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If one thing stands out about Lonesome Pine District football in general, it is the tradition.
From the athletic tape on the front of each Clintwood player’s helmet scrawled with ‘LPD PRIDE’ to the fact that the official Clintwood roster includes the names and numbers of former players who have had their numbers retired, all the way back to 1949, to the fact that the school has had all of three head football coaches since 1953, it’s just a football culture to be found in the pocket communities that dot Virginia’s far-southwest mountains.
Fifteen times in the last 20 years, at least one LPD school has played for a sate championship. Clintwood will try to add to the legacy of its district and of its own program Saturday when the Greenwave takes on Galax for the Group A Division 1 state title at Salem Stadium.
The contest will mark the seventh state title game appearance for Clintwood, which won it all in 1974, 75 and 78 and took runner-up honors in 1973, 2007 and 08. It’s more than moldy history to the current crop of Greenwave players.
“There’s a lot of pride here and a lot of tradition here, not just in the LPD but at Clintwood High School,” said Greenwave coach Rick Mullins, himself a former Clintwood player. “That means a lot to our kids and they want to uphold that tradition.”
If one thing stands out about Clintwood football in particular, it’s that, well, the kids stand out, like offensive tackles Austin Kelly (6-foot-7, 339 pounds) and Tyler Hamilton (6-2, 358). The three middle O-linemen average 6-1, 223, which is kind of on the scrawny side compared to fullback Austin Dotson (6-2, 234).
Clintwood’s MVP may be the lunch lady. She apparently feeds them well.
The Greenwave has used second-half surges in each of its last two games to reach Saturday’s championship, outscoring George Wythe 17-6 after intermission to win 23-13 in the quarterfinals, then scoring its first points on the last play of the third quarter and overtaking Sussex Central 17-8 in the state semis.
“Obviously that’s not our game plan,” Mullins said, “but our guys believe and they’re never going to give up. Whether we’re behind or ahead they’re going to play hard, and that’ll be the case Saturday.”
Galax coach Mark Dixon isn’t buying the notion that Clintwood just leaned on folks until they gave in down the stretch, and those who think the Greenwave is a tractor pull compared to Galax’s drag race are fooling themselves.
“They’re really big, but they make up for it by being fast,” he said. “You get into the film on Sussex, and Clintwood ran those kids down. And Sussex was as fast as any kids I’ve seen all year. Yeah, they’ve got plenty of speed.”
“We’re hard-nosed and we’ll get after you four quarters, hopefully,” Rick Mullins said. “We play very good defense and we like to get after you. Offensively we like to run the football. We try to be as balanced as possible with what we do but at the same time we feel like we’re a little better running the football.”
The Greenwave will be in its second game without yearlong starting quarterback Dylan Dahley, who broke a collarbone in the Wythe game. Mullins hasn’t had to skinny down the playbook with Dahley’s replacement, younger brother Dalton Dahley, a 6-foot, 172-pound sophomore.
“That’s the way we do it,” Mullins said. “That’s what we’ve done for the last 30 years or whatever. It’s not affected us with the quarterback situation at all.”
Junior tailback Gavan Meade is Clintwood’s feature ballcarrier, with 1,767 yards and 27 touchdowns. Fullback Austin Dotson, in addition to ringing some linebackers’ bells on lead plays, has rushed for 645 yards and six scores. No. 2 tailback Robbie Mullins has 12 touchdowns and 450 yards.
Clintwood hasn’t lost since a 61-6 crash-and-burn at Grayson County in which the Blue Devils piled up 58 points in a little more than 14 minutes late in the first half. Dixon has film on Clintwood from throughout the season and can appreciate where the team has gone since September.
“I’ve seen the evolution,” he said. “I’ve seen film on early games, and some middle games and then now, and I’ve seen the evolution, especially in their linemen. Skill guys are skill guys. But up front they’ve gotten better and better. That’s where I’ve seen the difference.”