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Tide to face area's top rusher

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By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

Galax has had two full weeks with which to prepare for Patrick County. That can be a blessing, or it can be a curse. Any high school coach would welcome the added time to devise a way to contain the Cougars’ John Harris. The curse is in having twice as long to think about it.

Harris has been all but unstoppable in his first four games as he leads the 3-1 Cougars into Galax tonight for a nondistrict bout with the Maroon Tide. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound runningback, who has clocked a 4.28 40-yard dash, entered his senior season needing 1,464 yards to crack the top five in Timesland’s all-time career rushing list. As it looks now, being No 5 would be a disappointment. Harris enters tonight’s contest with 1,160 yards in four games, including a 311-yard torching of Carroll County in the Cougars’ season opener.

“You go into a game like this with a top runningback, Division I caliber, you challenge the defense to step up to the game,” Galax coach Jared Van Acker said. “Even back when I was a player I looked forward to these games. Everybody’s ‘You’re crazy, right?’ You look forward to it because it gives you a chance to see what you’re really made of.”

No better chance than against a kid who topped 4,000 career yards in the first game of his senior season.

“He’s a speedy kid and speed kills, especially when it gets outside,” Van Acker said. “He loves to get outside, turn on the burners, and he’s gone. What we have to do defensively is stop that speed from getting going. We have to make him redirect, wrap up and make tackles. We don’t need to go out and get kill shots, just go out and play football.”

The Tide is in the midst of two idle Fridays in a three-week span, time that Van Acker feels is useful.

“The bye weeks are good because you can get some injuries taken care of, but most of our injuries are season-ending injuries anyway,” he said. “I think we got our legs under us a little bit more. It’s a long season and you need those breaks to get re-energized.”

Galax has struggled since a 35-14 opening-night win over Northwood, especially in the turnover department.

“We’ve had 17 turnovers in the last three games,” said Van Acker. “When we start holding onto the football, securing our blocks, running the right routes, catching the ball, we’ll be a good team. Right now we’re struggling in those areas. It looks bad, but when you watch film, you think, ‘One block and it’s a touchdown,’ or, ‘If we make that catch, the drive is still alive.’ We’re working on us first. The bye week gave us time to prepare...There’s nothing special that [Patrick] runs. They’re going to come after us, and we’ve got to come after them.”

Harris isn’t coming at opponents alone. A big, seasoned offensive line is one big reason for the gaudy numbers.

“They’re a senior-dominated team,” Van Acker said. “A lot of those guys up front are back from last year, when they made the playoffs for the first time in a long time, and they’re big boys. Harris is going to get yards, and he’s going to get first downs, but we’ve got to stop the big play.”

Van Acker estimated that all but two of Harris’ 14 touchdowns this season have been of less than 10 yards.

“I scouted them on Friday against Lord Botetourt and he scored five touchdowns,” Van Acker said, “but to my belief they held him in check pretty much the entire evening. He just got loose four or five times. What we’ve got to do is cut that number down.”