James Colley has speculated that his unbeaten 2013 team might be the best Haysi football squad he’s coached since the 1993 unit.
All J.I. Burton coach Jimbo Adams knows is that these are the finest Tigers he’s ever had to prepare to face.
“Defensively, they are way better than any team we’ve played,” said Adams. “Offensively, Haysi has weapons all over the place.”
The Raiders (8-4) travel to Sand Lick Saturday to face the Tigers (12-0) in the VHSL 1A West playoffs.
Elsewhere in the 1A West, Covington (9-3) travels to Ft. Chiswell (11-1). In the 1A East, Central-Lunenburg (10-2) is at Essex (11-1) and Franklin (11-1) travels to Altavista (11-1).
It was 1984 when Colley installed the shotgun offense at Haysi. The Tigers have been spreading the football ever since.
As one would naturally expect, Tigers quarterback Jalen Sykes has been a prolific passer, throwing for more than 1,600 yards and 22 touchdowns. Tanner O’Quinn leads the receiving corps with 43 catchers for more than 900 yards, but Tanner Artrip, Tyler Mullins and Gage Hill also get their share of catches.
While Colley offenses are known for passing, running back Jeffrey Bowen has gained more than 2,000 yards and plenty of attention on his way to scoring 35 touchdowns.
“He’d be the first one to point out that he’s had great blocking,” said Colley, whose “mid-sized” offensive interior — tackles Wade Turner and Brian Duncan, guards Robbie Yates and James Adkins and center Blake Branham — average 250 pounds tackle-to-tackle.
“This is the most run-oriented Haysi offense that I’ve ever seen,” Adams said. “James is good about building his offense around what his talent dictates. He has a big line and two bruising backs and he uses them.”
The second running back to which Adams refers is fullback Tristan Yates, who has a reputation as a headhunter when he lines up as a linebacker on the defensive side of the football.
Kelly Thompson had a huge game for the Raiders against Auburn last week, proving as effective an offensive weapon as a punter as he did as a slot back. Concord University scouts have taken an interest in the exceptionally athletic Thompson.
Tyler Justiniano has breakaway speed at the other slot back. Both slots — as well as wide receiver Cobye Robbins — are effective targets for Burton quarterback Tra Adams, who has obviously grown into his starting role.
“They do an excellent job running the jet sweep. If you stop their jet sweep they come back at you on the counter. They run the trap up the middle and try to catch you off-guard when they run those four verticals,” Colley said.
Defensively, the Raiders run what Colley calls “a swarming defense.” They get a lot of people to the football.
The collective attack on defense pretty much reflects Adams’ approach to overall team involvement. “If you get your rear-end to the football,” he said, “good things are going to happen to you.”
“Every game is decided by five, six or seven plays. You play for the privilege of making one of those plays,” Adams said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re just out for kickoffs and extra points or out there every play of the game. Somewhere, you’re going to have a chance to make a play.”
All kinds of great postseason plays have been made on Adams’ watch. The Raiders’ playoff record is 25-12 since he took over the Norton program.