RICHLANDS, Va. — Charlie Newman sees plenty of similarities between the football teams at Turner Ashby and Richlands.

“We’re a lot like Richlands,” said Newman, the head coach at Turner Ashby. “Both have hard-nosed kids, and we’re considered around here as the country school.

“We've got guys that can really get after it. Watching Richlands on film, they mirror us in a lot of ways with the type of kids that they have. They seem to have the same kind of blue collar type of kids. They get after it, they’re hard workers and they play hard. You can see it in the way they play.”

The biggest attribute they have in common is the desire to be state champions. Those teams will be play for the Group AA, Division 3 state championship on Saturday at Liberty University’s Williams Stadium in Lynchburg. Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m.

To say that Richlands is ready for this opportunity is an understatement. The thoughts about this game started immediately after the Blue Tornado defeated Liberty 23-20 in last week’s state semifinals.

“I was so excited, I didn't know what to say, I didn't know how to act, it was almost like it was just a dream,” Richlands junior quarterback Justin McCracken said. “We pulled together as a team in that last half and got after it and it came out the way we wanted it to all end.”

Richlands (13-0) won in all in 1992, finishing 14-0 and defeating Orange County 19-10 to win the Division 4 state crown. Turner Ashby (11-2), which is located in Bridgewater, about seven miles from Harrisonburg, has reached this point once before, losing to Rustburg in the Division 3 title game in 2000.

“This is your ultimate goal to be here, playing this week and playing for the state championship and I couldn't be happier for our players, our assistant coaches and our community ,” Richlands head coach Greg Mance said. “Everybody has put so much in and to see all your work pay off and to reach your ultimate goal is very gratifying.”

Both coaches have had to put extra effort into keeping their players focused on the task at hand. It is, after all, a business trip.

“I'm just excited, but we need to go take care of business and you can't let these other distractions get in the way of your game preparation so we're trying to stress that to our kids,” Mance said. “This is the week, you've got to prepare, you've got to be mentally and physically ready to go here when you leave here.

“When you get down there, you're out of your element, you're staying the night, everything is different. Pre-game is probably going to be a little different, the playing surface, the shoes you're wearing, they've got to get themselves prepared before we leave here.

“We’ve tried to stress how important practice was and the film study this week. They've got to be really, really focused, that’s what we're trying to get them to do this week.”

Newman knows how Mance feels his. His Knights have won three playoff games by a combined 17 points, including last week’s 27-21 semifinal win over James Monroe. Playing in the tough Valley District, Turner Ashby’s lone defeats this year have been to league foes Harrisonburg (21-18) and Lee (10-7).

“It's been a whirlwind affair here the last couple of weeks,” said Newman, whose son, Charlie Newman, is a tight end and linebacker for the Knights. “The whole community is excited, we’re taking three charter buses down the game.

“We’re having big pep rallies. There are signs everywhere in town congratulating us and promoting us. It’s really been neat and it’s great for the kids.”

Mance knows how he feels. The football-mad community of Richlands held a big send-off for the football team this morning, and most of the population is expected to be in Lynchburg.

“I doubt anybody will be left,” Richlands junior quarterback Justin McCracken said. “I've talked to some people that own some stores and they said they were just going to shut down, they said the town will be dead.”

They hope that changes into a party on Saturday night. A week ago, the Tornado survived a late missed field goal by Liberty to advance to this point. Now they’re one win away from the ultimate win.

“Everybody I see is patting me on the back and saying 'good job, see you at state,’” Richlands senior nose guard Travis Payne said. “It's been 13 years since we've been at state. I think a lot of people are happy. I think the town is just happy to get some recognition since we're such a small town.”

We've worked real hard and we've gotten better each week and progressed tremendously,” added McCracken. “I don't think we're going to settle for nothing less than a state championship.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

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