EMORY — J.I. Burton coach Jimbo Adams believes his defense rarely receives due credit.
Today, that isn’t going to be a problem. Not for the defense. Nor for special teams.
With 2:42 left to play, defensive back Riley Maggard blocked a punt that rolled out the back of the end zone for a safety, giving Burton a 2-0 win over Holston in Saturday’s VHSL Group A, Division state semifinals at Emory & Henry’s Fullerton Field.
“Our defense, they’re the unsung heroes. They’ve been solid all year long,” said Adams, who collected his fifth state semifinal victory as a head coach. “We felt as long as we didn’t make a mistake, the way our defense was playing, we weren’t going to lose.
“Our defensive play was superb.”
The Raiders (11-2) will face Altavista in next Saturday’s state championship game at Salem City Stadium. Burton’s last trip to the finals came in 2006, a controversial 21-20 loss to Riverheads at James Madison University.
Saturday’s game at Emory was the lowest-scoring contest on record since the VHSL state championship series began in 1970. Clintwood’s 3-0 state semifinal win over R.B. Worthy in 1974 was the previous placeholder, tied by Lafayette’s 3-0 win over Liberty-Bealeton in 2001.
“It was a great football game. I’d say an instant classic. Probably one of the best football games in Southwest Virginia,” said Holston coach Jason Matlock, who steered the Cavaliers (11-2) to their second consecutive appearance in the state semifinals.
Saturday’s snowfall postponed action at Lebanon and other VHSL playoff sites, but the artificial grass at Fullerton Field was easily cleared in time for kickoff.
While the footing was good, the exchanges were often tricky. Burton lost one fumble while Holston put it on the ground five times, losing possession twice.
The Raiders collected interceptions from Martinez Miles, Jessee Coffey and Maggard. Holston’s Jeffrey Bramlett also had a pick just before the half.
Burton’s Tanner Crowder missed a disrupted attempt at a 26-yard field goal in the third quarter. The Raiders also dropped a couple of potential touchdown passes early in the fourth quarter — one by Miles and another by Timmy Goins.
Miles, a Division I prospect, was taken out of the lineup later in the game after taking a particularly hard shot. Freshman Malik Miles had 52 yards rushing for the Raiders.
“Holston has got a good team. We didn’t expect them to hit us in the mouth like that,” said Martinez Miles, who led Burton rushers with 84 yards on 22 carries. “But we’re hard-nosed, too.”
Maggard, a freshman, was filling in for the elder Miles on defense when he collected Burton’s third interception with 7:14 remaining in the game. The Raiders couldn’t make headway, but Goins’ subsequent punt to the Cavaliers 17 put Holston back in the hole.
“It kind of limited us to what we could do offensively because of Burton’s speed,” Matlock said. “We never could seem to flip the field on them.”
Aaron Looney and Bradley Skeens worsened Holston’s predicament when they sacked quarterback John Pratt for a loss of 12. Two snaps later, Looney led a mob that had Pratt trapped in the end zone, but the heady Cavaliers signal caller handed off to lineman Richie Casey to forestall the safety.
All day long, Burton tried to Beamerball Cavs punter Jordan Blevins. Maggard finally slipped through and succeeded.
“We practiced real hard. We trained real hard. And it finally came through for this game,” Maggard said.
Looney, who had a solo sack in the third quarter, ended things on a special note of his own. His one-handed deflection of Bramlett’s 36-yard field goal attempt as time expired crushed the Cavs’ comeback hopes.
“It was a team effort. Plain and simple,” Looney said.
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