By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
PEARISBURG, Va. —
It is a game that deserves a movie title, such as ‘Spartacus’ or ‘Gladiators’. Perhaps Charlton Heston or Russell Crowe could serve as the stars of the show.
Put those two movie titles together and it would be the Spartans and the Gladiators fighting in a matter of life or death.
Today’s meeting between the Giles Spartans and the Riverheads Gladiators may not be quite that dramatic, but in terms of the football season for either team, it is, indeed, just that.
The winner moves on, the loser calls it a season.
“They are just solid,” Giles head coach Jeff Williams said. “They are a solid football team and that is what we expect to see this far in the playoffs is a good, solid football team.”
Giles (13-0) will host Riverheads (12-1) in the Group 2A state semifinals today at Steven C. Ragsdale Stadium in Pearisburg. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m. The winner moves on to face Buckingham County or Brunswick in the Group 2A state championship next Saturday in Salem.
Next week can wait, for good reason.
While Giles has won three state championships since 1980, Riverheads also has tradition, having claimed three Division I titles, all of which have come since 2000, with the Gladiators last winning it all in 2010.
“Everybody is good now from here on out,” Williams said. “There are some weak teams that make the playoffs in the first round, but beyond that it is tough football and you have got to be physically and mentally prepared for each game.
“If you are not, you are putting your stuff up at the end the next week.”
That isn’t the plan for the Spartans, who have compiled a 13-0 record this season with its potent single wing offense in which a pass is thrown about as often as Giles loses a game.
It isn’t much different for Riverheads, which has used its potent winged-T attack to win six straight since a 35-24 loss to Wilson Memorial.
Giles has averaged 39.9 points a game, reaching 38 points at least nine times, while the Gladiators have tallied 44 points a contest, including 11 games with at least 35 points.
“They are just a lot like us,” Williams said. “They are a true winged-T team, power football. They are going to try to get four yards a click and they will tickled to death with that.”
The headliners in this show could be Brett Whitlow and Brian Mann for Giles, or Ben Agnor and Cole Smiley for Riverheads. In reality, it could be the interior lines on both sides of the ball, which will attempt to impose their will on the other team.
“You have got to do the same thing you have always been doing,” Williams said. “You have got to do the main things for football, you have got to block, you have got to tackle, you have got to protect the ball on offense and have great ball security.
“I think those things don’t change for us and that is what we try to preach. That is what we want to do going into any football game is block well, tackle well, and protect the football on offense.”
Giles’ veteran offensive front has led the Spartans to an undefeated record, opening huge holes for several speedy backs, including Whitlow (2,144 yards, 28 touchdowns), Mann (1,127, 16 tds) and Tyler Perdue (808, 16 tds), along with John Teats and Dusty Boggess.
The Robert Casto-coached Gladiators also have a potent run game, led by Agnor (1,443, 23 tds), Smiley (1,397, 21 tds), Chance Staton (539, 10 tds) and Landon Diehl (527, 12 tds). They do throw the ball more than the Spartans, with Kendall Casto having attempted 87 passes this season, completing 43 for 848 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions.
All of that comes behind a huge offensive line led by 6-foot-5, 315-pound senior Mike Herndon, who has committed to the University of Pittsburgh.
“They have got several good running backs,” Williams said. “(Herndon) is just a big, strong kid in there.”
While the Giles offense gets the headlines, the Spartans have shown significant improvement since allowing 111 points in their opening four games, including 42 in a 56-42 win over Graham. They have surrendered just 122 over the last nine outings.
“We have actually gotten better each week on defense,” said Williams, whose Spartans defeated Richlands 48-14 in last week’s 2A quarterfinals. “I think one of the reasons is we have gotten better is we have got some good speed.
“We have got some kids that move around well, we have got some tough kids that are strong. That is why I think we have just gotten better each week.”
Special teams could also play a role. Whitlow has made 58 extra point conversion attempts, and made a game-winning field goal to beat Appomattox County in the second round of the playoffs. He is also a threat, as is Mann and Perdue — in returning kicks and helping Giles in flipping field position.
Riverheads, which advanced to the semifinals with a 35-31 win over Goochland, is led on special teams by Sam Goodson, a senior kicker, who has set a Virginia record with an amazing 298 career extra point conversions.
“We feel like we have got three guys back there that can break it,” Williams said. “Two of three of them have already returned kicks for touchdowns, we just feel like we have got those speed guys back there.
“We are always looking to get good field position with our special teams.”
Both teams have, no doubt, spent the week trying to simulate the other team’s offense, but Williams hopes it’s a more difficult for the Gladiators to figure out Giles’ unique single wing attack.
“I am sure all coaches do the best they can just like us,” said Williams, whose Spartans did defeat Division 4 Christiansburg this season, which runs a variation of the winged-T. “It is tough for us to simulate Richlands’ offense with everything they do, it is still tough.
“We are used to the single wing, We are not used to traditional offenses. It is a little tough for us, but I still think it is a little harder for teams to simulate us than it is for us to simulate them.”
Giles has used its offense to jump out on teams in a hurry, and build from there, much like last week when the Spartans took a 14-0 lead, still led 27-7 after one quarter, and 41-7 at the break against Richlands.
“We talked about getting off to a quick start like that and that is what happened for us,” Williams said. “We got up real quick, got up two scores and when they answered we answered right back.
“We just played a great first half of high school football to get where we needed to be. We got up 41-7 at half and that is nice going in at halftime to have something like that against a good football program like Richlands.”
Giles last won the Division 2 state title in 2005, and reached the finals the following year, only to lose to Goochland.
Today’s contest is expected to be a hard-hitting, physical football game, much like any other battle involving Spartans and Gladiators.
One team will live to play on. The other will see its season — and football life for 2013 — come to an end.
“I just know what you have got to do is you have to stop each other on defense, that is the key, you get a few stops on each other,” Williams said. “Just like up there at the Graham game, we had one or two more stops than they did and that caused us to win the game.”
—Contact Brian Woodson