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Tide, Chargers one step away

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Galax hosts Lunenburg Central with a spot in the state title game on the line.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

For those eastern Grayson County folks out there still pining for one more Galax-Fries matchup in football, this may be your chance. Just imagine – without cringing – that the old Wildcats are wearing purple.

Galax (13-0) will host Lunenburg Central (10-3) Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Group A Division 1 semifinals at Galax High School. After observing the Maroon Tide’s scout offense in the gloaming of a soggy Felts Park Wednesday evening, a longtime Roanoke Times reporter in town for an advance story on the game made the remark that the squad looked like it could have been put together by former Fries boss Ricky Wilson. Galax coach Mark Dixon’s assessment of the Charger offense doesn’t dispute the observation.

“They just line up and run double wing, pitch it back to the runningbacks and lead up, and that’s what they do,” Dixon said. “If you stop it, you’re alright. If not, you’re in for a long night.”

The hup-it-and-run philosophy seems, at least at first glance, simple enough to defend. After all, the Maroon Tide limited Honaker’s power ground attack to fewer than two yards a carry last week. But the word ‘simple’ never left Dixon’s mouth.

Lining up close enough to one another that someone could tie all the Charger linemen’s shoelaces together, Lunenburg mounts a mass attack, which runs completely against the Galax defense’s core concept of fitting up against blocks and letting that lead to the ballcarrier.

“How we’re going about it is totally different than last week,” said Dixon. “Honaker was a power team with normal splits. This group makes it more difficult because they’re foot-to-foot. It’s hard to fit up on a block because there’s not really one block, it’s like a wall.”

Brandon Townsend, a 5-7, 155-pound senior, is Central’s leading rusher, surpassing the 1,000-yard mark in Lunenburg’s 10th game. Dajour Smith (5-7, 146) and fullback Jaron Webb (5-10, 187) give the Chargers a solid three-back attack.

“They’ll pitch it to the runningback, they’ll pull the two backside linemen and the quarterback will get out and lead, so they get six people to the point of attack,” said Dixon, “and the most we ever see is three. The complexity of their offense comes in reading keys, in that they lull you into one thing and then come back with the play-action stuff.”

In the Chargers’ team photo, 6-foot-5, 260-pound Alex Puleo stands out like a 7-footer. Otherwise, Lunenburg isn’t physically imposing up front but is loaded with thick guys in the 5-9, 235-pound range, all of whom can move. 

“They’ve got great speed all over the field,” Dixon said. “Probably one of the fastest teams we’ve played in my two years here, man-for-man.”

While Galax is zeroing in on its defensive approach, an offensive game plan may be a work in progress Saturday.

“All the film I have is them against the spread,” Dixon said. “I don’t know how they’ll line up against us at all. Most people, at least in the playoffs, have started with seven in the box and four deep trying to stay on top of Deion [George] and Jacob [Fisher], and once we start running it we see that eighth man up in the box.”

Lunenburg’s 7-3 regular season record should be ignored, as should its fourth-place finish in the James River District. Six of the eight James River teams reached the playoffs, three of which, including the Chargers, will be in state semifinal action Saturday.

Two of Central’s three losses were to Goochland (currently 13-0) and Amelia (12-1). The third loss was to Buckingham, which lost in the second round to finish 9-3.

Lunenburg is making its first playoff appearance since 2006 and just its second since a 27-year string ended in 2005. The Chargers were once the premier program in Group A, appearing in nine state championship games 10 times from 1984 to 1993 and winning the title in 1986, 87 and 92 to go with their 1980 crown.

Senior-dominated Galax is making its first state semifinal appearance in just the fifth playoff season in school history. The Maroon Tide has been overpowering since an overtime win to start the season, winning its last 12 games by an average of 38 points, including playoff victories by the margins of 57, 36 and 39 points.

 

 

GROUP A DIVISION 1

State semifinals

 

#6E Lunenburg Central (10-3) at #1W Galax (13-0)

Saturday, 2 p.m., Galax High School

Admission $10, 6-under free

(VHSL passes only)

 

LUNENBURG CENTRAL entered the Eastern Section Division 1 playoffs as the No. 6 seed with an 18.00 VHSL rating. The Chargers finished fourth in the tough James River District, which sent six of its eight teams to the playoffs, three of which (including Goochland and Amelia County in Division 2) are in this weekend’s semifinals. Although Lunenburg defeated two double-digit seeds – No. 11 Colonial Beach and No. 10 William Campbell – in the playoffs, it also knocked off the East’s No. 3 team, Nottoway, in the second round, and has won six straight games since dropping three out of four during a midseason stretch that included games against Goochland (13-0), Amelia County (12-1) and Buckingham County (9-3).

Playoff history

The Chargers return to the playoffs after a four-year absence. Lunenburg was once the dominant team in the state, appearing in the playoffs 27 straight years from 1978-2004. The Chargers played in the state championship game an astonishing nine times in the 10 years between 1984 and 1990, and have won four state championships. The program also boasts 11 Region B titles, though none since 1993.

 

GALAX entered the Western Section playoffs as the Mountain Empire District champion and the West’s top seed with a 24.60 rating. The Maroon Tide continues to add to its school-record number of wins, now standing at 13. Galax has won its three playoff games by an average score of 57-13 and has held the opposition to single-digit scoring in seven of its 13 games, giving up an average of 9.8 points per game.

Playoff history

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 during the season but lost 16-14 to Floyd County in district play 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).

 

Last week

#6E Central defeated #10E William Campbell 28-15

#1W Galax defeated #4W Honaker 48-9

Last meeting

This is the first meeting between the two schools

Common opponents

None

 

The season 

Lunenburg Central                   Galax

Open                                8/26    D Glenvar 17-14 OT

D Nelson County 34-13     9/2    D Floyd County 37-21

D Wm. Campbell 23-19     9/9    D EastMont 56-12

D Chatham 14-0              9/16    D Radford 43-0

L to Goochland 46-13       9/23    D Craig County 40-14

D Cumberland 36-8          9/30    Open

L to Amelia County 28-0   10/7    D Fort Chiswell 52-0

L to Buckingham 49-21    10/14    D Graham 45-14

D Bluestone 55-8             10/21    D Narrows 48-7

D Nottoway 26-14          10/28    D Bland County 49-0

D Randolph-Henry 48-0    11/4    D Grayson Co. 21-6

Division 1 sectional playoffs

East                                              West

D Colonial Beach 63-24     11/11    D Holston 64-7

D Northumberland 14-12  11/18    D Castlewood 60-24

D Wm. Campbell 28-15     11/25    D Honaker 48-9

Group A Division 1 state semifinals

at Galax                            12/3    Lunenburg Central