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Preparing to face a single wing offense is no easy thing to in and of itself. Doing so in Week 1 makes the task just that much more challenging. Add to that the fact that Northwood’s offensive backfield is full of experience, and it gives Galax head coach Jared Van Acker cause for concern.
“They’ve got a lot of skill players who are three-year starters,” said Van Acker on Wednesday, two days before leading his Maroon Tide into Saltville for the 2009 season-opener against the Panthers. “I think they’ll be a much better football team. They’ve got a lot of experience.” And evidently, more than a little ability. Northwood and Galax combined to amass 615 rushing yards in last year’s opener, with the Panthers gaining 276 yards on a whopping 57 attempts in the Maroon Tide’s 35-14 win. The Panthers keep it simple, according to Van Acker. “They basically have four or five plays, and you’ve got to stop it,” he said. “It’s a big week defensively for us because it’s a hard offense to duplicate in practice. Some of the other things, like a spread or a wing-T, other people run it so we’re used to it, but nobody runs the single wing. But our scout team has done a great job picking it up and giving us a good look at it.” Though it’s a Week 1 game against a nondistrict opponent, both teams are in Region C Division 1 and will be battling throughout the year for one of the region’s six playoff spots. “This is just as important as Carroll or Grayson County,” Van Acker said. “It’s a big game because there are playoff implications, plus you get to size yourself up against the region. A lot of the teams we play will play Northwood as well.” The Maroon Tide is coming off a 9-0 benefit game loss to Carroll County that was both encouraging and worrisome. Encouraging was the fact that the Maroon Tide defense, which gave up an average of 30 points per game a year ago, shut out the Cavalier offense into the fourth quarter, allowed just seven first downs and, other than two running plays that netted 107 yards, gave up 40 yards on 26 rushes. Another confidence booster was the 100 passing yards, mostly on crisp short patterns. Quarterback Terrance Mazon and slot receiver Jacob Fisher hooked up four times for 59 yards, including three15-yard completions on either third- or fourth-and-long situations. The worrisome part was the six first-half offensive penalties, and the fact that of the Tide’s 32 running plays, 17 went for losses adding up to 101 yards. It all worked out to a net total of 20 yards on the ground. “We’d get deep in their territory and have a penalty or a sack, and so we’re looking at second-and-30,” Van Acker said. “As a play-caller, it’s tough to call a play on second-and-30. It puts you in bad situations, and we did that to ourselves a lot… We moved the ball and had a bunch of first downs (11). At the end you look at the yards gained and say, Huh? But you look at all the negative plays, and that’s where all your yards went.” The most encouraging aspect of the whole thing is that Galax hung close with a solid opponent, and still has a lot of room for improvement. “That’s the exciting thing,” said Van Acker. “We’re not near where we can be. We’ve worked a lot on pass protection, because we’ve got a ton of skill payers, and if we can get the ball to those athletes, we can make some plays.” WEEK 1 Galax (3-7 in 2008) at Northwood (1-9 in 2008) Friday, 7:30 p.m. Last week This is the season opener for both schools Last meeting 2008 (Galax won 35-14) Last Northwood win 2006 (38-26) Common opponents None to date The season GalaxNorthwood at Northwood 8/28 Galax at Alleghany, N.C. 9/4 at Marion EastMont 9/11 Fort Chiswell Radford 9/18 Twin Springs at Craig Co. 9/25 Open Open 10/2 at Bland County at Grayson Co. 10/9 at Holston Ft. Chiswell 10/16 Chilhowie Covington 10/23 at Rural Retreat at Bland Co. 10/30 PH-Glade Spring Narrows 11/6 at George Wythe The series 1999-Northwood 23-14 2000-Northwood 38-18 2001-Galax 27-0 2002-Galax 19-0 2003-Northwood 40-14 2004-Galax 33-14 2005-Northwood 33-14 2006-Northwood 38-26 2007-Galax 27-6 2008-Galax 35-14 Overall Series tied 5-5