TAZEWELL, Va. — Sports trivia footnote: this season marked the first time the Central-Wise football program has has ever beaten Union at Bullitt Park in Big Stone Gap, Va.
Tazewell head football coach J’me Harris can truly appreciate the milestones a burgeoning high school football program achieves as it rises from obscurity to greater prominence. He just doesn’t want the Bulldogs to be another one of the Warriors’ milestones this week.
Tazewell (3-2) travels to Norton to face Central-Wise (4-1) in Norton, Va., in the VHSL Region 2D playoffs on Friday night. Harris observed that this is more or less the same Central team that ousted Richlands from last year’s playoffs.
“They’re about a year younger than we are. They’ve got a lot of juniors on this team,” said Harris. “Two years ago we went down to a jamboree and played them and Grundy at Wise. So they’re pretty familiar with what we have and we’re pretty familiar with what they have. Both teams know what the other does.”
Wise-Central is coached by Luke Owens, a Grundy native and former Virginia Tech offensive lineman under Frank Beamer. Establishing a strong line culture was one of Owens’ priorities when he took over the program. The Warriors’ effective work in the trenches is now one of the keys to the team’s successes establishing the rushing attack.
Running backs Noah Bolling and C.J. Crabtree lead the Central ground game. Crabtree — a speedster who clocks a 4.5 40-yard dash — rushed for 185 yards in a 27-7 win over Union on March 26. He had scoring runs of 73 and 52 yards on the Bears that night.
“They like to run buck-sweep-trap. They get big plays in their running game with Crabtree and they still have the ability to throw it over top of you, They’re extremely fundamentally sound,” said Harris.
“I think they’re one of the better defenses you’re going to see in Region D. They only gave up 13 points to Abingdon and only seven to Ridgeview. So they are extremely well-coached and extremely good defensively,” he said.
Quarterback Gavin Nunley directs the Bulldogs offense, having passed for 647 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 316 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Chancellor Harris paces the ground game, having rushed for 424 yards and four TDs. Josiah Jordan leads the receiving corps with 14 catches for 294 yards and five touchdowns. Cassius Harris (18-241, 1 TD) has also proven an adept on the routes.
The Tazewell defense has confined opponents to an average of 151 yards per game and 63 passing yards per game. Jordan, Mike Jones, Tanner Wimmer and Jared Mullins each have one interception. Mullins leads the team in tackles with 56, while James Huffman paces the squad in sacks with three.
“At this stage of the game you’re playing all types of good teams. Fortunately for us, we’ve been on the field with a few good teams already. So we should hope to be able to match their intensity,” said Harris, who said his staff and players have been focused on eliminating the handful of lapses that prevented the Bulldogs from closing out their upset attempt versus Graham two weeks ago.
“We’re going to have to be fundamentally sound and take care of the football. We have to be able to run the football and make a couple plays in the passing game. And we’ve really got to limit their big plays. They’re a big-play offense. We’ve got to be able to do what we’ve done on defense for the majority of this year ... limit teams’ explosive plays,” Harris said.
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