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NOTE: This story differs from its original version in that statistics have been updated. SALEM –– For one awful stretch in the second quarter Saturday, the worst thing Galax could do to itself was force a Clintwood three-and-out.
The one phase of the game in which Galax was supposed to have a clear advantage was the one in which Clintwood cashed in on the most as five big second-quarter plays on special teams helped the Greenwave turn 14-0 Galax lead into a 33-14 third-quarter advantage of its own. Clintwood needed every bit of that cushion as Galax rallied and then had two potential game-winning passes into the end zone fall incomplete as the Greenwave claimed the Group A Division 1 state championship, 33-28 at Salem Stadium.
“The second quarter really got away from us,” Galax coach Mark Dixon said. “Special teams, the thing that we had really been good at, really killed us. They had a great gameplan for us. Things I thought we could do we couldn’t do. Our kids did all they could do, they just weren’t put in real good positions there for a while.”
The state title was the fourth for Clintwood and the first since 1978, when head coach Rick Mullins was a freshman for the Greenwave. Clintwood lost in the state finals in 2007 and 08 while Galax was playing for the school’s first state football championship
“There were a lot of things out there today that could have gone the other way, but they didn’t,” said Mullins. “I’m just very thankful and praise God for being able to get a win today.”
Down 33-14 with the third quarter nearly gone, the Maroon Tide was on its back and seemingly down for the count when it found a way to get back on its feet and make a fight of it.
First came a touchdown out of a formation it had shown just twice all year. Wideout Jacob Fisher took a direct snap, faked a handoff to Donte Peoples and bolted up the middle for an 80-yard touchdown run. Eli Brady’s PAT closed the gap to 33-21 entering the fourth quarter.
“We ran that once up at Bland,” said Fisher, who was Galax’s leading rusher with 83 yards on two carries and had four catches for 56 yards. “It was more for like a third-and-2, but we had to come up with something during the week to throw a wrench into it, something they hadn’t seen from us. They were loaded up on the sweep and there was nobody in the middle of the field.”
After two defensive stops, the first one a fourth-down stand at its own 7, Galax took over with 4:06 to go following a Clintwood punt to the 13. The Maroon Tide went 87 yards in a little more than two minutes to make it a one-possession game as Austin Pack completed 4-of-5 passes for 72 yards, hitting Deion George amid double coverage in the end zone from 47 yards out to pull the Tide to within five points with 1:58 to go.
Clintwood covered the ensuing onside kick but burned just 32 seconds on its subsequent possession, punting to the Tide 17 with 1:26 to play. Out of timeouts, Galax worked itself into position to win a state title.
George hauled in a 36-yard catch to the Clintwood 47, then drew a pass interference flag on a fourth-and-3 play for a new set of downs at the 27 with less than a minute to go.
Pack scrambled for nine yards to the 18 but two throws to George in the end zone, including one amid heavy contact on the game’s final play, fell incomplete.
“It was interference,” George said calmly after his five-catch, 101-yard effort. “I got pushed in the back. But it is what it is.”
Galax had stunned Clintwood with two quick touchdowns late in the first quarter. Steven Peoples sprinted in from 21 yards away at the 4:08 mark, then scored a pick-six with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown less than a minute later for a 14-0 lead.
It all came crashing down in the second quarter despite a series of three-and-outs by the Tide defense. The first stop resulted in a Clintwood punt that bounced into a Galax player’s leg and was recovered by Clintwood at the Tide 18. That set up the Greenwave’s first score, a 4-yard run by 6-foot-2, 234-pound fullback Austin Dotson.
The ensuing kickoff was held up in the breeze, fell between two lines of Galax players and was pounced on by Jeremy Mullins at the Tide 42. Galax again stopped the Wave on three plays, but a roughing-the-punter penalty kept the drive alive and Jacob York scored on a quick slant pass from Dalton Dahley from 27 yards out, tying the game at 14 with 5:31 left in the half.
“Special teams is the first thing we think about, but we were horrible today,” said George.
A partially-blocked Tide punt rolled just 14 yards to the Galax 42 and the Tide again forced a three-and-out, but Robbie Mullins took the short snap in punt formation and picked up 13 yards for a first down at the 27. He scored four plays later from the 8 and Clintwood took a 20-14 lead into the half.
“They’re a heck of a team and they deserved to win,” said Pack, who was 12-of-27 for 168 yards. “We just couldn’t spot them 20 points before halftime.”
Having scored more touchdowns in the second period than Galax had allowed in any one of its first 14 games, Clintwood looked to have landed the knockout blow early in the second half. Dahley popped a short toss to Robbie Mullins just beyond the defensive line and Mullins raced 76 yards for a touchdown and a 26-14 lead.
Dahley was making just his second start as a quarterback and a punter in the spots held by his older brother, Dylan, who broke a collarbone in a quarterfinal win at George Wythe. The sophomore started the day 1-of-11 with an interception and finished just 3-of-14, but had 117 yards and two scores in addition to four punts for an average of 40.3 yards.
“Two weeks ago he was eating hotdogs at halftime,” Rick Mullins said, “and now he’s starting in the state championship game. It was a pretty good job by Dalton.”
The Greenwave’s next possession covered 77 yards on five plays, including Gavan Meade’s 28-yard touchdown run for a 33-14 lead at 4:44 of the third.
Dixon wasn’t surprised to see his team make the late charge.
“That’s just the type of kids they are,” he said. “I worried that we might not get back in it, but I never worried that they’d lay down. I didn’t know if we had anything drawn up that would work but I knew they would give me all they had, and they did.”
Galax outgained Clintwood 392-350 in total offense. The Tide's Jordan Vaughan rushed 12 times for 79 yards and Peoples added 49 yards on eight carries. Meade carried 26 times for 124 yards for Clintwood.
Clintwood......0 20 13 0––33
Galax..........14 0 7 7––28
Gx–S.Peoples 21 run (Brady kick) 4:08
Gx–S.Peoples 30 interception return (Brady kick) 3:14
C–Dotson 4 run (Brooks kick) 8:11
C–York 27 pass from Dahley (Brooks kick) 5:31
C–R.Mullins 8 run (kick failed) 0:20
C–R.Mullins 76 pass from Dahley (pass failed) 9:02
C–Meade 28 run (Brooks kick) 4:44
Gx–Fisher 80 run (Brady kick) 0:22
Gx–George 47 pass from Pack (Brady kick) 1:58
First downs 14 17
Rushes-yards 50-233 28-224
Yards passing 117 168
Comp-Att-Int 3-14-1 12-28-1
Return yards 44 101
Punts-average 4-40-3 5-32.2
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 7-45 4-41
RUSHING—Clintwood, Meade 26-124, Dotson 9-59, R.Mullins 14-52, Dahley 1-(-2). Galax, Fisher 2-83, Vaughan 12-79, S.Peoples 8-49, Pack 5-15, D.Peoples 1-(-2).
PASSING–Clintwood, Dahley 3-14-1-117. Galax, Pack 12-27-1-191, team 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING–Clintwood, R.Mullins 1-76, York 2-41. Galax, George 5-101, Fisher 4-56, S.Peoples 2-10, Shalabi 1-1.