NORTON — J.I. Burton’s Jimbo Adams has proven his mettle as one of the best Group A football coaches in Virginia.
If current trends continue, Holston’s Jason Matlock might one day obtain his own place in the company of coaching elites.
“I think coach Matlock is a rising star,” said Adams, whose Raiders won their sixth Region D football championship under his leadership last week.
“Holston had been kind of swallowed up by mediocrity for a long time. Now he’s gone in and in three years he and his staff have built an outstanding football program.”
The Raiders (10-2) will face the Cavaliers (11-1) in Saturday’s VHSL Group A, Division 1 state semifinal game at Emory & Henry’s Fullerton Field. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.
Holston collected its second consecutive Region C title last week with a 30-7 win over Bath County at Damascus.
“That is definitely a major compliment,” said the 27-year-old Matlock in reference to the rising-star mantle bestowed by Adams.
“I went to college at Virginia-Wise and got to see some of the things coach Adams did with his program at Norton. I wanted to apply some of those things to a program if I was ever in position to do so.”
In last year’s semifinals, Clintwood beat the Cavaliers 41-21 at Ralph Cummins Stadium. Adams commended Matlock for choosing Emory & Henry as the game site. Cold temperatures and snow showers are projected for Saturday.
“After the quagmire they played in last year, I give them props for putting it on a good playing surface,” Adams said.
“Just because it’s your region’s year to host doesn’t mean you should play at home. A state semifinal game should be a big deal to kids, and you should play them in the best facilities available.”
Burton has regularly hosted state semifinal games on the second-generation turf at Virginia-Wise. The surface at Fullerton Field is third-generation artificial grass. The Raiders are no stranger to that surface, thanks to scheduling Honaker and Shelby County.
Matlock downplayed the role of field conditions in last year’s loss to Clintwood. But he’s clearly got the kind of offense that should benefit from being more surefooted. The Cavaliers run a multiple-set veer running attack with a healthy dose of play action passing.
Running back Jeffrey Bramlett leads the ground game with 1,321 yards and eight touchdowns. Quarterback John Pratt is the second-leading rusher with 743 yards and 16 scores, while running back Cody Blevins has been good for close to 600 yards and is also a key receiver.
Pratt’s arm also has been extremely productive, picking apart the opposition for 1,436 yards and 19 touchdowns, with only two interceptions. Jordan Blevins, Dillon DeArmond and Micah Thomas are among his leading receivers.
“And they’ve got those five seniors across the front,” Adams noted. “They’re just a juggernaut to stop. They do a lot of things well.”
Burton also does a lot of things well. But the one thing at which it has particularly excelled has been getting the ball to Martinez Miles.
Last year, Miles was one of two Raiders slotbacks with more than 1,000 yards rushing. Now after a season at slotback, tailback and wildcat, he’s six yards away from 2,000.
In addition to his 1,994 yards and 25 rushing TDs, he has also caught 12 passes for 163 yards and two scores — as well as thrown for a couple of touchdowns.
“He’s definitely one of the top backs in Southwest Virginia, if not the state,” Matlock said. “He’s got tremendous field vision. He can make you miss and run it right by you. He’s a complete back.”
J.I. Burton’s disruptive defensive reputation precedes it, but the Cavaliers are no slouches on that side of the ball.
“They’re playing a different scheme that a lot of kids aren’t used to seeing, an odd front with a Cover 2 in behind it. They’re doing a lot of slanting, but not a lot of blitzing,” Adams said. “They run to the ball extremely well.”
The Cavaliers blanked Bath County for three quarters last week, finally giving up a 28-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.
“We have a lot of guys that are aggressive and like to get to the football. We put them in position to do that,” Matlock said.