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Galax limps into second round

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The Maroon Tide faces No. 1 Honaker, possibly having lost a second 1,000-yard rusher in two weeks.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

It’s a shame Cliffs Notes doesn’t have any study guides dedicated to two-a-days. Such a manual would have come in quite handy in Galax this week as the No. 8 Maroon Tide prepared for its Western Section Division 1 second round playoff game tomorrow at 1 p.m. at top-seeded Honaker.

Having to find and prepare replacements for four injured starters, who encompass as many as a dozen total positions including special teams, Maroon Tide coach Mark Dixon said this week has been a lot like training camp.

“Looking at [two-way starters], we’re down seven people on a team that doesn’t have a lot of depth,” Dixon said. “We’re going to be looking at having ninth- and 10th-graders having to play. They’ve not had enough time to adjust. They’ll know the major stuff, but it’s the little details that it takes to make a play.”

Headlining the casualty list are runningbacks Donte and Steven Peoples, both felled a week apart by ankle injuries. Donte, a senior, went down with a fractured and dislocated ankle in the final week of the season and Steven, a junior, suffered a bad sprain in the first half last week against Chilhowie.

Combined, the Peoples brothers are four yards shy of 3,000 for the season, and one touchdown shy of 50. Both are also defensive starters and return threats on special teams.

Defensive end Ryan Gravley will also be out Saturday, as will offensive and defensive starting lineman Ben Sanchez.

Sanchez’s loss shouldn’t be underestimated, according to Dixon.

“In some ways Ben’s loss is even bigger,” said Dixon. “Steven and Donte are special, there’s no doubt about that, but in the time I’ve been here we’ve had a ton of people rush for a lot of yards. The one common denominator has been a cohesive O-line that has played together every week.”

Dixon didn’t entirely rule out the possibility of Steven Peoples playing, but said it was ‘highly, highly doubtful.’

If not, much of the load will fall on Joseph Dixon, who filled in quite well for the younger Peoples last week with 160 yards on 19 carries, most in the second half.

“What he did was phenomenal,” Dixon said. “I feel like we have a kid back there who is capable.”

Then-No. 1 Galax clubbed Honaker 48-9 in last year’s third round, but Dixon sees a more dangerous foe this time around. The Tigers’ (10-1) only loss was to 9-1 Richlands. In their last six wins, Honaker has allowed a touchdown or less. The Tigers allow an average of about 10 points per game.

Offensively, it’s the same, big Honaker, but with overdrive.

“They’re so much faster,” Dixon said. “And it’s not just one kid. They have four or five I know of that can fly.”

A balanced rushing attack features four runners who gained between 318 and 583 yards in the regular season, led by Cody Lester. Quarterback Ty Hall had 1,550 yards and 20 TDs in the first 10 games, but attempted just four passes in last week’s 69-7 first-round annihilation of No. 16 Patrick Henry.

Randy Horton (19 receptions, 8 TDs), Jordan Hess (19 rec.), Blake Ray and Casey Harman (13 each) provide Hall an array of targets.

“Offensively they’re like us in that they’re so good in their run game that their play-action can be devastating,” Dixon said. “But what they have that we’ve never had is their ability to go four-wide, protect, and throw it.”

Being an 8-seed, and a banged-up 8-seed at that, obviously makes Galax the underdog. But Dixon wouldn’t be surprised to be surprised tomorrow.

“I couldn’t be prouder of a bunch of kids,” he said. “What they’ve done is amazing. On paper it looks like there’s no way possible, but these kids have shocked me a million times. They might shock us all again.”