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Getting into the playoffs is a pretty cool deal, especially when getting there means ending an eight-year dry spell between postseason appearances. It’s cool to Galax coach Mark Dixon for a different reason. It means progress is being made.
“I’m just thrilled for our kids to get to play in front of big crowds and in games that mean something,” said Dixon, the Maroon Tide’s first-year head coach who admitted that when the season started, reaching the playoffs seemed to him a long shot. “I’m really happy for our seniors to get to play in a postseason game. If you’d have asked me at the beginning of the year I wouldn’t have said ‘playoffs.’ I didn’t think that was reasonable. I was hoping for us to be competitive, and I can’t think of a game where we didn’t compete.”
Finishing above .500 in the regular season for the fist time since 2002, the Maroon Tide (7-3) will shoot for the opportunity to compete for at least another week when it and Rural Retreat (4-6) clash in the Region C Division 1 quarterfinals Friday at GHS.
The extra time added on to the season will be a reward for months of what Dixon has called ‘a grind.’
“The guys are working hard and we’ve gained some ground, and they’re starting to see the results of the day to day grind that we’ve been through,” he said.
“I was worried at the beginning of the year because of everybody telling me about all the people we’ve got back, all the talent, all this and all that, and I just didn’t see it. As the year has gone on I’m seeing more and more what they’re capable of, so I’m thrilled for them, that they’re playing like they are.”
One of the region’s premier D1 programs and a mainstay in the postseason for years, Rural Retreat turned around an 0-4 start with four straight wins before falling in consecutive weeks to the Hogoheegee District’s big boys, George Wythe and Chilhowie. Facing a veer option team will be something new to the Maroon Tide.
“They look like they can run the ball with the trap and option,” Dixon said. “You can tell they’ve been doing it a while.”
Having not been opposite the Indians in person yet, Dixon sees snippets of others on Galax’s schedule in the Rural Retreat scheme.
“It’s kind of a hybrid for us,” he said. “There are some things they do defensively that remind me of Carroll and some things they do offensively – they trap really good like Carroll – but the option game we haven’t seen. Some of it does remind me of Craig County.”
Led by quarterback Zayne Williams and runningback Travis Anderson, Rural Retreat’s running game is made more potent by a capable passing attack, as Williams is around 1,000 yards for the year, with more than 700 yards and 10 touchdowns landing in the hands of Travis Foster.
Eight of Rural Retreat’s 10 regular season opponents are still playing this week, so gauging the Indians’ strength has been a little difficult.
“It’s hard because some of the teams they’ve played, I don’t know how good they are,” Dixon said. “It’s hard to evaluate what I’m seeing. In high school a guy can struggle one week and against us be great, and I realize he just struggled because the guy he was playing against was really good. There have been games where we’d start out running one way and the guy we’re running at ends up destroying us.”
Galax enters the postseason having won five of its last six games, the only setback a 20-16 defeat at 8-2 Fort Chiswell.
The Indians and the Maroon Tide have only met three times previously from 1996-98, with Rural Retreat taking the first two meetings.
Region C Division 1 first round
Rural Retreat (4-6) at Galax (7-3)
Friday, 7:30, Galax High School
Radio: WWWJ 1360AM
Rural Retreat lost to Chilhowie 37-13
Galax defeated Narrows 41-0
1998 (Galax won 32-22)
Last Rural Retreat win
How they advanced
Rural Retreat advances as an at-large team after finishing third in the Hogoheegee District. The No. 6 seed Indians rebounded from an 0-4 start with four straight wins before ending the regular season with back-to-back losses.
Galax advances as an at-large team, finishing in a three-way tie for the Mountain Empire championship, and will make its first playoff appearance since 2002. The No. 3-seed Maroon Tide had its most successful regular season since a 9-1 campaign in 2001.
Rural Retreat lost 41-19 Aug. 27
Galax lost 20-16 Oct. 15
Rural Retreat lost 55-20 Sept. 11
Galax won 23-14 Oct. 8
Galax won 45-0 Aug. 27
Rural Retreat won 49-28 Oct. 22
Rural Retreat Galax
L to Ft. Chiswell 41-19 D Northwood 45-0
L to Floyd Co. 48-20 D Alleghany NC 35-0
L to Grayson Co. 55-20 L to EastMont 38-26
L to Marion 27-14 L to Radford 27-21
Open D Craig Co. 30-21
D Glenvar 27-20 Open
D Patrick Henry 35-14 D Grayson Co. 23-14
D Holston 40-6 L to Ft. Chiswell 20-16
D Northwood 49-28 D Covington 34-6
L to Geo. Wythe 31-20 D Bland Co. 32-7
L to Chilhowie 37-13 D Narrows 41-0
The series (since 1970)
1996–Rural Retreat 50-0
1997–Rural Retreat 38-0
Rural Retreat leads 2-1