GATE CITY — Despite being the highest-rated football team in Region D, J.I. Burton may very well be the most star-crossed squad in Southwest Virginia.
Friday night at Legion Field, a strong dose of Blue Devil Voodoo compounded the Raiders’ woes.
Tyler Parks rushed for 227 yards and four touchdowns as Gate City shocked the hitherto-unbeaten Raiders 33-7.
“We played Gate City football the way it’s supposed to be played. From the first to the end, we took care of business,” said Parks, who carried the football 36 times.
The Blue Devils (7-3) reaped a windfall of bonus power points with their victory over the Raiders (9-1) but won’t know for certain if it was enough to slip into the playoffs until after Lee High’s season-ending clash with Haysi next week.
“We wanted to come out here and play hard and play as good as we could play. Hopefully, that was going to be good enough,” said Gate City coach Nick Colobro, who’ll start preparing his squad for the playoffs next week as if the issue were settled.
Unlike Gate City, J.I. Burton was a lock for postseason play with an unshakeable No. 1 seed in the Division 1 bracket headed into Friday’s game. But the Raiders left Gate City with a slew of personnel questions.
“We are who we are. We’re 9-1. We’re going to the playoffs. We have no excuses,” said Raiders coach Jimbo Adams.
Already coping with the loss of talented free safety Jaycob Coleman, the Raiders took to the field Friday with starting inside linebacker Will Godsey sidelined with a deep thigh bruise.
On the opening kickoff, Burton lost starting linebacker Skylar Peters to a chin injury. After receiving that kick, Devin Talley was separated from the ball by Gate City’s Will Godsey, who recovered the fumble.
Two snaps into Gate City’s first series, Payton Jenkins fumbled and Jaymil Sensabaugh recovered it for the Raiders.
Martinez Miles jetted off for a 45-yard scoring run to cap Burton’s subsequent possession. Right before that, Sensabaugh hauled in a 21-yard reception — his final contribution before getting carted off with a shoulder injury.
The loss of Sensabaugh was an obvious setback on both sides of the ball. However, Burton quarterback and defensive back Ethan Stewart admitted that injuries “decimated” the defense in particular.
“It’s freak accidents, man. It’s plaguing us right now,” Stewart said.
Whether indifferent to the Raiders’ situation or merely emboldened, Gate City’s offense executed its game plan at the line of scrimmage with ruthless efficiency.
The Blue Devils eroded five minutes off the game clock with a 12-play, 80-yard drive capped by Parks’ 9-yard TD run with 2:01 left in the quarter. In the second period Gate City burned six minutes with a glacial 13-play scoring drive that ended with Parks’ 7-yard scoring run. The Blue Devils added a nine-play scoring drive that saw Parks cross from the 6-yard line with 55 seconds remaining in the half.
“Collectively, we came together tonight and hit them in the mouth,” said Parks, who scored his final touchdown from 9 yards out with 8:56 remaining in the fourth quarter. “Our line did a great job. That’s how I got what I got tonight. They put a hammer on the helmet and got the job done.”
Gate City’s defense did some hammering of its own, having more than a little to do with Burton’s five fumbles for four turnovers.
Eric Hutchins had two sacks and a tackle for loss, while Jason Begley, Josh Powers and A.J. Johnson also had big plays. Johnson recovered two fumbles, including one in the third quarter he returned 37 yards to score. Tyler Tiller forced that fumble off Talley.
Tiller had a big special teams moment just before the half when he ran down Miles, who’d reeled off a 66-yard kickoff return and threatened to score with 50 seconds left on the clock. An interception by Dustin Jones on the next play kept it a two-possession game at intermission.
“Give Gate City credit. They had a good game plan coming in. They must have had a great week of practice and prepared,” said Stewart, who passed for 132 yards despite being nailed in the backfield four times.
“We’ll try to put this behind us. Learn from it. Move on and get going for the playoffs.”