By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
There was a time when high school football teams in Virginia could play for championships before the state championship.
After all, not everyone can win the last game of the season.
Yet, much like in West Virginia, it is state championship or nothing for every team in Virginia, thanks to the new divisional set-up that began last season.
That is a sore subject with Giles head coach Jeff Williams, who misses the recognition of winning a region title before moving into state competition.
In fact, while doing an interview with Williams on Wednesday afternoon in Pearisburg, he asked an associate what the Spartans would receive for reaching the Group 2A state semifinals that will be played Saturday against Riverheads.
“Did we get recognized as a region champion,” Williams said.
The answer was no, but the plaque that the Spartans will receive would include ‘state participant’ or ‘regional finalist’, although no one was sure what it have on it.
That doesn’t quite has the same ring as...region champion.
"It don't, no it doesn't," Williams said. "It is sad, you ought to be able to win two playoff games and be recognized as something, but you are not."
Nope, much like in West Virginia, it is now the state title or nothing at all.
With the old system, which existed just two years ago, this would be championship week. Four games and the Spartans would have been playing for the state title in Salem.
However, now the playoff system has five rounds.
Nope, it’s not as long as the NBA or NHL playoffs, it just seems that way. In fact, schools that hope to reach the state championship games this season and in the future will play 10 regular season contests and five playoff games.
Yep, another half a season is spent in the postseason.
That also doesn’t sit well with Williams.
"I am not a big fan of five playoff games, I will be honest, I am just not a big fan of it," Williams said. "You have to play another half a season to get to the state championship game."
That can be especially taxing on the health of athletes, who not only spend all of August and 11 weeks — with one bye — during the regular season banging into each other in practice and games, but must go through five more weeks if they are fortunate enough to get the season’s final game.
"It is crazy," Williams said. "For small schools it kind of gets to a point where it is almost a battle of attrition and trying to stay healthy more than it is anything."
Giles sophomore tailback and defensive back Brian Mann isn’t complaining. The more football the better.
“It is just an extra week of practice and just playing another tough football team and I hope we can get there,” said Mann, whose Spartans will advance to the Group 2A state title game with a win over Riverheads.
At least Giles did get a home game this week, meaning Riverheads — which is located near Staunton — has to make the 2 1/2 hour drive to Pearisburg on Saturday.
Last week Gate City lost to Buckingham County in the 2A state quarterfinals after a 266-mile one-way trip.
That is a by-product of the new system, which has teams traveling much further than in the past, which has long been done in West Virginia, but Virginia schools are still getting used to the long trips to games.
Giles, at 13-0, will get to play four home games, and — with a win — will travel just over an hour next week to Salem for the title game.
It pays to be undefeated, and the top-ranked team in Group 2A West.
"The big thing is you don't have to travel 2 1/2 hours or however far you have got to go," Williams said. "Like Gate City traveled to Buckingham probably five hours, and you don't have to travel.
“Even though the game is on Saturday at 2 o'clock, you can still stay closer to your normal routine than having to travel."
That is good for Giles, which has an avid fan base that was beyond loud in last week’s 48-14 rout of Richlands in the 2A state quarterfinals, and it began early when Brett Whitlow burst through the line on the first play of the game and dashed 64 yards for a touchdown.
They were must the same the week before when the Spartans defeated Appomattox County 17-14 on a late field goal by Whitlow.
“The past two games has just been electrifying,” said Williams, who recounted a conversation with a reporter from a local television earlier in the week. “(He) was talking about how loud it was at the game the other night, like when Brett popped through on that first carry, how this place just kind of erupted.
“It is always nice to be playing at home, it really is, especially with our fans we have got here at Giles High School. I feel like we have some of the greatest high school football fans around.”
They will be sure to be the same way on Saturday, with one win needed to return to the state championship game for the first since 2006.
Giles will be ready, even if there is no Region C title that the Spartans claimed on their way to state championships in 1980, 1993 and 2005.
Williams isn’t spending much time worrying about the lack of a Region C title. After all, there isn’t much he can do about it.
For the Spartans in 2014, it’s state title or nothing, and they are focused on making sure the season ends with the biggest prize of all.
“There is some excitement, but you still have got to understand what the main objective is, you don't want to lose focus of what the goal,” Williams said. “That is that you are playing in a state semi football game and you have got to be prepared for it.
“It is all great to have all that stuff and it is good, but still you have to got to stay composed about what your goal is for the game.”
—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org