WISE — After all the football played during the 2009 regular season, it once again boils down to Clintwood and J.I. Burton standing in one another’s way.
The Raiders (9-2) and the Greenwave (9-2) settle the issue in Saturday’s Region D, Division 1 championship game, set for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff at Carl Smith Stadium on the Virginia-Wise campus.
Because of construction at the site, spectators will be required to park at either J.J. Kelly High School or the Greear Gymnasium parking lot on the other side of campus. Free shuttle services will transport fans between the lots and the stadium beginning at 10:30 a.m. Fans are encouraged to arrive early.
Clintwood aspires to its third consecutive state championship game appearance. Before that began, Burton represented the LPD in three straight state championship games.
Ambitions remain mutually unchanged.
“We start out every year wanting to win a state championship, that’s our top priority,” said Burton coach Jimbo Adams.
“That may sound unrealistic. You can’t always measure success on whether you win a state championship. But if you don’t strive for the ultimate goal, you’re never going to reach it,” said Adams, whose convincing bid for the title in 2006 was marred by a game-changing penalty for which the VHSL subsequently apologized.
For now, Clintwood would just as soon measure success by beating the Raiders. Burton thrashed the ‘Wave 36-0 in the regular-season meeting at Lawson-Fitchko Stadium. It was a sobering setback.
“I think our guys know that we’re capable of playing much better than we did that night. Norton was as hot as a firecracker and they played extremely well,” said Clintwood coach Rick Mullins.
“We hope to come out and play a lot better than we played last time and hope they’re not nearly as sharp as they were the first time.”
The Raiders, fresh off a 42-6 win over Haysi, look plenty sharp. Last week, Burton’s offensive line was healthy from tackle-to-tackle for the first time in 31/2 seasons, Adams said. This makes Norton’s multiple-formation attack all the more ominous.
Regardless of how he lines up, running back Martinez Miles (178-1,762, 24 TDs) is Southwest Virginia’s premier ball carrier. He rushed for 171 yards last time, including a 79-yard back-breaker in the third quarter.
The Raiders passing game also hurt Clintwood . Whether Jansen Bates or Caleb Crowder is at quarterback — Adams plans to use both — receivers Timmy Goins, Andy Short and Miles will challenge Clintwood’s secondary.
While the Greenwave did get burned by a couple of big plays last time, Mullins retains a lot of confidence in his defensive unit. It was the offense which came most unglued in the face of Burton’s quick and disruptive execution.
“Norton has got a really, really good defense. Their statistics bear that out,” said Mullins, whose team beat Thomas Walker 66-22 last week. “I think we’ve gotten a little better than we were. The only thing is, they’ve gotten better, too.”
Justin Reed (112-768, 7 TDs) has been Mullins’ most prolific running back, but Mancel Powers, Austin Dotson and Gavin Meade have all run for more than 400 yards apiece. Quarterback Trey Meade has passed for 600 yards and seven touchdowns with Ryan Elswick, J.T. Fleming and Nick Robinson leading the receivers. Meade has also rushed for 467 yards and four scores.
“I think we’ve gotten better in the line as far as protection,” Mullins said. “I think (Meade) has kind of matured in that he sees you can’t leave the pocket. You’ve got to stay in there and trust your linemen.”