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As much as this game means to the two communities involved, as big as it has become these past few weeks – even far beyond the Twin Counties – and considering that both teams find themselves at the same time where neither has been before, it’s still just a game played by kids.
Twenty-two at a time, kids will play a game in front of what is likely to be the biggest crowd they’ll ever play before.
The game may turn out to be utterly forgettable, or it may be one for the ages. That remains to be seen. But there is no doubt that the night, the event, will remain with the players for the rest of their lives.
“I think it’s pretty awesome,” said Colton Turbyfill, a senior lineman for Galax. “We worked really hard all year long to be in big games like this. It’s an awesome opportunity to have, and I don’t want to disappoint anybody when the time comes.”
“It’ll be a big challenge, but these are the games we live for,” said Galax senior runningback-linebacker Jordan Vaughan. “We’ve been working hard all summer, and we just owe it to our community to get this one on Friday.”
Every player on both teams knows the challenge that lay ahead. Chris Shaw, a senior offensive tackle at Grayson, called the Maroon Tide defense ‘amazing.’
“They’ve got a lot of talent,” said Shaw. “What is it, 18 seniors? So the experience is way up there. Solid D, and they’ve got a heck of a coach.”
Shaw and linebacker Johnny Warren were freshmen the year the Blue Devils went 0-10, and they lost their first seven games of their sophomore year.
“I was fortunate enough not to be on the 0-10 year,” Warren said. “I was a on JV that year. I was expecting us to be better than we were last year, but I didn’t expect us to be 9-0. We had some games, like Carroll and Fort Chiswell, where I was pretty worried about it.”
“We feel very fortunate to come this far, be 9-0 and going up against our arch rival,” Shaw said. “We’ve come a long ways the last few years, and we’ve put a lot of work into it, on and off the field. We’ve gotten a whole lot of talent, everybody working hard and getting stronger. I think we have a tremendous amount of talent on this team.”
Despite Grayson being Galax’s biggest rival, Vaughan is glad to see both teams undefeated.
“I heard they were so close with Fort Chiswell, and I was hoping they would pull it out so we would both be 9-0,” he said.
All the players agree that the atmosphere will be incredible.
“A lot of us, it will be the biggest environment we’ll ever play in,” Vaughan said. “Me and some of the basketball players, we played in the state championship game, but environment-wise, it will have more of an impact on us.”
“It’s the whole football thing,” added Turbyfill. “It’s the biggest game Galax has ever played. We win, it will be a great thing. We lose, it will be a reality check that we still have a lot of work to put forth. We still have a lot of work, but win or lose it will be good to see where we are against a really good team, because we haven’t been tested in a while.”
As fortunate as players from both teams are who to get to play in such a once-in-a-lifetime game, there will be bystanders, equally as unfortunate. The Blue Devils will be without their top tackler, Jake Parnell, after the inside linebacker suffered a broken leg against Graham.
“I just think it sucks,” he said. “All I want to do is play. Seeing everybody play and I don’t get to, it sucks.”
Parnell got his ankle caught underneath a Graham lineman from behind, and was unlucky enough to topple backwards instead of forwards. “And the whole team fell on me,” he said. “I heard it [break], then I couldn’t feel it.”
It will be the second Galax game missed by Parnell, who broke a hand last year as a sophomore. He insists he’s not going out for golf next year. His plan on handling the energy he expects to feel tonight?
“Just watch ‘em,” he said. “It’s about all I can do.”
Bryton McKinney’s outlook on missing this game is a little different.
“I’m just thankful to be alive,” said the Tide nose guard, who suffered seven broken bones in his neck, two broken ribs and punctured lungs in a 4-wheeler accident last year. He suffered paralysis in his left side, and his left arm remains paralyzed. He never misses a practice or a game.
“These guys have always been with me,” he said. “They came to see me in the hospital, and the people in the community have been with me with their prayers. I’d love to be out there in the middle of it playing nose guard, but I’d rather be alive.”
McKinney hopes to return to the field for his senior year.
“My part now is just motivating the guys, being there for them,” he said. “I tell them than win or lose, it can always be worse. Just believe in God, believe in the coaches and believe in each other.”