Bland marks last chance for Grayson County

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By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

INDEPENDENCE –– Nobody goes into a football season hoping to go 1-9, although it is certainly better than 0-10. Although if fate deals a team a one-win season, it would definitely be better to end a season with a win than to start with one.

Grayson County will attempt to pick up its first win of the year, end the season on a high note and throw a wrench into the Mountain Empire District race tonight when the Blue Devils (0-9 overall, 0-3 district) host league leader Bland County (8-1, 3-0) as the regular season winds to a close in Virginia.

Having shared two Mountain Empire District championships, a win tonight would give the Bears their first outright championships in their 18 years of fielding a varsity squad.

Bland County cleared what appeared to be the biggest hurdle between it and the district title last week when it rolled past Fort Chiswell 26-6. Quarterback Josh Shrader had 97 yards on 13 carries and threw for another 63 yards, completing 8-of-10 passes. That came on the heels of a 102-yard rushing effort in a win over Galax.

“Bland’s got some really, really good skill kids,” Grayson County coach Brett McPherson said. “They’re just playing together as a unit. I imagine it’s a bunch of guys who have been going to school together for a long time, they know each other real well, they’re just a close-knit bunch that’s feeding off each other. They’re not overly big but they execute real well. We’ll have our hands full, but I think we’ll play well. I think we’ve got a good chance for a win.”

Grayson County found the going a little tougher for itself last week, falling 69-20 to Kentucky 3A school Harlan County. Though the Blue Devils trailed just 28-14 late in the first half, three quick Harlan scores before the half turned a competitive score into a rout.

But after struggling offensively the first half of the year, the Blue Devils have developed a little punch.

“Our kids are hanging tough, and I expect us to play well Friday,” McPherson said. “I feel like we’ve gotten progressively better the last three weeks. I don’t think they can manhandle us up front. Not that we’re overly physical, I don’t think they can manhandle us up front. And I don’t think they have the speed to just run away from us.

“I think if we play things correctly and fundamentally we can get some defensive stops, and I think we’ll be tough to stop, even though their defense has played well. We’re getting a little bit better with what we’re doing. And our kids are really going to fight to keep from getting out of here with an 0-fer.”

In addition to an outright district title, the Bears are fighting for the top spot in the Region C Division 1 playoffs. Bland and Holston are currently tied for the top spot with identical 21.1 VHSL ratings, though Holston has already concluded its regular season. It would be a fine finish for what has been a strong a group of Bland seniors.

“When you’ve got kids who’ve played three years and it’s the quarterback, and those skill positions, it’s huge,” said McPherson. “Like most of the single-A teams there are a lot of them on both sides of the football, so when you’re talking about five or six three-year starters it equates to 10 or 12 three-year starters. They’ll be hungry and wanting to get us after not having beaten us in varsity football.”

McPherson said he wouldn’t be surprised if the game isn’t decided by just a few key plays.

“It’ll come down to five or six plays, five or six situations,” he said, “and if we can execute in those situations we’ll be right there.”