SW Va. football: Are the Pioneers for real?

Kevin Mays • Sep 21, 2018 at 12:30 PM

Is Thomas Walker a real contender or still a year or two from competing among the Region 1D football elite?

“That’s still a question we’re asking ourselves,” said Thomas Walker coach Nick Johnson. “We’ve been very inconsistent so far.”


Johnson’s Pioneers are off to a 3-1 start to the season, including a 2-0 mark in the Cumberland District.

On Friday, Thomas Walker hosts Eastside in a big game for both squads.

The Pioneers finished the season strong last year and made a trip to the postseason for the first time in a number of years.

Hopes are high for Thomas Walker again, especially going into Friday’s game with a three-game winning streak. But Johnson knows his team is going to have play its best game if it wants to keep its winning streak alive.

“Inconsistency in the red zone is a big concern for us. Last week we were in the red zone three times and didn’t score. And against Castlewood we were in the red zone five times and only had 10 points to show for it,” Johnson said. “Against Eastside and Burton (the Pioneers’ opponent the last week of the season) we can’t do that.”

Between the 20-yard lines, Thomas Walker has moved the ball well. The Pioneers’ offense averages about 300 yards a game.

The key, so far, has been defense.

“Our defense has played well,” Johnson said. “They’re no joke.”

Jaron Warf has done the most damage to opposing offenses. The sophomore linebacker is averaging 10 tackles per game.

Wesley Gilliam and Gage Thomas have also made noise on the defensive side of the football.

Johnson is hopeful his young team, with four seniors on offense and four seniors on defense, can handle the pressure of the big-game atmosphere against Eastside.

“We hope we can give our guys a chance to win it in the fourth quarter,”he said.


Eastside enters Friday’s contest still looking for its first win of the season.

The Spartans (0-3) keep getting closer to the mark. Eastside opened the season with a two-touchdown loss to Wise Central before losing by a touchdown to Patrick Henry two weeks ago and by a mere point to Lee High last week.

“That’s two Class 2 schools and one of the best Class 1 schools around here. I told the kids that it’s helped us prepare for the district,” said Eastside coach Mike Rhodes.

Rhodes noted that Eastside was in all three games until the end, but turnovers have crippled the Spartans’ chances of picking up the win.

“We’ve kind of been snake- bit this year,” Rhodes said.

Despite the turnovers, the offense has been productive, putting up points and plenty of yards.

“We’re pretty balanced with our passing and our running,” Rhodes said.

Spartans quarterback Jordan Rasnick threw for 302 yards in last week’s contest with Lee, and running back Garrett Whited rushed for 259 yards two weeks ago in the loss to Patrick Henry.

Kickoff at Thomas Walker is set for 7 p.m.


Plenty of other action is scheduled throughout Southwest Virginia on Friday.

After falling to Ridgeview last week in a battle of Mountain 7 District foes, Union looks to get back on the winning track. The Bears travel to Gate City’s Legion Field to take on a Blue Devils squad still looking for its first win.

In another Mountain 7 contest, Lee High is home against Ridgeview.

Other Mountain 7 teams are involved in nondistrict clashes with Wise Central at home against Southwest District power Graham and John Battle hosting Patrick Henry in a Washington County matchup.

All six Cumberland District teams are involved in league contests this week. In addition to Eastside at Thomas Walker, Rye Cove is at Castlewood and Twin Springs travels to J.I. Burton.

All games are scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m.

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