In the relatively short history of Eastside football, every week has literally provided an opportunity to cultivate new rivalries.
This week, the Spartans take their first-ever road trip to Ben Hur.
“I’ve been there before through the years, but this is the first time I’ve gone as a head coach,” said Eastside’s Matt Hamilton, whose Spartans (2-1) take on Lee High (2-0) at Five Star Stadium Friday night.
Hamilton’s troops will certainly appreciate the horse, cannon and je ne sais quoi that comes with playing in the house Don Williams built.
Through the years, some of Southwest Virginia’s most memorable players — both home and visitor — have made remarkable plays on that field.
With two athletic and effective quarterbacks facing off, the odds should be in favor of moments that will linger in the memory.
Over just three games, veteran Eastside quarterback Caleb Riner has passed for 817 yards and six touchdowns. He’s hit 49 of 84 attempts for a completion percentage of .583 with only two interceptions charged against him.
Riner has led pass rushers on a merry chase, using his feet well while throwing effectively all over the place. Ben Yates (11-197, 3 TDs) had one of the longer scoring receptions of the last two weeks. Other Spartans pass-catchers have shared the wealth, most notably Kobe Lawson (17-268), J.D. Slone (11-184, 2 TDs) and even running back Justin Banks.
“Are we going to hold them scoreless? I’d like to, but I don’t think so. They’re just too explosive,” said Lee coach Terry Martin. “What we need to do is to limit their big plays to one or two. When we have the football we need to control the clock and finish drives.”
Generals QB Houston Sage put up some eye-popping passing numbers running the pistol last season. Two games into the 2013 campaign, Sage has thrown for 250 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 108 and two scores.
What at first seems like less sizzle is a sign of Lee High’s offense having more steak. The Generals boast a beefier rushing attack to complement Sage’s passing game.
“We’ve always wanted to run the football,” Martin said. “We wanted to run it last year, but we just couldn’t. So far this year, we’ve been able to block well and hang onto the football.”
Running back Cody Haynes has rushed for 170 yards and two scores, pretty much plowing his way through. Compact counterpart Ray Avery has rushed for 193 yards and a TD, scooting through a maze of creases, cracks and seams opened by an improved Lee offensive front.
The Generals come off an idle week when they didn’t really need the extra healing-up time. The Spartans look to rebound from a physically grueling 40-27 loss to Honaker.
In the season opener, Lee High’s defense did a solid job taking away the jet sweep from a J.I. Burton offense that is not entirely dissimilar from what Eastside is running.
The Raiders (1-2) continue to fight through growing pains as they play host to Union (2-1) at Lawson-Fitcko Stadium tonight. Norton emboldened itself with a 41-30 win over Wise Central last week, but Burton coach Jimbo Adams expects his young team to be severely challenged by what he said “could be the best football team in Southwest Virginia.”
“They’re not going to fool us. That ain’t their game,” Adams warned. “Their game is blocking and tackling. When you play them, you’d better be able to do that. Or you’re going to lose.”
The Bears used a balanced attack to engineer a big 33-21 win at Sullivan North last week. Golden Raiders RB Jacob Jasper called Union “the Sullivan North of Virginia” with no trace of irony.
Elsewhere, Gate City (1-2) travels to historic Mitchell Stadium to face Bluefield (1-1). The Beavers are the fourth-ranked Class AA team in West Virginia. Thomas Walker (1-2, 1-0) journeys to Clintwood (2-1, 1-0), Twin Springs (0-3, 0-0) goes to Castlewood (0-3, 0-1), Rye Cove (0-2) visits Patrick Henry (2-0) and Wise Central (1-2) heads for Honaker (2-0).