With regular season play mostly wrapped up in Southwest Virginia, the Region D spotlight focuses entirely on Ben Hur Friday night as Thomas Walker (6-3) takes on Lee High (1-8) at Five Star Stadium.
This will be the first gridiron meeting between these two Lee County programs. It has been dubbed “The Battle of Lee” by George Cridlin, a Lee County attorney who is sponsoring the game and providing a musket trophy.
“There is a lot of excitement in the community. It can turn into a good rivalry for both schools, I thin. A good money game for both of us,” said Lee coach Brian Coomer.
The repercussions of this bragging-rights clash extend beyond the county line. The outcome affects both divisional brackets for next week’s Region D playoffs.
In Division 2, Gate City is affixed at No. 1 and Powell Valley is No. 4. In bonus-point calculations, a Thomas Walker win would give J.J. Kelly the No. 2 seed with a home field advantage and relegate Lebanon to No. 3. A Lee High win gives the No. 2 to Lebanon.
In Division 1, Thomas Walker has the chance to affect its destiny. Clintwood and J.I. Burton are locks at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. If the Pioneers win Friday, they’ll be the No. 3 seed and play Burton while Haysi will take on Clintwood at No. 4. A Lee High win and Thomas Walker is the No. 4 seed.
Last season, the Pioneers made the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Last week, Thomas Walker clinched the Cumberland District championship in a 51-41 shootout with St. Paul.
There should be plenty of emotion left over to invest in this one.
“The kids at Thomas Walker have wanted the chance to play Lee High for a long, long time,” said Pioneers coach Brian Lee. “We tried to get this done the last contract period but we couldn’t get the dates to line up.”
Several things are lining up for Thomas Walker, including an explosive offense that was good for nearly 500 yards rushing last week. The Pioneers started out the season in a Wing T, but have evolved into more of a spread team.
Lee said he used some spread last year, but a discussion with Powell Valley’s Phil Robbins this summer taught him more about the offense than any clinic he’s attended. Tim Johnson, who joined Lee’s staff this fall, also had previous experience with the spread.
“So what we’ve got is a combination of what I was doing, what Phil talked to me about and some of what Tim had done,” Lee said.
Jared Brewer racked up 266 yards rushing last week, but the Pioneers are actually three or four deep in potential ball-carriers. Quarterback Ryan Scott has adapted well to the set. He threw sparingly last week, but he’s got triple-digit passing capability.
Coomer hopes Scott’s throwing arm will get a workout Friday night.
“Throwing the football is not something they’ve had to do. We want to force them into throwing the football and not let them run up and down the field,” Coomer said.
Coomer said the flu is running rampant through the Generals’ clubhouse and hinted that star omniback Tyler Graham’s playing status won’t be determined until game time.
“We know all about Tyler and how good he is, but they’ve got some other athletes that caught our eye when we were watching the game films,” the Thomas Walker coach said.
“I think both teams have got good skill kids. But I think the ones who never get their names in the paper are the ones who are going to win it.”