By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
TAZEWELL, Va. —
The “next level” is visiting the Dog House Friday.
Tazewell’s game with nine-time defending Southwest District and county rival Richlands is annually one of the year’s biggest. The last one was a showdown in November, which Richlands won 65-33 to earn the SWD crown (again).
Although the Blue Tornado scored 41 unanswered points in one stretch, Tazewell did score first and at that time, and also managed to put up more points than anyone else had through the first 10 games.
Several players from both teams have come and gone, but the Bulldogs are still scrambling to reach the level that Richlands has achieved.
Tazewell (1-5) will entertain the Blues (3-3) and both are coming off losses. Richlands fell 38-14 at Bluefield and the Bulldogs dropped a 27-15 decision to Marion.
Speed stopped Richlands and muscle mauled the Dogs last Friday.
Richlands has beaten Gate City (49-21), Graham (27-26), and Virginia High (32-13) with losses also to Union (27-21) and Lord Botetourt (56-0). Tazewell dropped decisions to Virginia High (48-7), Graham (30-14), Sullivan Central (40-21) , Chilhowie (45-43), and Marion while defeating George Wythe, 35-20.
Both teams are a little dinged up after six weeks of play. After a solid month on the road and now playing a second straight home game, Tazewell is gearing up for one of its most important contests against one of Southwest Virginia’s better teams.
“Playing Richlands, we look across the field at the kind of program we are striving to become,” Tazewell head coach Shane Allen said. “No matter who graduated down there, or who is playing now, those kids have had success for years and they expect to win. The parents expect it, the community does, and they play hard every week because of those high expectations.”
Tazewell was expected to perhaps play with more success against Marion last week and Allen sees similarities between the two opponents.
“I said before last week’s game I was hoping Marion would not go to the power game but they did once they saw how it worked against us,” he recalls. “They were running their 215-pound fullback and their 215-pound half back and their 210-pound quarterback behind that 250-something offensive line.
“We only had three players on defense bigger than their quarterback, for instance. Richlands is also big and strong and physical, so we know what we have to do. We have to be quick in all phases of the game.”
The Bulldogs, who scored 33 in their autumn matchup last year at Richlands, had a “quick stretch” within the past few days, putting up 65 points in three quarters — including the last quarter of the game at Chilhowie and the first stanza of the George Wythe contest.
“We have some talent in our backfield,” observes Allen. “If our offensive line can stay intact and do a good job up front, the potential is there for some good plays.”
Quarterback Malik Davis, a threat either passing or running, accounted for 367 yards of total offense at Chilhowie. Davis scored one of the Tazewell’s touchdowns against Marion and Nick Blankenship put another six pointer in the bank with a 54-yard run.”
“Nick is one of those players who took advantage of an opportunity,” says Allen. “We lost Jacob McReynolds earlier this year and Nick has stepped up. I tell all of our players ‘Life has opportunities and the most important thing is not having those opportunities but what you do with them that matters most.’
“I can guarantee you that even though Richlands has some players who are hurting, they are not sitting over there sulking, they are moving forward. Football is a tough sport. A couple can go from being No. 2 to No. 1 in a single play. That often separates the good teams from the great ones.”
Allen hopes that receivers Jesse Mountain and Juwan Jordan can find some open space to help with the size differential and allow Tazewell to utilize its speed on the perimeter. Defensively, several Bulldogs have made big plays in recent weeks including Carter Rasnick, Garrett Jessee, Chris Hall, and Diante Cecil are among those who have done a good job on the defensive side.
It will take solid efforts from all to have a chance against the perennial playoff-bound Blue Tornado.