By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
PEARISBURG, Va. —
The long, long football season for Giles High School will continue for one more week. They aren’t complaining — their final game will be the Group 2A state championship.
In a showdown of cinematic proportions, the Spartans of Giles faced off with the Gladiators of Riverheads and made the big plays on a chilly Saturday afternoon to claim a 28-7 win in a state semifinal game at Steven C. Ragsdale Field.
Brett Whitlow ran for touchdowns of 44 and 31 yards in the first half and racked up 153 rushing yards to pace Giles (14-0). Brian Mann and Tyler Perdue added long touchdown runs in the third quarter to tilt the balance permanently in the Spartans’ favor.
The first offensive play for the Giles single wing was his 44-yard run to paydirt, taking just seven seconds off the clock.
“That’s supposed to happen, every time, so we got the job done,” Whitlow said.
Riverheads (12-2) seemed to take the steam out of the home team by grinding out a 12-play drive capped by Landon Diehl’s 5-yard scoring run.
“They just took the ball and went right down the field,” said Giles head coach Jeff Williams. “We knew there were going to be some chances of that happening.”
With the game tied 7-7 near the end of the first quarter, Giles went for the first down on fourth and 4, but linebacker Cole Smiley stopped Mann for a yard loss.
The Spartans defense rose to the occasion and forced Riverheads into a pair of three-and-outs.
Less than three minutes remained in the first half when Giles faced a third and 16 at its own 43. Mann rolled out for Giles’ only pass of the game, and flipped the ball to 265-pound end Cody Rhodes for a 26-yard gain.
Whitlow burst off right end on the next play for his 31-yard gallop to the goal line.
Williams said the pass completion “was huge for us. We went on down and stuck it in right there. I think it kind of turned things around for us offensively. They were stuffin’ us a little bit, there. ... We got that first down and it got us going, and got the crowd riled up.”
Whitlow said about the pass play, “It was a relief, I’ll tell you that.”
Riverheads head coach Robert Casto said that at halftime, “I thought we were in pretty good shape. To play as poorly as we did in the first half, and to be only down 14-7, I thought we were in really good shape. But we just didn’t make the plays we needed to in the second half.”
The Spartans got the ball to start the second half, and had to punt, but Riverheads was called for roughing the punter and the Giles offense retook the field. On fourth and 5, Mann took a pitch 33 yards around the left side for a touchdown — which stood after an official picked up a penalty flag that he had dropped near the line of scrimmage.
The first six minutes of the second half was a “critical point,” Williams said. “Brian pops out of there down the sideline, and 21-7 is a nice lead against a team like that.”
“He’s just so elusive in there, with his size,” Williams said. “He’s always going forward, and he’s got great balance, because he’s got such strength in his hips and his legs, and he just made a great run down the sideline.”
The Gladiators’ next series got as far as the Giles 18. On fourth and 1, Diehl was stopped for no gain by Giles senior linebacker Zach Simmons
Williams said, “We got a big stop. Anytime you stop an offense like that, that’s pushing you down the field, that’s really tough.”
On the Spartans’ third snap after that stop, Perdue administered the coup de grace, blowing through a huge hole and going 61 yards for the game’s last score.
Riverheads had to resort to pass plays, and were rusty at it. Chance Staton finished 1 for 6 with an eight-yard completion. His last attempt was picked off by Perdue in the end zone with 4:06 left in the game.
Williams said, “We felt like, if we could get up on them (by) a few scores, it would take them out of their element, they’d be trying to pass the ball a little bit more. And we feel pretty good about our pass defense back there.”
Guard Hunter Epperley said, “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew they had a stellar offense, a strong offense, and that we were going to have to go in there and stop ’em. And we did that, after we gave up that one score. We shut ’em down.”
Giles made adjustments as the game wore on, and the big plays followed.
Williams said, “We told (our linebackers) just to tighten up a little bit and to get in there and fill the gaps a little bit, because that’s what they look for. ... When we were on defense, it looked like a slugfest out there.”
“With some of the offensive adjustments we made at halftime ... we felt like, if we could get a couple of blocks, that we could bust some big plays, and that’s what happened.”
Whitlow said, “They came out with a great defensive scheme. They got us on a couple of different plays, but we worked around it and got the job done.”
Diehl led Riverheads’ ground game with 81 yards on 18 carries. Staton averaged six yards per carry, with 43 yards on seven rushes.
Gladiators linebacker Austin Smiley was all over the field, with 15 tackles.
Williams said, “He’s just a playmaker. We knew that coming in. We’ve got to figure ways to get him blocked. ... He’s just a tremendous football player.”
Epperley added, “He’s a great player. We saw on film this week that he was going to cause us some trouble, but we went in there and blocked him as well as we could and our backs ran through the holes.”
Williams said about Riverheads, “It was just a great run for them. We just played great in the second half.”
Casto said, “We didn’t capitalize on our opportunities, and that’s what happens.”
Fresh off of his emotional postgame huddle with his team, he said, “This is life, man. You don’t enjoy losing, (but) it’s part of life. You man up and you stand up and you deal with it.
“We had a great season. We’re 12-2. Anybody that thinks 12 wins in a football season isn’t a good football season is a moron, and you can quote me on that.”
“Our kids came a long way. I’m proud of what happened. We got beat by a better football team today. There ain’t no two ways around it. ... In the end, we didn’t have enough points.”
Whitlow said, “Riverheads (is) a great team. They’re physical. They’re coached well. We just got the ‘W.’ ... You just play the game like you’re supposed to, and we did.”
Giles wants to add one more “W” to its string of 14 straight. The state championship trophy would accompany that one, at the end of next Saturday’s game in Salem which will kick off at 4:30 p.m.
The Spartans will face Brunswick, which beat Buckingham County 27-0 in Saturday’s other semifinal.
Epperley said, “We’re going to go down there, we’re going to play our best game, and hopefully at the end we’ll come out on top.”
— Contact Tom Bone at
At Steven C. Ragsdale Field
Riverheads.........................7 0 0 0 — 7
Giles...................................7 7 14 0 — 28
Giles – Brett Whitlow 44 run (Whitlow kick), 10:27
Riv – Landon Diehl 5 run (Sam Goodson kick), 4:46
Giles – Whitlow 31 run (Whitlow kick), 2:30
Giles – Brian Mann 33 run (Whitlow kick), 6:35
Giles – Tyler Perdue 61 run (Whitlow kick), 0:38.6
RUSHING — Riv, Cole Smiley 9-43, Ben Agnor 12-45, Chance Staton 7-43, Landon Diehl 18-81. Giles, Brett Whitlow 14-153, Brian Mann 15-94, John Teats 5-12, Tyler Perdue 7-70, Dusty Boggess 1-1, Team 2-(–9).
PASSING — Riv, Staton 1-6-4 yds.-0 TD-1 intc. Giles, Mann 1-1-26-0-0.
RECEIVING — Riv, Agnor 1-4. Giles, Cody Rhodes 1-26.
First downs: Riv 13, Giles 15. Rushes-yards: Riv 46-212, Giles 44-321. Passing yards: Riv 4, Giles 26. Fumbles-lost: Riv 0-0, Giles 2-1. Penalties-yards: Riv 4-30, Giles 4-30.