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Don’t call this a battle of speed vs. size. Such an oversimplification would be an insult to the players and the coaches of both teams involved.
Nobody disputes the fact that Galax has plenty of speed. But the Maroon Tide (14-0) would not be playing in the Group A Division 1 championship game if it weren’t a physical football team.
It’s abundantly obvious that Clintwood is big and strong. But the Greenwave (12-2) would never have made it to face Galax on Saturday at Salem if its players weren’t nimble enough to keep up with and contain teams like George Wythe and Sussex Central.
Nope, this is much more than that. This state championship will be settled between two solid, athletic, well-coached, well-rounded football teams. One just happens to be bigger than it is fast, and the other happens to be faster than it is big.
“There are two misconceptions, I think,” said Galax coach Mark Dixon. “Number one is that they don’t have speed, and number two is that you can wear us down. Those are the two things that I hear that I think are the most erroneous. They’re not going to wear us down and we’re not going to outrun them. I don’t see either thing happening. I think we’ll hang in there fine and I think they can cover anything we do. It’ll just come down to who plays better. Who executes better.”
Galax is still looking for its first challenge after four postseason cakewalks. The 222 points that the Maroon Tide has scored in the playoffs are 80 more than its defense has allowed in 14 games combined. Dixon fully expects a challenge from Clintwood.
“The thing that strikes me first is how good they are defensively,” he said. “From reading about them I assumed that we’d be able to throw the ball, but it just doesn’t look like it’s there. They have good enough speed, especially at the corners, to cover our guys. And I don’t think it’s realistic to think we can pound it at them 25 or 30 times and average enough per run to keep their offense off the field.”
Galax has been able to do both effectively the entire year. Tailback Jordan Vaughan enters with 1,429 yards and 26 touchdowns, followed by the Peoples brothers, both of whom average more than 10 yards per carry. Donte, a junior, has 823 yards and 14 TDs, and sophomore Steven has 790 yards and 11 scores in 12 games.
Austin Pack has thrown for 1,359 yards and 19 touchdowns against just five interceptions, and top target Deion George has 35 catches for 767 yards and 14 TDs. The two hooked up four times for 123 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s state semifinal win over Lunenburg Central.
“They’re athletic and they do a lot of things very well,” Clintwood coach Rick Mullins said. “They’re fundamentally sound and it will be a challenge. Offensively they can attack a lot of different areas. You can’t load up on one thing.”
In a way, that’s one of Dixon’s biggest concerns. He doesn’t see Clintwood needing to load the box against the stable of talented tailbacks, thus allowing more coverage against the pass.
“I keep looking for an area to attack, but he’s such a good coach,” Dixon said. “He has his defense set up where his personnel matches up well. Any area you think you can go he’ll have somebody behind him who’s a stud.”
Dixon expressed the need to find creativity without sending his kids the wrong message by abandoning what has worked 14 straight games.
“I’ve got to have faith in our boys, and I do,” he said. “But there does have to be some gameplan things done because some of their boys are so big and strong that it would be foolish to think we can line up and run our basic offense.”
There is one aspect of Saturday’s game that is in Galax’s favor. The Greenwave opened the season with a loss to Hazard, Ky., which won the Kentucky 1A state championship last week. So Clintwood is already 0-1 on the year against teams coached by a Mark Dixon.
Dixon (the Galax one) expects his group of veterans to be able to handle the spotlight Saturday. It is he who is feeling it.
“I feel more pressure here than at any level I’ve ever played,” said the former Miami Dolphin. “I feel responsible for kids who have given me everything they have for two years, every day. There’s a ton of pressure not to let them down. I owe them the best I’ve got this Saturday.”