Key games mark MED openers

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A pair of contests pitting 4-1 teams against one another highlight first weekend of district play.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

There may have been bigger weekends in the history of Mountain Empire District football. But it’s debatable.

Four of the MED’s six teams enter the second half of the season with identical 4-1 records, and the district portion of the schedule opens up with two games pitting one 4-1 team against another. A little bit of driving and fans can see them both.

Galax travels to Fort Chiswell in one big early matchup tonight (Friday) while Grayson County visits Graham in a Saturday matinee as the race to the district title takes one big step in Week 7.

“It just speaks to the level of football we’re playing in this area,” third-year Galax coach Mark Dixon said. “The whole district since I got here has evolved. When I first got here Grayson was good and Fort was good. I’d argue that the teams they have now are better than the teams they had then, I think our team is similar to what we had that year, and I told the Graham coach last year you can just see it coming with them. Great speed, great power, you could see it coming. As far as single-A football around here, I think it’s about as good as it gets.”

Grayson County coach Brett McPherson said as much in the preseason, and obviously has reason to stick by the statement.

“I’ve seen everybody on film,” said McPherson, who witnessed Graham’s win at Princeton, W.Va. last week. “Fort is good, Galax with the Peoples kids, they’re probably the two best backs in Southwest Virginia, and then Graham is a football town. You could feel it in the crowd last week. This is where they want to be, and the fact they were beating up on Princeton, that they beat Bluefield…the district is really good and it’s got a good foundation to be good for a while.  I think it’s the best district in Southwest Virginia right now.”

Graham shares Mitchell Stadium, located on the West Virginia side of the border, with Bluefield, W.Va. High. On weekends when both teams have home games scheduled, the G-Men play on Saturday.

“I’m a little concerned, I just want to make sure our kids aren’t out running around Friday night,” McPherson said. “I’m sure a lot of them will be at the Galax-Fort game Friday. I’m hoping this will be something special and exciting for us.”

Both Galax and Grayson are coming off of an open week, which fell at a good time for the Blue Devils. All-state defensive end Jarel Smith will be back in action, albeit with a cast on his injured arm, and offensive lineman Tre Parks will also return after missing two weeks.

“We’re beat up some but that’s typical this time of year,” McPherson said.

Dixon, if he had his druthers, would have preferred an open week following this Friday instead of seeing Fort and Graham on back-to-back weekends.

“I was happy when it came for our young guys, to slow down and to get back into teaching some things that we needed to go over,” Dixon said, “but there’s a part of me that wishes we could have gone another week.”

Dixon said this year’s Fort Chiswell team reminds him of his own Maroon Tide from a year ago.

“They’re just big and physical and talented everywhere,” he said. “It’s hard to describe them. When you look for a place the attack them there’s nowhere to go.”

Eighteen hours later, Grayson County will face a once-proud Graham program continuing to rebound after bottoming out recently.

“Graham has made big strides,” he said. “No doubt about it. They’ve got some big wins, they’re playing with a lot of confidence, a lot of enthusiasm, and we’re going to have to play very, very well.”



Galax at Fort Chiswell

With four of the six Mountain Empire District teams standing at 4-1 entering district play, Galax is the surprise among the four, according to Tide coach Mark Dixon. Fort Chiswell was expected to field a contender this year, but the Pioneers still may have opened an eye or two, and certainly gained a large measure of respect with a sound 45-21 win over Floyd County two weeks ago.

This game will feature three of the top five runningbacks in Timesland, including Fort’s Daniel Hamm, a 5-10, 180-pound senior with 784 yards (No. 4 in Timesland) and 11 touchdowns. Galax will counter with Donte Peoples (917 yards, No. 2 in Timesland, 13 TDs) and Steven Peoples (No. 5 with 779 yards, 10 TDs).

Fort quarterback Brett Mabry has thrown for 619 yards and three touchdowns, and they’ll all be working behind West Virginia signee Coleman Thomas, a 6-6, 295-pound junior lineman.

For what it’s worth, this is the 10th anniversary of an explosive 56-41 Tide win over the Pioneers. The two teams combined for 497 yards and 47 points in the first quarter alone, and totalled 1,326 all-purpose yards on the night. Galax generated 635 yards and 30 first downs, getting 375 rush yards from Brandon Brown.

Grayson County at Graham (Saturday, 1:30 p.m.)

Two things stand out as impressive when talking about Graham’s 4-1 start: The G-Men have played only AA (or West Virginia equivalent) teams thus far, and they won’t freak out in a close game. Three of Graham’s four wins have been by 1, 2 and 4 points.

The G-Men have posted wins over solid clubs from Marion and Bluefield, W.Va., with their only loss coming to Richlands, 24-8, in week 2.

Graham rolled up 408 yards of offense in last week’s win at Princeton, W.Va., including 297 rushing yards, but the G-Men allowed 290 yards on the ground to the winless Tigers. Cody Hatfield (156 yards) and quarterback Spencer Sheets (75 yards, two TDs) led the attack.

Grayson County is coming off a bye week after the banged-up Blue Devils throttled Carroll County 45-20. Like Galax, Grayson County has relied heavily on a brother combo to move the ball. Quarterback Max Rodgers is fourth in Timesland with 814 passing yards and has hooked up with older brother Mikey 21 times for 473 yards and nine touchdowns.

Abingdon at Carroll County

The Cavaliers open Southwest District play with some momentum after shutting down Martinsville in a 36-16 win last week.

Carroll’s defense allowed just nine first downs, 197 yards and one touchdown as the Cavaliers picked up their first win of the season.

Carroll put points on the board on the ground, through the air, on special teams and on defense in their highest scoring game of the season. Quarterback Conner Lundy was an efficient 9-of-15 for 165 yards, and Chris Smoot had 120 receiving yards, all in the fist half.

Abingdon has yet to face a Group AA opponent, opening the year 2-3 against five single-A nondistrict teams. The Falcons are coming off a 38-14 loss at 6-0 John Battle, and have also dropped decisions to Virginia High and Chilhowie, neither of which is above .500 entering tonight’s games.