There should be an impressive cluster of humanity converging on Sand Lick to see Friday night’s unbeaten Tiger Fight between Honaker (9-0) and Haysi (9-0).
Football fans all over Southwest Virginia are interested in the outcome. As epic a spectacle as this Black Diamond showdown may prove to be, there are other final scores that will be at least as urgently awaited.
The Russell County Tigers are ranked No. 1 in the Class 1A West Region standings. The Dickenson County Tigers are No. 3. And while a Haysi win could affect the order of the top five, neither will fall in flames with a loss.
J.I. Burton (5-4, 4-1) wraps up the regular season with a Cumberland District finale at Thomas Walker (1-8, 1-4). If the Raiders prevail, coach Jimbo Adams’ zone of interest won’t be confined to the region formerly known as “D.”
“We think that when it all shakes out, if we beat Thomas Walker and Covington beats Bath County, we’re probably going to Covington. If we beat Thomas Walker and Bath County beats Covington, we’re probably going to Ralph Cummins Stadium for a rematch with Clintwood,” Adams said.
“But there are a lot of different variables that can affect things.”
For instance: Holston (6-3) at Chilhowie (6-3) in another former Region C matchup that could jostle the 1A pairings.
For our purposes, the most historically meaningful Game 10 in the 2A West is Lee High (5-4, 2-2) traveling to Virginia High (4-5, 2-2). The Generals, ranked 14th in this week’s power ratings, are on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
Even if they win Friday night, there are elements of uncertainty. What if Appomatox doesn’t beat Chatham? What if Glenvar manages to upset Giles? What if Martinsville topples 4A G.W. Danville?
“There are some scenarios that could work out for us even if we got beat. And other scenarios that we could win and still not get in,” said Lee coach Terry Martin. “But I still feel that we hold our own destiny in our hands. We just need to win and let things take care of themselves.”
For starters, Lee’s defense will try to contain Virginia High running back Justin Brown at least as capably as it hemmed in John Battle’s Carter Harlow in last week’s 27-6 win over the Trojans.
Lee has a solid throwing quarterback in Houston Sage. But if the Generals’ offensive front blocks like it did last week, backs Cody Haynes and Ray Avery can keep the chains moving without having to put it in the air against the Bearcats’ skillful, speedy secondary.
Union (7-2, 3-0) is the second-ranked 2A team in the West and will open the playoffs at home no matter what. But the Bears have more than symbolic incentive to seize sole ownership of the Mountain District crown in Friday night’s game with John Battle (6-3, 1-2) at Bullitt Park.
“If things work out for us Friday, we could be looking at playing at home for three straight weeks,” said Union coach Travis Turner, whose 3-year-old program arose from the consolidation of Powell Valley and Appalachia.
“Both programs won state championships on that field. And we have our home crowd. It seems like every Friday night is a pretty big thing at Bullitt Park.”
The balanced Bears can play pitch-and-catch, thanks to quarterback Tanner Hall and a receiving corps that has made some great plays in space. Running backs Jake McCray, Mekyah Davis and Brandon Hubbard have carried the mail old-school behind Union’s punishing front.
On the other side of the football, Hubbard and fellow linebackers Robert Fonseca and Cameron Johnson pressure the Trojans while trying to keep big plays to a minimum.
“The Harlow kid is the fastest kid in the region. Every time he touches the football he’s a threat to take it to the house,” Turner said.
Also requiring your immediate attention: First-round home-field lock Clintwood (7-2) travels to Wise Central (1-8). The Greenwave is fourth in 1A West. Elsewhere: Castlewood (1-8) travels to probable playoff lockout Eastside (4-5) and Rye Cove (2-7) goes to Twin Springs (3-6) for a season finale that is its own reason for existence.