TAZEWELL, Va. — The running game will be at the center of attention when a pair of Tazewell County football rivals face off tonight at Bulldog Stadium.
Tazewell (4-1, 1-0 Southwest District) and Richlands (2-3, 0-0 SWD) are both teams that have found success this year on the ground. Stopping the run game will be a tough task for both defenses and whoever does it better will likely come out on top.
“They’ve been pounding the rock at you and using that big offensive line they got so the key for is gonna be controlling the running game,” Tazewell head football coach J’me Harris said.
This will be the 95th meeting of the county rivals and Richlands has dominated in recent history. The Blue Tornado have won 26 of the 30 meetings since 1990 and have not allowed the Bulldogs to score a point since 2015.
Tazewell is ranked third in VHSL Region 2D as of this week with a power rating of 19.00 and Richlands is sixth with a rating of 16.00.
The Bulldogs are off to their best start since 2014 while losing players left and right to injury. Tazewell’s top two running backs, Chancellor Harris and Mike Harris, have both been sidelined with injuries.
“We were looking forward to this year and I think most people would of thought 4-1 would of probably been the best start we could of got off to,” Harris said.
The amount of injuries has led to quarterback Gavin Nunley shouldering more of the offensive load. He was the hero in the victory over Honaker with 283 yards rushing.
“Nunley looked a tailback against Honaker, we didn’t realize he was that great of a runner but he does a tremendous job running the football, he makes great decisions and he can throw it,” Mance said.
Opposing teams have been focusing on Nunley and Josiah Jordan with the injuries allowing other players to step up. Schuyler Lawson had 90 yards in the second half against Honaker while freshman Cassius Harris had 100 total yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“We have to as coaches coach everybody up and get them on the field and the kids have done an outstanding job,” Harris said. “We have some guys stepping up and filling in and we just hope that continues.”
The Bulldog defense has been very solid this season not allowing more than 21 points in any of its four wins, including only seven points over Princeton.
The season did not start well for Richlands, but appears to be improving. Over the past three weeks the Blue Tornado have picked up wins over Abingdon and previously unbeaten Radford while losing to Bluefield.
“We’re not happy with our record but it is the first half of the season and we haven’t played a district game yet so basically we’re starting over the second half and got a little momentum and hopefully we can keep it going,” Richlands head football coach Greg Mance said.
Leading the charge for the Blue Tornado has been running back Logan Steele. He has rushed for over 100 yards in both of the wins this season as he is gaining more yards after contact.
“He’s getting yards after contact and he’s made some really nice plays for us here two of the last three weeks and is really coming into his own as a tailback,” Mance said.
Joining him in the rushing attack is quarterback Cade Simmons who is improving each week showing his dual-threat ability. In the win over Radford last week Simmons scored three rushing touchdowns.
Sage Webb has been the do-it-all player for Richlands. The sophomore has been moved around by the coaching staff to prevent opposing teams from locking in on him. In the victory over Radford he had 123 yards receiving and 62 rushing yards.
“People are trying to leverage him, take him away and so we’re trying to move him around a little bit but he’s gotta get the football, he’s such a dynamic player,” Mance said.
Richlands is looking to get back to .500 while Tazewell is wanting to take the next step in its development. Knocking off a county rival with Richlands’ reputation would be a big step forward for the Bulldogs, who are building their own reputation as a competitive football program.
“We feel like we’ve improved but unfortunately for we haven’t shown that in the big games yet against our county rivals ... and for us to take the next step in the process we’re at least going to have to show up and show people we can compete on this level,” Harris said.
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