Some folks probably take for granted that Friday’s Lonesome Pine District clash between Clintwood and J.I. Burton is the first act of a two-part drama.
Raiders coach Jimbo Adams takes nothing for granted.
“There are scenarios where we might not make the playoffs,” said Adams, whose Raiders (7-1, 2-1) take on the Greenwave (7-1, 3-0) at Lawson-Fitchko Stadium in Norton.
For instance, Adams observed, what if Haysi were to win the Black Diamond title and Hurley finishes the regular season with a higher power rating than Burton? That would leave two of four Division 1 berths spoken for. The eventual Cumberland District champ would make three.
The Raiders’ coach wants to leave as little to chance as possible.
“If we win out, the worst we can finish is as district co-champs with the No. 1 seed in our division,” Adams said. “Our kids know what’s at stake. We’re anticipating a good ball game and a big crowd.”
If Clintwood wins Friday night, the worst the Greenwave can expect is a share of the LPD title and the top seed in the division. This week, Clintwood’s 23.4 rating is the highest of any Division 1 team in the state. The Greenwave is ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press Group A poll.
Clintwood’s ambitions remain unchanged, however, coach Rick Mullins said. And that includes keeping it’s priorities in order.
“We’re still shooting for the Lonesome Pine District championship first and go from there,” Mullins said. “Our goals have not changed. We just want to keep improving and hope to get a little better as the season goes on so we get the chance to play in those games that mean a lot.”
Outside of postseason implications, the matchup showcases two of the most talented and well-coached football teams in Southwest Virginia.
At the top of the Raiders’ talent chart is running back Martinez Miles, who has rushed for 1,176 yards and 16 touchdowns. Miles has an offer on the table from VMI and is still on the board with Virginia Tech, Louisville and several other Division 1 programs.
Clintwood tight end Nick Robinson has five catches for 78 yards under Clintwood’s relatively conservative passing regimen, but is the team’s second leading tackler on the defensive side of the football with 57, including 11 for loss and three quarterback sacks. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Robinson has already visited Marshall and Carson-Newman.
Both of last year’s meetings between these two teams were crowd-pleasers. Clintwood prevailed 27-13 at rain-soaked Ralph Cummins Stadium and held Burton off 22-19 in the Region D divisional title game on the turf at Virginia-Wise’s Carl Smith Stadium.
Clintwood quarterback Trey Meade, who has reeled off 367 yards and two scores, is the biggest difference between this year’s model and the last, said Adams. Three running backs — Justin Reed, Mancel Powers and Austin Dotson — are sharing the load carried mostly last year by Christopher Robinson.
“They’ve actually got three kids back there that run pretty good. And when you’ve got fresh legs in there, that’s definitely an advantage,” said Adams.
Both teams have gotten excellent execution at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. The Greenwave, in particular, have garnered accolades for defensive line play and overall defensive execution.
Friday offers an opportunity to enhance that reputation. Burton fullback Malik Miles has been impressive for a freshman. Meanwhile, quarterback Jansen Bates and receivers Timmy Goins and Andy Short pose, along with Martinez Miles, serious big-play threats from the passing game.
“When it comes to crunch time, they’ll spread it around. They have a bunch of people who can run and they can get them the football,” Mullins said. “A lot of people think about Martinez Miles when you talk about Burton. But they’re not a one-man team.”
SW Va. Capsules
Twin Springs (4-4, 3-1) at Thomas Walker (4-3, 4-0)
The Titans are doing their utmost to set the stage for a two-way — or three-way — Cumberland District championship tie, and let the power points crazily fall however they may. Nathan Sluss has the nod to start at QB, filling in for injured Aaron McCoy who may yet see the field. Nathan Morefield helps compensate for Sluss’s absence at wideout. Meanwhile, RB Austin Hazlitt is coming off two consecutive 100-plus yard rushing outings. Getting buffeted about by powerful non-district competition has thus far helped the Pioneers’ district ambitions. QB Ryan Scott has passed for 446 yards and seven touchdowns with Corey Yeary, Cody Williams, Steven Escobar and Jared Brwer sharing the catches.
Rye Cove (1-7, 1-3) at St. Paul (5-3, 4-0)
The Deacons beat Coeburn 29-0 last week. For those of us who have been around for a while, that is pretty amazing stuff. QB Tyler Phillips and RB Denver Fritz lead the St. Paul offense in a quest for outright ownership of the Cumberland title. The Eagles can’t win the district, but they’re still in position to play the spoiler.
Castlewood (1-7) at John Battle (2-6)
The Blue Devils actually outgained Twin Springs in last week’s 22-14 district loss. QB Elliot Wohlgamuth had something to do with that. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him throw a touchdown pass to himself one of these nights. Say what you will about the Trojans’ seemingly eternal gridiron woes: Coach Ryan Witten has obviously made some progress over there.
J.J. Kelly (6-2, 1-2) at Appalachia (5-3, 1-2)
If Division 2 Honaker beats Division 1 Hurley up in the Black Diamond District — well, that’s the sort of thing that ratchets up a sense of urgency for the Indians, who gave Clintwood a fit last week. The Bulldogs are out of the Lonesome Pine District hunt, but a win here could make Division 1 playoff possibilities less remote. Both teams place a high premium on collective effort. Of the two, Appalachia places more emphasis on its passing attack.
Lee High (1-6, 1-1) at Gate City (8-1, 3-0)
Since Gate City QB Dusty Clark doesn’t read the newspapers, he probably doesn’t assume that the third-ranked Blue Devils have already won this ballgame. Whether or not RB Joseph Vaughn reads the papers, it’s hard to see how the Generals can stop him. Lee High RB Tyler Graham really is a special player, but Lebanon’s impressive rushing defense gave him nothing last week. He had more carries (16) than he had total yards (13).
Powell Valley (3-5, 2-1) at Pound (4-4, 0-3)
Can Pound RB Aaron Balthis make as much headway against the Vikings as Vaughn and Clark did at Bullitt Park last week? Given that Powell Valley has played better in its odd-numbered games this season, maybe not. The Vikings (17.3 rating) and J.J. Kelly (17.5 rating) are currently out-ranked in the D-2 standings by Gate City (25.7), Lebanon (19.9) and Virginia High (18.4).