff Williams are second cousins and brothers-in-law, and no wonder this should be fun for both sides. In addition, Mance’s son, Landon, is a starting tackle for the Blues, while Williams’ nephew, Hunter Epperly, plays for the Spartans.

“Both programs have been here before and done that,” said Mance, who, along with Williams, played on Giles first state championship team in 1980. “It is two great programs, a lot of history involved, a lot of tradition, the team that plays the best will win. That is all you can do. Whoever plays the best Friday night has a great chance of winning.”

Neither team had an easy time getting to this game. Giles needed a final minute field goal to beat Appomattox County 17-14, while Richlands survived in three overtimes to beat Virginia High 37-34.

“We did everything wrong, we end up 20-some first downs and almost 400 yards offense and 10 points, that tells you right there we kind of self-destructed,” said Mance, whose Blue Tornado committed four turnovers in the game, and were saved by a pair of key plays from Ben Brown, at the end of regulation and in the final extra period.

“Nothing went our way, but at the end of the game the kids never quit, they just kept battling and we found a way to pull one out there.... I think the Lord intervened there and everybody witnessed a miracle because without the Lord’s help we were in trouble. Benny made a great play and our kids played great in overtime and we made more plays than they did.”

Mance knows that will have to happen tonight, and from the start. Giles thrives on building early leads as defenses try to adjust to the single wing, which was installed by former coach Stephen Ragsdale in 1978, and continues to be a weapon 35 years later.

“I had Coach Ragsdale when I was an eighth grader. I was a quarterback, and in my ninth grade year on the JV, he got the varsity job and I think about the third or fourth game of the season he switched them to single wing,” Mance said. “My 10th grade year we played in the single wing.

“Coach Ragsdale is a Hall of Famer. Just a great tradition he established there and Jeff has done just a great job of maintaining that tradition and the integrity of the football program.”

Giles is 12-0 on the season behind an offensive line that opens huge holes for a trio of backs, all of whom are closing in on 1,000 yards on the season.

“They (Richlands) don’t see (the single wing) a lot, but Greg knows it really well, he’s run it before when he played up here,” Williams said. “I’m hoping it’s tough for them to simulate it in practice. You’re always hoping that is the case.”

Brett Whitlow, who had the game-winning field goal against Appomattox County, has run for 1,837 yards and 24 touchdowns. Brian Mann (981, 13 td) and Tyler Perdue (802, 16 tds) are also weapons for the Spartans.

“Giles is a great football team, well-coached, the best blocking line you are going to find year in and year out, you are going to find at Giles High School,” Mance said. “They do a great job of blocking, they have got three great running backs, they can all fly, and they do such a great job when they hit the hole they just take it to the house...

“They are just one of the most balanced high school football teams I have seen in a long time, very talented, very fast, very athletic and they are great on special teams also.”

Richlands will try to use a ball control offense to keep the ball away from the Spartans. Colton Staten will look to add to his 1,286 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. River Michaels (1,358 yds, 8 td pass, 456 yds, 12 td rush) is a dual threat at quarterback, while the versatile Brown has 32 receptions for 764 yards and eight scores.

“Their skill people do things well, they’re got big guys up front,” Williams said. “They’re going to be solid defensively. They’ve got big, strong guys you’ve got to be able to block...

“It is so tough to simulate. They do so much stuff out of different formations. different sets, things like that. There is a lot of motion, trading places. You’ve got to prepare for it.”

Giles thrives on the big play, either on offense or special teams where all three backs are threats in the return game.

“The key for us is to eliminate the big play for them, make them earn what they get with small chunks of yardage and giving us time to adjust to what they are doing and get a chance to see it and adjust to it,” Mance said. “For us offensively we cannot turn the football over and we have got to move the ball.

“We have to get first downs to keep their offense on the sidelines and when you get in the red zone you have got to score touchdowns or you are going to get beat because they are too explosive.”

Richlands committed four turnovers in each of their playoff wins over Graham and Virginia High, Mance knows that can’t happen against the high-powered Spartans, who are averaging 39.2 points a game, and have limited opponents to 14 or fewer points seven times.  

“If we have four turnovers this Friday night we are going to be getting throttled so you have got to take care of the football,” Mance said. “We are playing great defense right now, we are excited about our defense.

“Offensively we are moving the ball and doing the little things, we have just got to get it in the end zone and quit turning it over.”

Mance expects it to be a setting worthy of a state quarterfinal game.

“It should be a great atmosphere Friday, we are looking forward to it,” Mance said. “The kids have never been there so it is going to be a little shock for them to go see the noise and the energy there.

“They are going to announce the ‘93 state championship team at halftime so that is going to make a bigger crowd. It is Black Friday so the hunters will all be out of the woods so it should be a lot of fun.”

—Tom Bone

contributed to this report