Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Sports column

November 18, 2012

Gridiron action winding down

MORGANTOWN — Black Friday came a week early for a trio of high school football teams.              

 Bluefield, Richlands and Giles went on shopping trips of their own a week before the busiest shopping day of the year, and all returned without the prize, which was supposed to be a spot in the third round of the football postseasons in the two Virginias.   

 Those three teams were a combined 28-4 heading into Friday’s games, but all returned in defeat.

 Saturday was a little better. At least Honaker lived to play on. The Tigers avenged a playoff loss last season with a 42-14 whipping of Galax. The ‘other’ Tigers, Haysi, was sounded thrashed by Clintwood, which won the Division 1 state championship last season against the Maroon Tide.

 Honaker will now play John I. Burton in the West Section, Division 1 semifinals next Saturday.

 While the Tigers will continue on, it is time for all the other teams in the area to get out the basketballs.

 That isn’t a bad option for Bluefield, which returns Lykel Collier, Anthony Eades and Michael Yost, all of whom led the Beavers to the Class AA state championship game last season, falling to Tug Valley 58-52.

 The same goes for the Richlands’ girls team, which returns a strong nucleus of players who advanced to all the way to the state semifinals last season.  

  As for the gridiron, the Beavers regrouped from a 4-5 mark last season _ missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2001 _ and used a prolific offense to finish 9-3. That offense had helped hide some of the deficiencies on defense and special teams for Bluefield, but Robert C. Byrd exploited all three to surprise many observers with a 34-20 win.

 Few gave Robert C. Byrd much hope, with most expecting the Beavers to get a rematch in the state semifinals with defending champion Wayne. The Eagles can read and hear too, and Mason Compton acknowledged his squad used that lack of respect as motivation, and it showed.

 That’s why the Eagles are playing on, and the Beavers are done.  

 Two other tradition-rich clubs saw their seasons come to an end as well, including Richlands, which finished 9-2, and Giles, which completed another stellar campaign at 10-2.

 Richlands was the only one of the three to play its final game at home. The Blues were hampered by injuries and suspensions all season, but managed to win nine games, while Cave Spring played a brutal schedule and that experience paid off with an impressive showing against the Blues.

 Ultra-successful Richlands head coach Greg Mance acknowledges that the Blues need to improve its schedule, and is trying to do just that. Among the additions for 2013 is the renewal of the rivalry with Bluefield, which is definitely a very nice Christmas gift for area football fans.

 Perhaps the most surprising development on Friday was the loss by Giles. It’s not necessarily that the Spartans lost to John Battle, but they were soundly beaten by the Trojans, which won their third playoff game in school history.

 The Spartans had run all over everyone during their nine-game win streak, but the Trojans were prepared and shut down Giles’ patented single wing attack.

 I was prepared to visit Fort Chiswell next week to see the Spartans play in regional semifinals, but not now. The Trojans, who have been hampered by injuries in recent weeks, are in the midst of the best season in school history, and they’re determined to keep it going.  

 Haysi had perhaps the biggest obstacle in front if it in Clintwood, but lost to the Greenwave for a second time this season to finish at 8-4.

 Honaker (11-1), whose only loss this season has been to Richlands, continues to impress, and will host the Raiders on Saturday with a berth in the regional finals at stake.

 Here is hoping Honaker can keep it going. I covered the Tigers in 2000 when Heath Miller quarterbacked the Tigers to the state title game, only to lose in the finals to King William. Miller is, of course, now a tight end with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and covering that one season is one of the highlights of my journalism career.

 *With the high school football season now just about over, the Pocahontas Coal Association/Bluefield Daily Telegraph Player of the Year banquet is slated for Dec. 4 at the Princeton Elks Club.

 Eleven players from the two Virginias were selected as the top players during the 11-week season, and all will be honored at the banquet that is so kindly sponsored by the Pocahontas Coal Association , with PCA President Rick Taylor serving as emcee of ceremonies.

 The players to be honored include  Spencer Sheets (Graham), Colton Staten (Richlands), Wayne Mutter (Grundy), Montel Leggett (Bluefield), Cody McCann (Tazewell), Teddy Hazzard (Mount View), Gray Baker (Richlands), Cody Hatfield (Graham), Jason Grose (Montcalm), Ian Mann (Giles) and Jordan Wilson (River View).

 Each player will be recognized for their weekly award, and one athlete will earn player of the year honors. A coach of the year will also be chosen.

 As is always the case, the choices each week this season were difficult and several worthy candidates didn’t finish on top. There can only be one winner in each of the 11 weeks, it is never an easy choice. The same goes for the player of the year.

 *Three of the four regional college football teams still have hopes at a bowl berth when the regular seasons ends in two weeks.

 Virginia (4-7) saw its hopes end with a loss to North Carolina on Thursday night. Virginia Tech (5-6) was able to finally win on the road with an overtime victory at Boston College, and now must beat the Cavaliers for a ninth straight time on Saturday to secure a bowl berth for a 20th straight season.

 The Cavaliers would like nothing better than to end those hopes for the Hokies.

 Marshall (5-6) narrowly kept its bowl aspirations going as well, by barely beating Houston 44-41 on Saturday. Up next is a visit to East Carolina, which will be far from an easy task for the Herd. They might regret that loss at UAB.

 Three local products contributed for Division I teams on Saturday. Richlands’ product Devon Johnson had one reception for 11 yards and a tackle for Marshall, and fellow Blue Tornado alumni Austin Fuller had four receptions for 19 yards in Southern Methodist’s 36-14 loss to Rice on Saturday. Cody Journell of Giles made three field goals and three extra point kicks in Virginia Tech’s overtime win over Boston College.  

 West Virginia (5-5) dropped its fifth straight decision with a loss to Oklahoma, and must either win at Iowa State next week or against Kansas in the season finale. Get one of those and the Mountaineers will go bowling.

 As for if a team with six wins deserves a bowl bid, that is an issue for another day.

 If Virginia Tech and West Virginia finish 6-6, it’s time to find a bowl to get those teams together. That would be fun for both sides.

 With just Honaker left on the gridiron, the Daily Telegraph sports staff will turn its attention to basketball.

 The BDT Bounce website will be up and running again this season for a second straight year. A basketball tab will also be published during the first full week of December.

 There could be as many as 45 teams involved, counting boys and girls teams from 23 schools in the two Virginias.

 One (football) season ends, another (basketball) season begins.  That’s just part of high school sports in the two Virginias.

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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