Cavs, Blues, for it all

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Carroll County and Richlands will settle the Southwest District title tonight.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

HILLSVILLE -- This, folks, is what Friday nights in October were made for. Carroll County and Richlands will decide the Southwest District championship tonight (Friday) when the Blue Tornado (7-1 overall, 4-0 district) faces Carroll County (6-2, 4-0) at Tommy Thompson Field. It will be the fourth time in the past 12 years that the Cavaliers will have played for the SWD’s crown, having fallen short in 1997 and 2003 (Graham) and 2005 (Richlands). “It’s a big game,” Carroll County coach Tom Hale said Wednesday, emphasizing the word ‘big.’ “It’s a big game for our school, our football program and the community, so everybody is excited about it. We feel like we’ve got an excellent shot. They’ve got a good football team and we’re going to have to play well. We’re certainly not underestimating them, but if we play our A game and get some defensive plays, I feel like we’ve got a great shot to win.” Standing between the Cavaliers and the first district football title in the school’s 40-year history will be the undisputed king of Southwest District football for the past half-decade. Richlands football is a living, breathing, self-fulfilling prophecy.  It’s a football town. Little kids grow up watching heroes like Austin Fuller, Timmy Brown, Matt McGlothlin, Justin McCracken and the like, seeing themselves some day in a blue helmet with a white ‘R’ on it, making plays for the Blue Tornado. More often than not, that desire to become the next Caleb Jennings or Brannon Breeding turns little kids into the next generation of pretty daggone good football players. “The entire community supports football,” Hale said. “They travel well. They’ll have 500-600 people at away games, which is phenomenal. They’ve got great community support, and if you see their facilities, they’re first class. And that’s the type of person [head] coach [Greg] Mance is. He’s first class. We have a lot of respect for them, and I feel they have the same for us.” Both teams enter the game on a roll. Richlands has reeled off seven straight wins since a 10-7 opening-night loss to Gate City, while Carroll County has won five straight since giving Christiansburg a battle. Richlands appeared ready to fall to the level of merely above average until the Johnson clan mass-moved into town from Hale’s alma mater, Big Creek High in War, W.Va. Quarterback Cody Johnson had 143 passing yards plus 90 yards and four scores on the ground in last week’s 49-21 win over Graham. That was a week after throwing for 178 yards and three scores against Marion. Runningback Devon Johnson ran for 156 yards against Marion and Austin Johnson had a 40-yard touchdown catch in that game. “They’ve got good balance offensively,” Hale said. “They’re running it well and passing it well, not doing one more than the other. Very good skill people, and they make plays when they have to.” Hale was impressed with Richlands’ resolve in tough situations, saying the Blues don’t crack under pressure. “When their backs are to the wall, they make plays,” he said. “They have the ability to get the home run play, and that’s what concerns me the most.” Indeed, the average Richlands touchdown comes from 26 yards out, and the team has 18 touchdowns of 30 or more yards. Abingdon saw first-hand Richlands’ big play capability as the Falcons gave up five scores of 40 yards or more in a 58-21 loss. “Those coaches do a great job and their kids play hard,” Hale said. “They’ve got that tradition and they play hard. They come into every game believing that they’re going to win, and they play like it.” Hale would like to see his defense register at least two three-and-outs each half. And plan on seeing the Cavs play defense when Carroll has the ball, too. The anti-spread, Carroll’s grind-it-out wing-T has produced just six scores of 30 or more yards, half of those coming last week in a 42-14 win over Grundy. Almost half of the Cavaliers’ 27 touchdowns have come from inside the 10. That’s all by design, as Hale is usually tickled with a 4-yard carry and a running clock. “We’ve got to get at least two three-and-outs each half,” he said. “More importantly, we’ve got to control the ball. In the past when we’ve moved the ball well in big games, it helps us out a lot. We don’t have to score every possession, but we need to get first downs and move the ball and win that battle of field position.” The Cavaliers have a great opportunity in front of them, and Hale seems to like what he has seen in practice this week. “Just the enthusiasm of our kids,” he said. “When we watch [Richlands] on film, they’re young, but they’re on a roll right now. Overall I feel like we’ve got a little bit more experience and we’re playing at home, and over the years we’ve been real tough to beat here.”   WEEK 10

 Richlands (7-1, 4-0)  at  Carroll County (6-2, 4-0) Friday, 7:30 at Tommy Thompson Field

Last week Richlands defeated Graham 49-21 Carroll County defeated Grundy 42-14 Last meeting 2008 (Richlands won 23-7) Last Carroll County win 2003 (16-6) Common opponents Abingdon Richlands won 58-21 Sept. 18 Carroll County won 26-7 Oct. 9 Tazewell Richlands won 42-7 Oct. 2 Carroll County won 33-14 Sept. 18 Marion Richlands won 27-7 Oct. 9 Carroll County won 14-13 Oct. 16

The season  Richlands                                     Carroll County lost to Gate City 10-7     8/28   lost to Bassett 21-20 def. Honaker 45-7          9/4    def. Patrick Co. 28-27 def. Powell Valley 19-14  9/11   lost to C’burg 23-7 def. Abingdon 58-21       9/18   def. Tazewell 33-14 Open                          9/25   def. Grayson Co. 25-6 def. Tazewell 42-7         10/2    Open def. Marion 27-7           10/9    def. Abingdon 26-7 def. Lebanon 46-32       10/16  def. Marion 14-13 def. Graham 49-21       10/23  def. Grundy 42-14 at Carroll County          10/30  Richlands Grundy                       11/6  at Graham

The series 1976–Richlands 19-6 1996–Richlands 21-6 1997–Carroll County 22-19 1998–Richlands 32-0 1999–Carroll County 38-6 2000–Carroll County 40-28 2001–Richlands 47-7 2002–Richlands 29-14 2003–Carroll County 16-6 2004–Richlands 26-3 2005–Richlands 7-6 2006–Richlands 41-0 2007–Richlands 34-6 2008–Richlands 23-7

Overall Richlands leads 10-4