THE FRIDAY PRIMER - playoff edition

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Grayson County and Galax each face a former district foe as the VHSL playoffs get under way

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor


#9 Galax (6-4)


#8 George Wythe (6-4)


Through the final month of the regular season, two big questions hovered over the Galax program. Following a 49-28 loss to Fort Chiswell that dropped the Maroon Tide into a tie for 19th in the Region 1A West ratings, the question was, could Galax rebound from a three-game losing streak and gain enough points to reach the playoffs?

As the weeks wound down and the wins racked up, the question evolved into, who would draw the short straw and be paired up in the first round with a very dangerous Maroon Tide? 

Answer to Question 1: Yes. To Question 2: former New River District rival George Wythe.

Here’s why a lot of coaching staffs probably breathed a sigh of relief as the playoff picture came into focus:

Galax’s 6-4 record is hardly a stellar one but it includes losses to Altavista, Giles and Fort Chiswell, currently a combined 28-2, and the Tide led Giles with less than four minutes to play;

The fourth loss was the season-opener at Glenvar when Galax had freshmen and sophomores at five offensive positions, including quarterback. Top rusher Steven Peoples missed almost the entire second half with a concussion yet a failed two-point conversion in the final minute was the difference in a 42-41 loss;

Everybody knows where the ball is going 90 percent of the time, but doing something about it is the hard part. Against Grayson County last week, Galax’s first-half play chart consisted of nine Peoples carries and an incomplete pass. The result – 296 rushing yards and a 28-0 halftime lead. And Peoples averaged 217 yards against the aforementioned Big Three;

Joseph Dixon makes Peoples more dangerous. Rushing for 376 yards in the six quarters that Peoples missed, the junior RB has four 100-yard games of his own. He may not have to be tackled often, but Dixon has to be accounted for on every play;

The defense and the O-line have each come into its own. Peoples averaged 345 yards over the final four games, including a state-record 502 at Graham, and finished with 2,410 despite missing basically a game and a half. Defensively, Galax hasn’t given up more than eight points in any of its last four games, which included Graham and Grayson County.

Conversely, it’s only fitting that George Wythe is left to deal with a 6-4 first-round opponent capable of making a deep run into the playoffs. Also at 6-4, Wythe itself is capable of doing just that.

Despite seeing their Hogoheegee District winning streak end at 38 games, and despite suffering Hogo losses to Chilhowie and Holston for the first time since 2001, the Maroons are only 11 months removed from having won the Group A Division 1 state championship.

In a wing-T attack under head coach H.S. Ingo, Wythe is led offensively by Trey Skeens, a 6-foot, 177-pound junior who has rushed for 20 touchdowns and just shy of 1,300 yards. Fellow junior Elijah Onks has added 970 yards. Those two, plus Tyler Hardin, spearhead the defense.

The Maroons know how to get the job done in November, holding an impressive 21-13 record in the postseason and having won state titles in 2002 and 2012.

In sum, the first meeting since 1993 between two schools 45 minutes apart will result in one very good football team having one very short postseason.



#16 Grayson County (5-5)


#1 Giles (10-0)

Once fellow members of the Mountain Empire District – the old, gigantic, 10-team MED – Grayson County and Giles will meet for the first time since 2006 in the Region 2A West first round tonight at Spartans Stadium.

This will mark the third postseason meeting between the two schools, with the Spartans having eliminated the Blue Devils in 1998 and 2000. But then, Giles has ended the season of many a playoff foe over the years since coming to prominence under former head coach Steve Ragsdale in the 1980s.

Giles has reached the playoffs 22 times since 1980 and has won at least one postseason game in 17 of those seasons, including state championships in 1980 (Group AA), 1993 and 2005, along with two state runner-up efforts.

Jeff Williams leads the Spartans now, still running the single-wing offense perfected by Ragsdale’s father, Harry, just downriver in Narrows, where the football field bears the name of the elder Ragsdale. Much is made of the Spartans’ throwback offense, but the fact is that Giles produces winning football with good players, it just so happens that none of them is a quarterback.

Giles will throw, with as many as three players attempting a pass in any give game, but the single-wing is a running offense first and foremost, this year with a couple of little guys running behind a good-sized front.

Brett Whitlow, a 5-9, 159-pound junior, has rushed for 22 touchdowns and 1,607 yards on 146 carries and 5-8, 152-pound sophomore Brian Mann has added 848 yards and 12 scores. Tyler Perdue is used more for blocking but gouged Glenvar for 130 yards on nine carries last week.

And lest anyone underestimate the importance of the Spartans’ front, of the 34 players listed on its roster, 21 wear linemen’s numbers.

Grayson County hasn’t been able to put two wins together this year, but the Blue Devils haven’t taken back-to-back losses either. Without the services of quarterback Max Rodgers, who has accounted for more than 6,000 career all-purpose yards, Grayson is coming off a 49-8 defeat last week to Galax. 

Rodgers has thrown for 1,387 yards and 18 touchdowns against four interceptions, and rushed for another 557 yards and seven TDs despite being nagged by one injury or another for much of the year and missing both the Galax and Fort Chiswell games.