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INDEPENDENCE –– After a 49-28 home loss to Fort Chiswell in October that dropped Galax to 2-4 on the year, Maroon Tide coach Mark Dixon told his team that in essence, the playoffs started the following Friday.
Having responded with four straight wins, Galax is moving on to the round of 16. The Maroon Tide will open postseason play for real this week after handling Grayson County 49-8 Friday at Bill Strong Field.
“This is a team I couldn’t be any more proud of, because even when things were awful, they never quit,” Dixon said. “I believe in them to my core, and whether we won four in a row or not, the fact is that they fought to the end. I love their character.”
Averaging 53 points per game while giving up an average of fewer than eight since the Fort loss, the Maroon Tide will make for a mighty dangerous mid-pack seed.
“Our offensive line has gotten better and better,” Dixon said. “They’re pretty good. The thing that’s exciting is that they’re 10th-graders. It’s the best young group of linemen that I’ve ever had. Defense is getting better and better, and the pink elephant in the room is No. 22.”
No. 22 would be Steven Peoples, who added to what has been an historic year with 367 yards and five touchdowns on 23 carries. Despite missing nearly a game and a half with a concussion, Peoples’ totals put him at 2,410 yards and 35 touchdowns for the season, eclipsing the regular season records of 2,253 yards and 33 touchdowns set by Brandon Brown in 2001.
The Maroon Tide (6-4 overall, 4-1 MED) took a 28-0 lead into the half behind a simple game plan. Grayson County ran 42 first-half plays but Galax countered with an incomplete pass and nine Peoples carries for 294 yards and four touchdowns.
“You know who’s getting it, and most of the time you know where it’s going,” Grayson County coach Brett McPherson said. “That’s the easy part. That’s the best football team we’ve played this year.”
Leading 14-0 on Peoples touchdowns of 11 and 58 yards, Galax turned a pair of defensive stops into second-quarter scores to take its four-touchdown lead. Grayson County (5-5, 2-3) drove to the Galax 31 before being pushed back to midfield, and the Maroon Tide took over at its own 20 following a punt. Two plays later, Peoples took a handoff to the left side and raced 81 yards for a score on the first play of the second quarter. Jonathen Reyna, who was 7-for-7 on the night, added the PAT for a 21-0 Maroon Tide lead.
The clincher came just before the half. Starting from its own 18, Grayson County put together a 21-play drive and got as far as the Galax 7 before being stopped on downs. The Blue Devils saw a potential 14-point spread turn into a 28-point gap as Peoples went 93 yards in the opposite direction on the Tide’s first snap.
“There’s just so much you can say about them,” said McPherson. “They block really well and they do a lot of things well, but even when you do everything right, 22 makes you miss. It was a tough night. We missed some chances where we might have gotten some momentum, but ultimately you’ve got to stop [Peoples], and we could never stop him.”
Joseph Dixon hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Carson Orton on Galax’s opening drive of the second half and James Williams countered with Grayson County’s lone score of the night, a 44-yard TD on a toss sweep. Williams finished with 81 yards on 14 carries.
Galax tacked on short touchdown runs by Peoples and Joseph Dixon in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
Grayson County starting quarterback Max Rodgers, who topped 6,000 career yards of total offense a week before, was a game-time scratch with a tweaked hamstring.
“Tyler [Lundy]’s gotten a lot of reps, but you’ve got to adjust things for a left-handed quarterback and flip things around, but we just got whipped up front,” McPherson said. “When that happens, you can see how it goes.”
Galax 49, Grayson Co. 8
Galax......................14 14 7 14––49
Grayson County........0 0 8 0–– 8
Gx–Peoples 1 run (Reyna kick) 9:26
Gx–Peoples 58 run (Reyna kick) 4:04
Gx–Peoples 81 run (Reyna kick) 11:47
Gx–Peoples 93 run (Reyna kick) 0:48
Gx–Dixon 24 pass from Orton (Reyna kick) 7:00
GC–Williams 44 run (Cannaday pass from T.Lundy) 3:54
Gx–Peoples 3 run (Reyna kick) 7:19
Gx–Dixon 5 run (Reyna kick) 2:57
First downs 16 14
Rushes-yards 36-411 38-166
Yards passing 24 37
Comp-Att-Int 1-4-0 4-14-0
Return yards 25 139
Punts-average 1-25.0 2-35.0
Fumbles-lost 3-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 7-72 2-35
RUSHING—Galax, Peoples 23-367, Dixon 12-45, Orton 1-(-1). Grayson County, Williams 14-81, Bilbrey 11-51, Goins 4-24, Sikes 3-8, Cox 2-4, T.Lundy 4-(-2).
PASSING–Galax, Orton 1-4-0-24. Grayson County, T.Lundy 4-14-0-37.
RECEIVING–Galax, Dixon 1-24. Grayson County, Williams 2-18, Bilbrey 1-10, Cannaday 1-9.