GHS@GCHS – Just how big is this game, anyway?

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The victor will be at home throughout the playoffs, but the vanquished won’t be too far from it.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

Somebody is going home with the Mountain Empire District football champion’s trophy tonight. It has a nice, solid foundation and it’s real shiny and it will look good on a shelf. It’s also hollow.

The game could match that description as well.

As huge as the meeting between 9-0 Galax and 9-0 Grayson County really is, and this is no attempt to downplay it – because it is huge – not a great deal rides on the outcome.

If hasn’t been done yet, one needs to check out the Web site maintained by a guy with the screen name of VHSLhelper. It’s a simple, text-only site with news and notes about high school sports, particularly football, and includes links to some of the more interesting stories, both inside and outside of Virginia. A link to his site, or as he calls it, ‘over at my place,’ may be found on message boards such as SWVASports.com and VirginiaPreps.com.

Having done this for more than 20 years, VHSLhelper not only updates football ratings before they can be found on the Virginia High School League’s own site, but toward the end of the year he also begins posting what he calls his ‘cheat sheets.’ There, one can find the multitude of rating scale permutations possible as the weeks start winding down toward payoff time. Much of the information to follow is credited to Mr. Helper.

So, Galax and Grayson County will meet tonight in the biggest football game in the Twin Counties. Ever. What’s at stake?

Not as much as one might think. At the same time it’s a game worth everything, and it’s a game with possibly very little riding on it.

First, a little background on how the playoffs work in Virginia: Teams are awarded a certain amount of points throughout the year for each game played. Obviously, wins count a lot more than losses. Two points are added for each game won by a defeated opponent, and one point for each game won by a non-defeated opponent. Margin of victory has nothing to do with it.

Take tonight’s game as an example. The winner will earn 34 points – 16 for the win plus two points for each of the losing team’s nine wins. The loser of tonight’s game will earn 14 points – four just for playing plus 10 for the winning team’s number of victories. Then to those totals, add two points for every win by every other team on the schedule. 

At the end of the year, every team’s points are totaled and divided by the number of games played, and you have your team’s VHSL rating. The top 16 teams in Division 1 and the top 16 in Division 2 advance to their respective sectional playoffs. There is an Eastern Section and a Western Section, so 32 teams statewide advance in each division.

Teams are bracketed according to their VHSL rating. No. 16 will play at No. 1, No. 15 goes to No 2 and so on. Competing in separate divisions, Grayson County and Galax will not meet in the playoffs. 

Once each section is down to two teams, the lower-seeded of the two Western Section teams travels to the higher-seeded team in the Eastern Section, and vice-versa.

Now for the meat of the whole thing. Entering tonight, both teams are No. 1 in their respective divisions – Grayson in Division 2  and Galax in D1. Should Grayson County lose, the fewest points the Blue Devils can finish with is 232. And that’s only if every nondistrict team Grayson played also loses. Unlikely. Rated No. 2 right now is Riverheads. The maximum number of points the Gladiators can finish the season with is 240, and that’s if every team they defeated wins. Again, unlikely. So barring some freaky paranormal phenomenon that affects the games involving some 40 teams, Grayson would probably still outpoint Riverheads and be No. 1 in the west.

So what does Grayson County have to lose? Next to nothing.

Involved in a much tighter race is Galax. The Maroon Tide holds a slim two-point lead over George Wythe, 204-202, and is three ahead of Clintwood in the Western Section Division 1 ratings. Mathematically, Galax can finish as low as No. 6, but that won’t happen. A Galax loss coupled with wins by George Wythe (over 8-1 Rural Retreat) and Clintwood (over 6-3 Gate City), neither of which is a sure thing, means that the Tide would probably drop to No. 3, maybe only to No. 2. Though unlikely, it’s conceivable, based on the outcomes of other games on each’s schedule, that Galax can win and still finish No. 2 behind George Wythe.

This race is a whole lot more complicated than is D2, and depends on the outcome of numerous games throughout Southwest Virginia.

So what does Galax have to lose? Maybe a home date in the state semis.

So regardless of the outcome tonight, Grayson County stands an excellent chance of being at home as long as it stays alive in the playoffs, up to the state title game, which is in Salem. Should Galax win, both teams could still be at home through the playoffs and can carpool to the state finals. Should Galax lose, the Tide will probably still be at home for the first three rounds of the playoffs, and with an upset somewhere, could be home for the first four.

Now, play ball.