GATE CITY — Gate City doesn’t know for certain if it’s going to make the playoff cut this year.
But one thing the Blue Devils do know for certain: it ain’t over.
Senior running back Tyler Parks rushed for 177 yards and two touchdowns at Legion Field on Friday night as the Blue Devils kept postseason hopes alive with a 17-7 Clinch Mountain District victory over Lee High.
“This was an awful big ballgame for this young bunch,” said Gate City coach Nick Colobro, whose 6-3, 3-1 squad wraps up the regular season at home next week against unbeaten J.I. Burton.
Parks, who crossed the 1,000-yard barrier for the season during the game, said his team recognized these Generals were no pushovers.
“Lee High from last year to this year is a whole ’nother team. They’ve got something to be proud of, turning their team around the way they have,” said Parks, who punched in both of his short-yardage touchdowns during the second quarter.
Lee High’s defense successfully held Gate City scoreless in the first quarter, in part thanks to Dustin Dennison’s block of a Ked Byrd 26-yard field goal attempt.
An exchange of possessions later, Lee High running back Jordan Haynes — who rushed for 139 yards — broke free for a 33-yard scoring run. The Generals went up 7-0 on Jimmy Shoemaker’s point-after kick with 32 seconds remaining in the quarter.
The Blue Devils finally got on the scoreboard at 8:42 in the second quarter when Byrd drilled his first field goal of the season from 27 yards out.
Byrd said he didn’t let the earlier block rattle him.
“I think the first one would’ve gone in had it not been blocked. There’s not much you can do about it, really. Just get back out there,” said Byrd, who went 2-for-2 on PAT kicks.
On Gate City’s next possession, Parks blasted off 51 yards down the Lee High sideline to set up his 2-yard touchdown crash two snaps later with 6:11 remaining in the half.
“He’s made some big plays for us for a long, long time,” Colobro said. “Evidently there must have been some pretty good blocking up front because he got off pretty quick, didn’t he?”
Gate City’s next score was helped by a special teams snafu. A bad long snap slowed Lee High punter Michael Rutledge just enough to allow Owen Franklin and Jason Begley to cream him for an 18-yard loss.
Gate City took over at the Generals’ 10-yard line. Four plays later Parks took it across from the 1 for the 17-7 lead. With 2:58 left in the half, Gate City nearly capitalized on another special teams mistake after Lee High muffed the subsequent kickoff and the Blue Devils recovered.
The Generals (5-3, 1-2) ultimately weathered that little disaster. Given the way Lee’s defense was playing, quarterback Tyler Mullins’ third-quarter pass picked off by Dustin Jones wasn’t an insurmountable blow either.
Harder to stomach was the Generals’ loss of a Rutledge fumble inside the Gate City 10-yard line in the opening minutes of the third quarter. After powering the ball for 64 yards on 10 plays, up to that point, momentum was shifting Lee High’s way.
It was another tough break for the Generals’ 6-foot, 222-pound junior, who played like a lion on defense.
“The last seven or eight games we’ve had very few turnovers. But a lot of that had to do with the hard-hitting defense being played by Gate City,” said Lee coach Bobby Sanders.
Mutual defensive warfare ensued. Bolstered by Byrd’s earlier field goal, Gate City’s defense clawed and scratched for 15 consecutive plays while the Generals fought no less desperately to move the ball.
Along the way, a controversial clipping call during a wild, field-reversing Mullins scramble proved a 34-yard setback for the Generals. While Sanders obviously questioned the call, he also recognized that big defensive plays by Jones, Cody Hensley, Tyler Tiller and Eric Hutchins were at least as instrumental in shutting down that last-chance drive with 1:05 left to play.
“It was a great football game,” Sanders said. “It would’ve been great to have paid five dollars and been in the stands to watch that one, I believe.”