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This just in from the department of redundancy department: The key to Galax stopping Honaker is how well Galax can stop Honaker.
The Group A Division 1 state playoff field will whittle itself in half with four quarterfinal games this weekend, including an intriguing matchup Friday in Galax as the Maroon Tide (12-0) hosts the Honaker Tigers (10-2) in a third-round game at 7 p.m. at Galax High School.
Orange and black and big all over, Honaker’s front brings to mind the beefy Bath County line of last year’s Region C semifinals, perhaps Glenvar’s from the first week of the 2011 season.
“Except Honaker’s linemen are probably better,” said Galax coach Mark Dixon. “That’s scary because they’re easily as big, but these kids are more athletic. They’re just going to pound on us.”
Running behind the meat wall up front is Tiger tailback Jerod Honaker, whose season has been good enough to have a town named after him (provided there’s not another place in Russell County already named Jerod). The 5-foot-10, 179-pound workhorse averages roughly 22 carries per game and has racked up 1,866 yards and 20 touchdowns on the year. The senior carried 40 times for 293 yards and four scores in last week’s 39-34 win over J.I. Burton.
“He fits well with what they do,” said Dixon. “He’s real physical and he has the speed to get to the edge, too. It’s one of those deals where you look at them on film and you’re scared to death that you’re not going to be able to get them off the field.”
The Tigers gained 366 of their 417 yards on the ground last week but they do have the capability to move through the air. Junior quarterback Ty Hall has 1,242 yards and 21 TDs against six interceptions, while most noteworthy among the Honaker receivers is 6-foot, 193-pound tight end Jeremiah Dye with an impressive 39 catches for 497 yards and nine scores.
Defensively, Honaker is led up front by tackles Deandre Williams (6-1, 261) and Dustin Young (6-1, 278).
“They play with their hands and with technique,” Dixon said. “They play the right way. These kids understand, and they’re well-coached. Most of our offense is predicated on being able to run it up the middle, and I’m doing more game-planning on how to get to the edge.”
Dixon called Young the best inside D-lineman he’s seen in his two years at Galax.
“He never guesses, he plays every block,” Dixon said. “When I watch them on film, I love him.”
Galax will be without the services of two-way starter Steven Peoples, who was involved in a minor scuffle in last week’s Castlewood game, drawing an ejection and a one-game suspension.
“As far as we know right now, he’s out,” Dixon said Tuesday.
Behind Jordan Vaughan’s 1,253 yards, Peoples was Galax’s second-leading rusher with 790 yards, but Donte Peoples (652 yards, 16.7 per carry) and Jacob Fisher can fill that void. Defensively is where the Tide will miss the younger Peoples the most.
“He’s just so physical,” said Dixon. “He can play linebacker, and then you can put him out in man coverage and nobody is going to run by him, so I’ve lost a linebacker and a safety.”
Nobody is taking the penalty harder than Peoples himself.
“It’s heartbreaking because he’s a wonderful kid,” Dixon said. “I know his heart, and it’s been really hard on him. It was getting a little chippy out there, and I’m not questioning the [referees’] decision, but I’ve seen a lot of things on a football field and that wasn’t a thing that would jump out at me. But he’s just devastated about it.”
Galax has been devastating offensively in the playoffs, scoring at least 60 points in both games. Dixon has finally had to put politeness behind preparedness on his list of priorities.
“All year I made the mistake of pulling people too early,” he said. “Then we go to Grayson [in Week 10] and everybody’s cramping up. That was the first time [the starters] played four quarters since Glenvar. We’re building up, because the time’s coming where they’re going to have to play.”
Despite averaging more time of possession in the fourth quarter than any other period, Galax averaged just three fourth-quarter points in the regular season.
“I’m a firm, firm believer that you don’t do that sort of thing, because it’s kids on the other side of the field,” he said. “But at the same time there’s a point where I can’t continue to pull people.”
A 25-yard touchdown pass to Frankie Shalabi with a 47-24 lead on Castlewood midway through the fourth quarter may have raised an eyebrow to those not in attendance last week.
“The play we scored on was a 2-yard out pattern into the flat,” Dixon said. “They had Frankie stopped at about six yards, and they had him stopped at 12 yards, and he just kept going.”
A notorious worrier, Dixon will have one less thing on his mind should the Tide keep winning.
“I hope [Castlewood] didn’t take it wrong, but I really don’t think I’ll have to worry about that sort of thing any more,” he said.
WESTERN SECTION PLAYOFFS
#4 Honaker (10-2) at #1 Galax (12-0)
Friday, 7 p.m., Galax High School
Admission $7 (VHSL passes only)
HONAKER won the Black Diamond District title and reached the playoffs as the No. 4 seed with a 22.20 VHSL rating. The Tigers finished the regular season at 8-2 with losses to Richlands and John Battle, then advanced with playoff victories over Hurley and J.I. Burton.
After making it to the Group A state semifinals in 1977, the Tigers reached the playoffs just once more until becoming a postseason regular in the late 1990s. In a three-year progression coinciding with the emergence of quarterback Heath Miller, now a tight end with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Honaker lost in the region semis in 1998, reached the state semifinals in 1999 and played for the state championship in 2000, losing to King William. Honaker has made the playoffs in nine of the past 13 seasons, winning at least one game in four of those years.
Galax entered the playoffs as the Mountain Empire District champion and the Western Section’s top seed with a 24.60 rating. The Maroon Tide’s 12 wins are a school record, and last week’s win over Castlewood marked the second year in a row that the team has posted two postseason wins.
Galax’s first year as a Group A school, 1984, was as good an argument as any in favor of an expanded playoff field. Finishing 9-1 with seven shutouts, the Maroon Tide allowed 30 points all season but lost 16-14 to Floyd County and missed the playoffs. Galax made its first appearance the next year and reached the Region C finals, where it lost to Covington. The Maroon Tide has played in the postseason five times since, falling in the region title game in 2001 (Bath County) and last year (EastMont).
#4 Honaker defeated #5 J.I. Burton 39-34
#1 Galax defeated #8 Castlewood 60-24
This is the first meeting between the two schools
Honaker won 29-8 Sept. 2
Galax won 60-24 last week
D Lebanon 31-14 8/26 D Glenvar 17-14 OT
D Castlewood 29-8 9/2 D Floyd County 37-21
D Eastside 17-14 9/9 D EastMont 56-12
D PH-Glade Spring 42-13 9/16 D Radford 43-0
D Twin Valley 62-20 9/23 D Craig County 40-14
L to Richlands 45-19 9/30 Open
Open 10/7 D Fort Chiswell 52-0
D Hurley 49-26 10/14 D Graham 45-14
L to John Battle 22-19 10/21 D Narrows 48-7
D Grundy 42-0 10/28 D Bland County 49-0
D Haysi 36-18 11/4 D Grayson Co. 21-6
Division 1 Western Section playoffs
D Hurley 29-20 11/11 D Holston 64-7
D J.I. Burton 39-34 11/18 D Castlewood 60-24
at Galax 11/25 Honaker