There's always next year

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By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

I come not to bury the 2008 football season, but to praise it.

On second thought, let’s do a little of both. For the first time in 14 years, no Twin County football team advanced to the Virginia High School League playoffs. The season is deceased in our neck of the woods, and it flat-lined pretty early, with the three area teams going a combined 8-22.

But the year certainly was not without its bright spots. There’s little doubt that two of the three local teams would like to have one more Friday to play, as Carroll County (5-5) and Galax (3-7) closed their seasons with a bang.

Galax was the benefactor of what was the second-most unlikely finish of the year in Southwest Virginia in the Maroon Tide’s season finale at Big Creek, W.Va. With less than a minute to play in a game destined for overtime, Galax freshman Jacob Fisher scooped up a Big Creek fumble and returned it 15 yards for the winning touchdown as the Tide swiped a 34-28 win.

If you’re wondering, the No. 1 most unlikely finish of the year happened a week earlier when Patrick County led Tunstall 21-14 with possession of the ball on the Tunstall 3-yard line with less than 10 seconds to play –– and lost 22-21 on a 97-yard fumble return and subsequent two-point conversion on the game’s final play.

But back to Galax. It was fitting that a freshman made the play, as the future looks bright for a very young Maroon Tide football program. The Tide had only five seniors dressed out for Senior Night three Fridays ago, had a very good junior varsity season and will have a more manageable schedule to deal with in the next two years. Galax still has a tough nut to crack with Radford on the slate for two more years, but the Tide dropped Patrick County (7-3), Big Creek (7-2), and Auburn (2-8) and picked up Alleghany, N.C. (4-7), Craig County (2-8) and Covington (0-10). (See 2009 schedules in Scoreboard.)

Having reached the final week of the season having two wins over teams with a combined 1-19 record, it was great to see the Tide end the year with a quality win, as Big Creek entered the game a probable 8- or 9-seed in the 16-team West Virginia Class A playoffs.

As a sidenote, last Friday’s game was significant in more ways than just the dramatic finish. It was the final regular season game at Big Creek, which will consolidate next year with Iaeger. Big Creek High was the home of the fabled Rocket Boys, whose story is told in the motion picture October Sky, and is also a cradle of coaches, of sorts, having produced the likes of Glynn Carlock (Graham), Joel Hicks (Pulaski County), Jim Hickam (Northside), Tom Hale (Carroll County) and others.

Hale’s Cavaliers are another bunch that would liked to have seen its season last another week after closing their schedule by hammering Graham 47-6.

What a yo-yo season it was for Carroll County, which went 5-5 against a schedule that included six eventual playoff teams. The Cavaliers are unfortunate members of Region IV Division 4, where lurk the likes of Pulaski County (10-0), Salem (8-2), and Bassett (7-3), and where the only ticket into the playoffs is either a district championship or an eight-win season. The Cavs found themselves trailing by a touchdown within the first three minutes of half of their games yet managed a respectable third-place showing in the very competitive Southwest District. Still, Carroll is staying home despite wins over two teams that did reach the playoffs – Graham and Blue Ridge District champion William Byrd.

Carroll County loses most of its offensive and defensive fronts but will be stacked in the backfield next year, with starters Dillon Caviness, Zack Surratt and Blake Bowman returning. One key will be in filling the shoes of Cody Mabe, whose 200-yard effort against Graham put the former offensive lineman at 829 yards for the season.

The Cavaliers have only one schedule change for next year, a lateral move, as Christiansburg replaces William Byrd.

Years like this past season happen, even in Grayson County. The Blue Devils, like Galax, had less than a half-dozen kids introduced on Senior Night. That much youth, coupled with a slew of injuries and the loss of a ton of third-year seniors from the previous year are tough to overcome, no matter where you are.

Still, there were high spots, including a couple 100-yard passing games in the final four games by junior Ryan Hernandez, several impossible catches by Eric Harvey and a mess of pancake blocks and crushing tackles by Cody Underwood.

Not to wish away time, but next year could be vastly different at this point of the season, even if the results aren’t. Both Region C and Region IV have adopted the six-team playoff format, which, had it been in place this year, would have meant that Galax’s win Friday would have propelled the sixth-seeded Tide into a first-round playoff spot against Bath County, and Carroll County would have made the field as a 6-seed, facing Bassett.

R.I.P., 2008.