CLINTWOOD — Last year, Clintwood’s football team was a little bit surprised to find itself competing for a state championship.
Whatever surprises may be in store this time around, being there isn’t one of them. Whatever surprises may be in store this time around, being there isn’t one of them.
The Greenwave (12-1) face Franklin (11-2), in Saturday’s VHSL Group A, Division 1 championship game. The contest, which will be played at Salem City Stadium, kicks off at noon. Clintwood lost 28-19 to Buffalo Gap in last year’s state final. “I think we’ve got as good a shot as anybody,” Greenwave coach Rick Mullins said. “We’re here because a lot of hard work and a lot of belief in what we do.” Since William Campbell’s 34-18 regular season whacking of Gretna, which plays Floyd County in Saturday’s Division 2 nightcap, most observers expected the Generals to contend for this year’s Division 1 crown. Franklin disrupted everyone’s expectations by beating William Campbell 22-21 last week. It was a shocker to everyone but the Broncos. “God is good, man. God is truly great,” said Franklin coach Darren Parker, who led the Broncos to the Division 1 state title in 2004. “We’ve been the underdog for the last three weeks and we don’t have any problem with that, because we believe in ourselves. “We let the doubters doubt and the critics critique. Every time we take to the field, we look to win.” It’s been four seasons since Parker’s team broke five state records as part of a 41-0 win over J.I. Burton at James Madison. A few things have changed. In 2004, human freight train Donielle Babb carried most of the mail for the Broncos. Nowadays, Franklin’s Power-I is more of a Power-“We.” Running backs Isaiah Hudson (145-963, 9 TD), Malik Brown (44-395, 5 TD), Elliott Bottoms (43-249, 4 TD) and quarterback Donzell Shearin (75-509, 9 TD) all have big-play ability. Shearin has thrown for 693 yards and seven scores. Brown (8-270, 4 TD) and Derrick Thompson (4-243, 3 TD) have been the go-to receivers. One thing that hasn’t changed is Franklin’s stingy defense. Linebackers Antonio Britt (75 tackles, 2 sacks), Travon Britt (52 tackles), Tyler Childress (48 tackles, 4 sacks) and Antonio Smith (47 tackles) lead a defensive unit that collected no fewer than six regular-season shutouts. Shearin leads the defensive backs with six interceptions, while Thompson has five picks, including one returned for a score. “Obviously, they’re a good defensive football team, to hold William Campbell to what they did,” Mullins said. “They gave up some yardage, but they kept them out of the end zone. It was a heck of a game plan.” The offense the Greenwave will take to Salem is just like last year’s — only a year stronger, faster and healthier. Durable and relentless running back Chris Robinson has compiled 1,698 yards and 27 TDs behind the crisp blocking of the Clintwood linemen and his fellow backs. Alec Osborne (36-457, 6 TD), Devin Elswick (32-198, 4 TD) and fullback Derek Robbins (50-289, 5 TD) add punch to the ground game. Quarterback Heath Counts (77-127-3, 1,235, 18 TD) complements this with a serious passing threat. Wide receivers Trey Meade and Ryan Lyle, Chris Robinson and tight end Nick Robinson all are viable targets. The line usually gives Counts ample time to make his reads. Defensively, the Greenwave have impressed with both scheme and execution. Osborne, at outside linebacker, leads the team with 96 tackles — 27 for loss — and eight sacks. None of the primary linebackers, including Elswick and Robbins, has fewer than 50 tackles. All-state defensive lineman Russell Hull has collected three sacks this season, but focus on stopping him has helped bookend tackle J.D. Bevel collect five sacks of his own. The Broncos have dedicated this season to former player Josh Willis and former coach Charles Greene, both of whom passed away this past spring, and center Carl Harris, who went down with a season-ending injury. “We start every season with the goal of winning a state championship. This year we came in just like we did the year before that and the year before that,” Parker said. “We don’t get caught up in the hoopla. We go to work.”