No matter what Tiger Woods’ publicist may think, winning doesn’t really take care of everything.
That said, a 48-29 win over Lebanon last week was a much-needed tonic for Gate City’s beleaguered football team. The Blue Devils (2-4, 0-1) were in high spirits preparing for tonight’s Mountain District clash with Virginia High (2-3, 1-1) at Legion Field.
“We were hurting. We were soul-hurting. It was a big win for us, and it helped us,” said Gate City coach Bill Houseright, whose team had been winless since beating Abingdon 42-21 on Sept. 5.
The team has come a long way since the coach suspended multiple players on the eve of its road trip to Bluefield, WVa. Discipline has been dealt. Attitudes adjusted. In the meantime, other unwelcome, highly-publicized incidents unrelated to athletics have lent perspective to the community at large.
The town is certainly eager to feel good about something. Redemption isn’t an overnight process, but Gate City’s traditional rallying point is as good a place to start as any.
It has been a trying season for the veteran coach, but all the collective effort hasn’t been wasted.
“I think its going to show down the road as we keep going. We’re still not where we need to be, but we’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “I feel better about the way we’re headed. Yes.”
One directional indicator is freshman quarterback Hunter Collier, who had three touchdown runs and two scoring strikes in last week’s win.
“He’s maturing each week. It just takes time. He’s still nowhere near where he will be. He knows that. But he’s seeing things better, doing things better,” Houseright said.
The young QB stepping up frees older brother, Michael Collier, to make plays elsewhere on the field. Soccer crossover Caleb Herron, meanwhile, has emerged as a significant threat in space. Last week he had over 311 all-purpose yards, including a 95-yard scoring kickoff return and an 80-yard scoring punt return.
Virginia High is an old and familiar rival of the Blue Devils. First-year head coach Michael Crist is completely unfamiliar. His staff includes Ronnie Davis and Thad Wells, both of whom coached under Greg Mance at Richlands.
So far the Bearcats have run multiple variations of the spread offense. The common thread is senior running back Justin Brown, who rushed for 326 yards in last week’s 35-26 win over Chilhowie.
“We’ve got to get lined up right and read our keys and adjust and try to play with our personnel,” Houseright said.
“We’re getting better in spots. Still in spots we still need to be a little more physical. Hopefully we’ll get around to that.”
Elsewhere tonight, the “Brawl for the Bucket” gets under way when Union (4-2, 1-0) rolls into Ben Hur for a Mountain District showdown with Lee High (3-2, 0-0) at Five Star Stadium.
The Bears, who are led in rushing by RB Jake McCray, come off a 27-6 loss at Middlesboro, Ky. The Generals, who lost 42-20 at Grayson County last week, are paced by on the ground by Cody Haynes and Ray Avery.
Union QB Tanner Hall and Lee High QB Houston Sage were both factors in their respective interstate battles at Sullivan North. Don’t expect the passing game to be inconsequential.
In another Southwest Virginia games of note, Clintwood (4-1) takes on unscathed Honaker (5-0) at EMATS Stadium. The Tigers edged previously-unbeaten John Battle 26-24 last week. The Trojans (5-1, 0-0) look to get back on their horse at Wise Central (1-4, 0-0).
Castlewood (1-5, 1-3) travels to J.I. Burton (3-3, 2-0); Eastside (3-3, 1-1) takes a flight to Rye Cove (0-5, 0-2) and Thomas Walker (1-5) goes Pioneering to frightfully unbeaten Haysi (5-0).