Bobcats bring lengthy streak to Galax

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By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

Who says non-district games in August aren’t that important?

Galax will look to improve to 2-0 on the young season in what is shaping up to be a key early-season test Friday when the Maroon Tide hosts Radford in a meeting of former New River District foes.

Galax (1-0) will certainly hope to avoid a repeat of last year’s meeting, in which Radford spoiled what had been a dream start to the 2007 season with a nightmarish 49-12 win. After playing toe-to-toe with Carroll County in a benefit game and demolishing Northwood in its season opener, Galax fell flat at Radford, a defeat that started a funk that kept the Tide out of the win column for seven weeks, including two idle Fridays. The Radford loss was followed by a late collapse against Eastern Montgomery and a surprise loss against Auburn in what grew into a five-game slide.

The much-anticipated meeting couldn’t have started any worse for Galax. A 65-yard punt return for a Bobcat score was followed by a fumbled kickoff, resulting in a Radford touchdown two plays later. Galax’s next series ended with a fumble at its own 14, setting up a field goal for the Bobcats. The Maroon Tide’s third lost fumble of the first quarter resulted in a 52-yard scoring run on the next play, leaving Galax down 22-6 entering the second.

Radford added scoring drives of three plays and one play, then capped a big first half by turning an interception into a score for a 43-6 halftime lead.

The outcome was consistent with football theory in general and Galax’s plight in particular – it’s a lot easier to win when you don’t give away the football. Galax finished 5-5 last year. In its five wins, it had a plus-9 turnover ratio and an average score of 30-12. In its five losses, the Tide was minus-12 with an average score of 19-39. Last week, thanks in part to a pair of Jerad Brown interceptions, Galax was plus-2 in its 35-14 win over Northwood.

Needless to say, Galax coach Jared Van Acker will have uttered the words ‘ball control’ by the time Friday rolls around.

“We definitely need to keep hold of the ball this week, especially after last year,” said Van Acker. “We’ve been preaching it all year, just overemphasizing it this week. We watched game film [from last year] as a staff [Sunday], and I really saw a team that was playing with them. We just shot ourselves in the foot. The score really didn’t show how well we could have played against them.”

Preaching is one thing. But like any good sermon, putting wise words to use is the key.

“You’ve just got to go to the basics – how to hold the ball, where to place the ball, trying to keep the ball as close to your body and tucked as high as you can, so nobody can get a hand in there and pluck it out,” Van Acker said.

Radford will bring a senior-dominated team to Galax, but not an overly-experienced team.

“They’re going to bring a heck of a football team, they’re well-coached, they have that proud tradition, and they’re going to be physical,” said Van Acker.

Radford will run a dive-option attack, with quarterback Dontae Carter, fullback Dre Thompson and runningback William Saunders the key ground weapons. Radford also picked up Jon Thompson as a solid receiving threat. A senior, Thompson is one of the top sprinters in Group A and is on the football field for the first time.

Saunders and middle linebacker Brian Sowers are the Bobcats’ top defenders. Van Acker said that on film it appears that Sowers keys on the opposing quarterback, and after the week Galax quarterback Tyler Houk had Friday, Sowers will most likely have his eyes on No. 7 all night. Houk accounted for 420 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns against Northwood, rushing for 266 yards and four scores, throwing for 72 yards and returning a kickoff 82 yards for a score. Van Acker said he has seen the big night coming.

“I saw a true athlete that every coach dreams of having,” he said. “I’d love to have him for four years instead of just two. He’s smart, a 3.9 GPA, he has a hard work ethic, he’s always in the weight room, he’s a leader, and you knew that sooner or later it was going to click. And when it clicked, it really clicked.”

Galax is hoping it will all click again this week and that the Tide snaps a nine-game losing streak that dates back to 1981, the year Van Acker was born.