SW Va. prep football preview: Thomas Walker seeks revenge at Lee

George Thwaites • Aug 31, 2011 at 10:54 AM

BEN HUR — “It’s an old coaching cliche,” said J.I. Burton coach Jimbo Adams. “That you make your biggest improvement between the first and second games.”

But the main thing to remember about Week 2 of high school football, the veteran Raiders coach cautioned, is that there are still a lot of unknown variables out there.

“By the time the third week comes around, it starts shaking out a little bit. People pretty much know what everybody is trying to accomplish,” said Adams, who takes his team to Rye Cove this week.

“But game two is still a lot like opening night. People play different than they practice, or even scrimmage. On Friday night, some young men rise to the occasion in ways coaches didn’t expect.”

With Adams’ observations in mind, one of this week’s most intriguing match-ups of the week is Thomas Walker (0-1) traveling to face Lee High (0-1). We think we know what to expect and from whom. Perhaps we don’t.

The Pioneers have never beaten Lee High in football. As coach Brian Lee points out, it’s only been during the last four or five years they’ve been able to stay on the same football field.

“The kids are fired up about it. The communities are fired up about it,” said Lee, whose Pioneers lost to Lee 36-22 last season. “Don’t get me wrong. I want to win this game. But it’s not the end of the world one way or the other. I wouldn’t want us to win this game and think it made our season. We’ve got eight more to play after this one.”

Breaking the drought against the Generals is by no means unthinkable.

Last week, Thomas Walker lost a 32-28 heartbreaker to freshly consolidated Wise Central, which dressed out 68 players to the Pioneers’ 24. Cody Cain rushed for 215 yards and touchdown runs of 60, 37 and 44 yards. Jared Brewer rushed for 126 yards, including a 65 yard TD scramble.

“The one thing about coming off that tough loss this week,” said Thomas Walker offensive coordinator Tim Johnson, “is that we knew we wouldn’t have too much trouble getting them up for this week.”

Last week, Lee High also let a big one slip away. The pomp and spectacle that attended the inaugural “Brawl for the Bucket” at Ben Hur accentuated the Generals’ collective dismay at Union’s 29-24 comeback victory in the final half-minute of play.

Lee coach Andy Palko called an 8 a.m. practice Saturday morning.

“It’s better than moping around all weekend. You get to school and get some of that out of your system. We looked at the film and talked a little bit and got some of the head stuff taken care of,” Palko said.

“Last year, getting from where we were to being a decent team wasn’t hard. Going from being a decent team to being a good one is more challenging.

“That’s what you play for: to be in that fourth- and-3 situation at the 5-yard line. My expectation is that we’re going to make that play. We didn’t that time. But we’re going to make it in the future.”

The Generals have big-play counterparts in running backs Tyler Graham and Dylan Anders. All three Lee touchdowns were gains of 58 yards or better.

It could be a horse race, but Brian Lee is concerned about the hogs.

“Everybody wants to talk about their backs. But the first thing that catches my attention is their offensive and defensive lineplay,” Lee said.

“They are a big, old team. And they are pretty doggone good up front.”

SW Va. Capsules

Friday night

Harlan County (2-0) at Gate City (0-1)

Kentucky 5A Harlan County opened its season with a 36-0 win over Morristown East and last week took a 48-20 win over Dunbar (Lexington). Marcus McMillan and Jake Middleton both had over 200 yards rushing for the Black Bears. “I expect it’s going to be a right-at-you ballgame,” said Gate City coach Bill Houseright. “They run the ball right at you and they come off the ball extremely well. They fly around and run to the ball on defense.” Led by QB Nick Bowen and RB Seaver Elliott, the Blue Devils are preparing to wage war at the line of scrimmage. “They’re not a spread team and I don’t expect us to pass it much, either,” Houseright said. “It could be a fast ball game.”

Castlewood (1-0) at Honaker (1-0)

Castlewood didn’t play Honaker in football last year. This is unquestionably a good time to do it. QB Trevor Hileman passed for 172 yards and two scoring strikes in last week’s dominating win over Haysi. Reid Edmonds, now very much a Castlewood guy, reeled off a 72-yard scoring run last week. RB Jared Honaker rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns to pace the Tigers in their 31-14 win over Lebanon. Pioneers quarterback John Michael Duty passed for over 200 yards against the Tigers and Castlewood has athletes who should create a few match-up dilemmas.

Clintwood (0-1) at Haysi (0-1)

Clintwood RB Gavan Meade had 127 yards rushing in last week loss to impressive Hazard, Ky. The Greenwave firmed up its schedule, looking for a payoff further down the road. These Tigers are not the Tigers of old, but this is an old Dickenson County rivalry. The shock of last week’s loss has worn off and James Colley has been cooking up some surprises. Perhaps also, has Clintwood.

J.I. Burton (1-0) at Rye Cove (1-0)

J.I. Burton RB Riley Maggard rushed for 175 yards with two scoring runs and a TD reception as the Raiders got things rolling last week with a win over Holston. Patrick Fritz scored twice for the War Eagles in their win over Northwood. Zach Wilson collected a critical interception for Rye Cove. “They’re a year older and stronger and a very physical team,” said Burton coach Jimbo Adams. “We feel like maybe we have a speed advantage. Hopefully, we can make use of it.”

Holston (0-1) at Twin Springs (0-1)

The Titans dust themselves off after last week’s disappointing loss to John Battle, looking to square up the win-loss column against the Cavs. RB Austin Hazlett rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown last week. RB Dakota Barlow led Holston with 53 yards against Burton.

Richlands (1-0) at Union (1-0)

Like last week’s “Brawl for the Bucket,” this is a completely new series, albeit with previous ties to Powell Valley. Last year, the Blues beat the Vikings 42-20. Richlands star fullback and linebacker Devon Johnson was sidelined early with a knee injury in last week’s opener with Gate City, but an MRI revealed that it was a Grade I ligament sprain and he could be ready to play by Friday. Tyler Barker and Mekyah Johnson pace the Bears, who have grasped the concept of ball-control offense. Nathan Baker had a couple of impressive catches last week for Union.

Ervinton (0-1, 0-0) at Eastside (0-1, 0-0)

Eastside earned the respect of Sullivan North in last week’s season opener at Kingsport. This week, the Spartans look to command it from the outset as they open the Cumberland District slate with the Rebels. RBs Erikk Banks and Cody Lawson fuel the Eastside rushing attack. QB Caleb Riner threw his first TD pass of the season last week at North. The Spartans are a work in progress, coach Matthew Hamilton said. All of the pieces haven’t fallen into place just yet. But he is confident they will.

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