SW Va. prep preview: Centrals collide as Cougars make trip to Wise

George Thwaites • Sep 7, 2011 at 11:44 AM

WISE — Wise County’s brand-new Central High School would like to be known simply as “Central.”

Political correctness aside, this is a tricky proposition in terms of regional sports coverage. Across the state line in Tennessee stands Sullivan Central.

Potential for confusion abounds.

Meanwhile, in Virginia we already have Central-Woodstock and Central-Lunenburg (aka Central Senior). So Central-Wise would be a natural referent in the context of the Commonwealth.

That is, if not for the potentially confusing collegial coexistence of Virginia-Wise, located just across town.

Logically, that leaves us with Wise-Central (1-0), which is poised this week for its first-ever gridiron meeting with Sullivan Central (0-2).

Friday night’s game will be played — brace yourselves — on the artificial turf in Carl Smith Stadium at Virginia-Wise. Admission is $5 and kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

“It would probably be a mud bowl if we played at home,” said Carol Saboites, assistant athletic director at Wise-Central.

With more uncertain weather on the horizon, Sullivan Central probably welcomes the more sure-footed surface. In last week’s 48-17 loss to Science Hill, Cougars quarterback Charlton Buckner passed for 180 yards, including a 78-yard scoring strike to wide-out Logan Fox.

Sullivan Central coach Jeff Fox foresees more forays across the state line for non-conference games in future seasons. But for now, the drive up U.S. 23 is a jouney into terra incognita. Particularly this week.

“I wish I knew more about them. They’ve had only one game in their history. For us, it’s a challenge to be ready,” said Fox, whose rushing attack is led by Mitchell Smith, Matt Kincaid and Garrett Smith.

There was no film exchange between the Cougars and the Warriors coaching staffs. Fox is banking that recent experience with Happy Valley’s flex bone offense may have provided valuable reps for this encounter.

“As far as knowing their better athletes, we’re going to have to make adjustments on the run Friday,” Fox said.

The idle week that followed Wise-Central’s 32-28 season-opening win over Thomas Walker makes Wise-Central even more difficult to figure out. There’s been a whole lot of tweaking going on.

“I think we definitely have improved, probably more than anyone else might have, because of the extra week,” said Warriors coach Jason Mullins.

“We didn’t have the entire summer to scheme the things we were planning on doing, and it put us behind a lot. Now we’ve evaluated everything and have changed some of the things we were doing.”

In the season opener, running backs Logan Collins and Joe Burnopp rushed for more than 100 yards apiece. Graysen Hale wasn’t too far behind. Quarterback Tyler Mullins passed for 97 yards and a touchdown.

“I think we didn’t play very good in Week 1. It was good to win, but it wasn’t the way we want to play,” Jason Mullins said. “I don’t think we’re going to overlook anybody. We’ve got to be ready to roll every Friday night.”

Southwest Virginia Capsules

J.I. Burton (2-0) at Lee High (1-1)

Raiders coach Jimbo Adams estimates roughly 15 years have elapsed since Norton and the Generals met on a football field. Throw second-year coach Andy Palko into the mix and Ben Hur might as well be a blank slate.

“It doesn’t matter what they’ve done under previous coaches. Coach Palko is doing his own thing and how he wants to do it. There are a lot of unknown variables for us,” Adams said.

What can’t be hid from the Raiders’ skipper is that Lee High is big, strong and physical up front with some fast RBs who can break big plays. In addition to better-known playmakers Tyler Graham and Dylan Anders, Raymond Avery and Houston Sage exploded for long scoring runs in last week’s win over Thomas Walker.

J.I. Burton’s offense retains its archetypal form. QB Tanner Crowder’s sleight-of-hand makes the most of Burton’s RB mix: slot backs Riley Maggard and Colby Dean and power back Malik Miles. The experienced signal caller also lends a passing threat that can severely punish opponents for loading up the box.

“It’s not like we don’t like to throw. So far, we haven’t had to,” Adams said. “This Friday, we might.”

This is Lee High’s third straight game at Five Star Stadium this season. The crowd should be fired up.

Honaker (2-0) at Eastside (1-1)

The Tigers remain unbeaten after last week’s 29-8 win over Castlewood, a game which saw Honaker exploit five Blue Devil turnovers. Spartans coach Matt Hamilton has no difficulty discerning his team’s top priority this week. “They’ve been taking advantage of a lot of mistakes other teams have been making. We need to take away the mistakes and play an error-free ballgame,” said Hamilton, whose team thrashed Ervinton 54-6 last week.

Erikk Banks solidified his position as Eastside’s primary ball carrier. There have been a few changes on defense and Hamilton thinks he has things set the way they need to be: “We’re still waiting for a leader to emerge. But I think we have a couple that are close to doing that,” Hamilton said.

Honaker, which is Division 1 this season, is led by RB Jared Honaker on offense and LB John Ritchie, who had two interceptions in last week’s win over Castlewood.

Lebanon (1-1) at Union (1-1)

The rivalry between Powell Valley and Lebanon reached back into the days when John Adams’ squad played in Region C. The Pioneers’ 33-14 win at Grundy last week holds the promise that this week’s first-time meeting with Union could rekindle the flame.

Lebanon’s line dominated the Golden Wave last week, with Chris Belcher rushing for 202 yards and four TDs. The Bears, meanwhile, came up a field-goal shy of beating Richlands. Blues star RB-LB Devon Johnson’s injury kept him from being a factor — but even so, the 24-22 final score was a regional head-turner.

Fullback Tyler Barker rushed for 103 yards and three TDs last week. Smack-face is clearly a Bear essential. But QB Jake Huff is capable of putting the ball out there and WR Nathan Baker is capable of going up and getting it.

Thomas Walker (0-2, 0-0) at Castlewood (1-1, 0-0)

Last week, Lee proved that it could contain the Pioneers speed-laden backfield, which features RBs Cody Cain and Jared Brewer and fullback Brandon Moore. The Blue Devils want to emulate that feat.

“Thomas Walker has a couple of kids who can score any time they touch the football. We need to contain their speed,” said Castlewood coach David Scammell ”

The Pioneers may also have some containing to do. Blue Devils QB Trevor Hileman is passing for an average of 120 yards per game and has thrown four TDs. RBs Addison Rasnick and Reid Edmonds pace the rushing attack; Aaron Kennedy leads the WRs.

Turnovers will be a key: Last week, three interceptions and two muffed punt receptions killed Castlewood momentum against Honaker.

Patrick Henry (1-1) at Twin Springs (1-1)

Patrick Henry and Twin Springs aren’t old football rivals, but Titans coach Mike Castle and Rebels coach Mark Palmer are.

For eight seasons Palmer drew up the plays as coach at St. Paul, which recently closed its doors. Palmer has proven to be a shrewd coach in all his past assignments but the rebuilding process at Patrick Henry won’t occur overnight.

Last week, Abingdon blanked the Rebels 42-0. RBs Aaron Fullen and Andrew Groves hope to find more running room against the Titans than they did against the Falcons. The Titans took a 27-18 win over Holston last week.

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