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Pioneers end title drought

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A quick start and a punishing ground attack propelled Fort Chiswell to the MED championship.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

 INDEPENDENCE -- All things considered, Grayson County can take it as a positive step just to have been playing for a district title Friday night. But Fort Chiswell left no doubt who the best team in the Mountain Empire is.

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The Pioneers scored on their first seven possessions, racked up nearly 450 yards of offense and clinched the school’s first playoff berth in 20 years with a convincing 45-7 win in the regular season finale at Bill Strong Field. The Blue Devils (3-7 overall, 3-1 district), playing for a championship a month after ending a losing streak 17 games long, needed every break they could get if they were to pull an upset. That ended before Fort’s first offensive was even over. A Fort Chiswell fumble on its first play, recovered by Grayson on the Pioneer 20, was ruled dead due to an inadvertent whistle. Fort fumbled for a 1-yard loss on its next play but a late hit resulted in a 15-yard penalty and sparked a Pioneer drive that ate up nearly the entire first quarter. Chris Rodriguez carried 11 times on a 16-play drive that consumed nearly seven minutes and covered 75 yards, bulling over from 3 yards out for a 7-0 Fort Chiswell lead. The drive would set the tone for the rest of the half as Rodriguez carried 24 times for 123 yards and a pair of scores in the first half alone. Grayson County’s first snap following the Pioneer TD resulted in a lost fumble at the Devil 44, and Fort Chiswell was in the end zone six plays later, this time on a 7-yard Rodriguez run, for a 14-0 lead 59 seconds before the end of the first quarter. Following a Blue Devil three-and-out, Fort Chiswell again went to work, moving the ball 64 yards in eight plays. Quarterback Will Freeman recognized a misalignment in the Grayson County defense and bolted up the middle untouched for a 32-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead with 7:13 left in the half. Grayson County, held without a first down up to then, answered by putting together its best drive of the night, marching 67 yards in eight plays. Fullback Darren Anderson broke free on a 23-yard gain to the Pioneer 40 and Omar Larreta carried four times to cover the final 22 yards, including a powerful 9-yard carry into the end zone for a 21-7 score 3:29 before the half. Fort Chiswell ended any comeback hopes with three scores in less than 90 seconds. A squib kick gave the Pioneers possession at midfield and Fort covered 50 yards in nine plays with Rodriguez bowling over from 4 yards out with 30 seconds left in the half. The Pioneers’ line-drive kickoff bounced off a Grayson County player on the front line and was recovered by Fort at the 50, and the Pioneers were able to kick a 28-yard field goal on the final play of the half. Taking the second-half kickoff, Fort Chiswell needed but three plays to widen its lead to 38-7 when fullback Hody Viars broke free on a 47-yard touchdown run. Rodriguez capped the scoring on Fort Chiswell’s next series, ending a seven-play, 59-yard drive with his third touchdown of the night, this time from the 7. Fort Chiswell, which ran 44 first-half plays while limiting the Blue Devils to 14, finished with 346 rushing yards on 53 attempts, led by Rodriguez with 166 yards on 31 rushes. Viars added 87 yards on eight carries, while Freeman completed six of his nine passing attempts for 103 yards. Viars had three catches for 43 yards as the Pioneers finished with 22 first downs and 449 yards of offense. Grayson County finished with an even 100 yards on the ground, led by Larreta’s 65 yards on 14 attempts.   Fort Chiswell          14  17  14  0––45 Grayson County      0    0    7   0––  7

First quarter FC–Rodriguez 3 run (Underwood kick) 3:38 FC–Rodriguez 7 run (Underwood kick) 0:59 Second quarter FC–Freeman 32 run (Underwood kick) 7:13 GC–Larreta 9 run (Ruiz kick) 3:29 GC–Rodriguez 4 run (Underwood kick) 0:30 FC–Underwood 28 FG, 0:00 Third quarter FC–Viars 47 run (Underwood kick) 11:14 FC–Rodriguez 7 run (Underwood kick) 6:14

                                     FC  GC First downs              22  8 Rushes-yards      53-346  21-100 Yards passing          103  54 Comp-Att-Int       6-9-0  4-13-0 Return yards            25  58 Punts-average     1-28.0  2-31.5 Fumbles-lost           3-0  1-1 Penalties-yards      6-56  5-44

Individual statistics Rushing–Fort Chiswell, Rodriguez 31-166, Viars 8-87, Hatfield 7-53, Freeman 4-35, Cain 2-7, Mabry 1-(-2). Grayson County, Larreta 14-65, Anderson 3-34, Hash 3-8, Harvey 1-(-7). Passing–Fort Chiswell, Freeman 6-9-0-103. Grayson County, Hash 4-13-0-54. Receiving–Fort Chiswell, Viars 3-43, Cook 1-28, Dunford 1-19, Mabe 1-13. Grayson County, Harvey 3-58, Watson 1-(-4).