Buckingham County football coach Craig Gill has never coached against Gate City. But he is definitely aware of the program he’ll be facing in Saturday’s VHSL 2A West playoffs.
“They beat a Gretna team that beat us in the second round,” said Gill, recalling the Blue Devils’ 2010 state championship season.
“You can sense that football is important in that part of the country. Football is king.”
The Blue Devils (8-4) take on the Knights (9-3) at Buckingham County High School. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Elsewhere in 2A West, Richlands (9-3) travels to Giles (12-0). In 2A East, Goochland (10-2) is at Riverheads (11-1) and Brunswick County (10-2) travels to Clarke County (12-0).
The Knights had been beaten in the second round of the playoffs four straight years before last week’s 15-6 win over Dan River.
“This was an ice-breaking thing for us, beating a real good Dan River team that a lot of people thought were better than us,” Gill said. “They had three Division I athletes. There are no superstars on our team. Just a bunch of good high school football players that believe in what we’re doing and are very coachable.”
Last week’s low-scoring game with Dan River was pretty much an anomaly for Buckingham County’s prolific no-huddle spread offense. The Knights’ have scored more than 40 points on seven separate occasions this season.
Kenneth “Peanut” Johnson, a 5-foot-10, 170 pound senior running back, leads the way. Johnson has rushed for more than 2,100 yards and 35 touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Leon Ragland, whose favorite receivers are Justin Ayers and Jessee Hickman, has rushed for more than 800.
“(Johnson) is a very explosive kid. He sees well, has great speed and runs well. He has things you don’t teach — great vision, the ability to see and get to those places. The quarterback? He’s another one of those, too,” said Gate City coach Bill Houseright, who is impressed by the scouting footage he’s watched.
“They get you spread out and get your personnel lined up where they want. We’ve got to give them some looks where what they think they’re getting , they’re not getting,” he said.
The Blue Devils defense demonstrated its enhanced ability to create havoc in the fourth quarter of last week’s win over Union.
Gate City’s offense, led by quarterback Hunter Collier and running back and receiver Caleb Herron, harbors big-play potential of its own. But RBs Evan Baker and Logan Rasnic are ready to play smash-mouth behind the Blue Devils’ improved offensive lineplay.
Given the weather this week, they’re sure to get their share of carries.
“I think the ground will be soft, soggy. It may turn into one of those gruelly gruncher games. Three yards and a splash of mud,” Houseright said. “If it does, it does. It’s football. You’ve got to play in the conditions no matter what the weather. You’ve got to go out and compete in it.”
Buckingham County is nearly six hours away from Gate City via bus. The Blue Devils will run signal drills this morning, watch a little film and load the bus at 11:30 a.m. to head for Lynchburg.
“That will put us about an hour away,” said Houseright, whose team will likely face another overnighter if it advances past the Knights to next week’s state semifinals.
“We felt it was an awful long trip to go up and come back in one day. We just want our kids to be put in the best situation. These kids deserve it. They’ve overcome a lot,” he said.