Under the Virginia High School League’s sectional football playoff system, district championships are essentially meaningless.
There is an element of truth to be sifted from that statement. But it is hardly a universally shared article of faith in the Southwest Virginia region formerly known as ‘D.’
“That was our number one goal starting out the season, to win a Cumberland District championship,” said Clintwood coach Rick Mullins, whose Greenwave (4-2, 3-0) take on J.I. Burton (4-3, 3-0) at Norton’s Lawson-Fitcko Stadium tonight.
“If we want to accomplish our first goal, than we’d better be ready for Norton.”
A district championship has little or no bearing on the postseason. But district crowns are probably easier to denigrate if you haven’t won any lately.
Since 2005, every district championship in the now-defunct Lonesome Pine District was claimed either by Clintwood or Burton, said Raiders coach Jimbo Adams.
“Gate City tied with us one year and Powell Valley tied with them one year,” said Adams, who reminded that a district championship is one of only two outright titles a football team can claim in Virginia nowadays.
“You can’t win a sectional because they cross-bracket (for the state semifinals). You get a trophy, but what does it mean? I guess it means you won a quarterfinal game,” he said.
Clintwood, which comes off a 28-0 loss to Honaker that some in the region found shocking, is currently seventh in the VHSL West Section 1A standings with a 16.6 power rating. J.I. Burton, which beat Castlewood 42-0 last week, is currently ranked 11th with a 15.2.
A more immediate concern for Clintwood is addressing the root cause of last week’s humbling defeat. The Tigers — now the top-rated 1A team in the West — beat the Greenwave up front.
“It was one of those kinds of deals where we think we got spanked a little bit,” said Mullins, on whose watch offensive lineplay has been a particularly strong suit.
“I certainly hope it hurt our pride a little bit.”
Dakota Dahley, younger brother of quarterback Dalton, leads the Clintwood rushing attack. Mullins said the progress of Dahley and his cohorts tonight is largely up to center Tanner Brooks, guards Daniel Mullins and Tristan Hayes, tackles Matt Jones and Tyler Mullins and tight end Nate Mullins.
Upping the ante is Norton’s emerging strength on the defensive front: Peyton Stallard, Dakota Noble and Savon Wadsworth have gotten better at posing blocking dilemmas that can create opportunities for the defensive playmakers behind them. For Clintwood, veteran savvy will count for at least as much as muscle, mass and sheer force of will.
Burton sophomore quarterback Tra Adams, who has passed for 703 yards and eight touchdowns, isn’t a wide-eyed rookie taking the snaps any more. To get the most out of him, as well as slot backs Kelly Thompson and Tyler Justiniano, the Raiders face their own set of challenges.
“There is no weakness to be found in their defense. The secondary is fast and athletic, the linebackers play downhill and the guys up front are the same ones who play on offense,” said coach Adams. “Clintwood is a very good football team.”
Over in the Mountain District, Lee High (3-3, 0-1) heads to Gate City looking for its first win over the Blue Devils (3-4, 0-1) since 1998. Both teams are in the 2A playoff hunt, although presently looking like first-round travelers. This could change.
The Generals come off a 27-23 loss to Union that featured big plays from scat back Ray Avery (98-555, 4 TDs) and quarterback Houston Sage (33-70-5, 716, 5 TDs).
Fullback Cody Haynes was sidelined last week with an ankle injury. If healthy enough, his return would be a plus for Lee.
Gate City beat Virginia High 27-23 last week for its second consecutive win. Evan Baker (433 yards, 2 TDs) leads the rushign attack. The real revelation has been Caleb Herron, who has scored seven rushing TDs, two receiving TDs and two special teams TDs. Herron is averaging 46.6 yards per punt return.
Also in the Mountain: Union (5-2, 2-0) heads up to Carl Smith Stadium to face Wise Central (1-5, 0-1).
Logan Collins, who leads the Warriors with 735 yards and six TDs, ran for 151 and two scores in last week’s 30-20 loss to John Battle. Led offensively by RBs Jake McCray, Mekyah Davis and Brandon Hubbard, the Bears are currently the fourth-ranked 2A team in the West section.
Other matters requiring your urgent attention: Eastside (4-3, 2-1) takes the Caleb Riner show on the road to Twin Springs (1-5, 1-1) and Rye Cove (0-6, 0-3) travels to confront ancient nemesis Thomas Walker (1-6, 1-2).
Castlewood (1-6) loads up to Lebanon (2-4) to sort out the second-best football team in Russell County.