This season, the folks at Coalfield Sports are picking five of the most intriguing matchups in the area to be the games of the week before you the fans select THE game of the week.
Each week, Ryan and Brady, the hosts of the SWVASports Podcast will pick the five contests and be joined by a special guest each week.
So far, the records are as follows:
Guest: 39-11 (Eugene Hilton: 3-2, Lloyd Combs: 5-0, Rick Baker: 4-1, Casey Goetz: 3-2, Anthony Stevens: 5-0, Chase Parker: 4-1, Nolan Knight: 4-1, Frank Browning: 3-2, Heather Williams: 4-1, Brian Woodson 4-1)
Trivia Question picker: 19-3 (Dakota Hamilton 5-0, Michael Dotson 4-1, Jeff Atwell 3-2, Trevor Ramsey 3-2, Matthew Ball 4-1)
Bluefield Daily Telegraph sports editor Brian Woodson went 4-1 last week tying with Ryan and trivia picker Matthew Ball. The lone falter came in Abingdon’s triumph over Union. Thank you for playing, Brian! Be sure to check Brian’s work with the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
This week’s guest picker is Mark Fought. Mark has served as the play-by-play voice of Blacksburg High School athletics since 2015. From 2015-2017, Mark could be heard on 105.3 The Bear in the NRV. However, beginning in 2018, ESPN Blacksburg is now the home for Bruins athletics. In addition to his Blacksburg play-by-play responsibilities, Mark is the host of the PK’s Weekly High School Football Show on ESPN Blacksburg. Fought was born and raised in the wild and wonderful state of West Virginia before attending West Virginia University in Morgantown. While in the capital of Mountaineer Country, Mark obtained a undergraduate degrees in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. In addition to his on-air experience in the New River Valley, Mark has covered VHSL football, basketball, baseball, soccer and swimming for GameDay Network. Fought formerly co-hosted a weekly hour long sports talk show—BlueGoldSports on SMC Radio. The show covered Big 12 and WVU athletics. Fought has also covered Mountaineers football and basketball for one of the leading independent sites covering WVU athletics.
Last week’s trivia question winner, Matthew Ball, went 4-1 against the experts. Congrats, Matthew! Thank you for playing!
This week the trivia winner is CoalfieldSports staff member, Brian Owens! Congratulations, Brian! Best of luck!
The five games are: Pulaski County at Salem, Radford at Glenvar, Grayson County at Galax, Richlands at Virginia High and the CoalfieldSports.com Game of the Week, Thomas Walker at J.I. Burton.
Let’s get to it!
Pulaski County at Salem:
Brady: The last time Pulaski County defeated Salem was 2010. The last time the Cougars were victorious over the Spartans at Salem Stadium was 2001. Other than the losses to Dinwiddie, Blacksburg and Northside, Salem has looked like—well, Salem. Persinger has been legit for Salem. I think he will continue to look legit. I think Pulaski is one of the most talented teams in our area. In the Cougars losses to Blacksburg and Northside, Pulaski County could have very well won. Gage Mannon has played lights out with EJ Horton and the gang. However, the three-time defending 4A state champion will take the victory over the Cougars in this one.
Mark: Both teams come into this game with Region 4D playoffs positioning firmly in mind. Salem has been punishing teams the second half of the season with junior fullback Isaiah Persinger running behind “The Mules” – the prideful nickname given to Salem’s offensive line. After a rough three-game stretch of losses to Dinwiddie, Northside and Blacksburg – teams with a combined record of 25-2 – the Spartans have rattled off four wins in a row against the less formidable competition of Christiansburg, Patrick Henry-Roanoke, Hidden Valley and Cave Spring. Other than a loss to unbeaten Region 4D leader Blacksburg, Pulaski County’s only loss was an opening game one-point defeat against 8-1 Northside that featured two missed extra points. The Cougars feature a balanced attack, led by Gage Mannon at running back and Kent State-bound E. J. Horton at receiver. Salem always seems to improve as a season goes along, and the game will be played at Spartans Stadium in Salem. Give the edge to the home team. Salem 31, Pulaski 21
Ryan: Raise your hand if you thought the mighty Salem Spartans would be 6-3 and sitting at 6th in the 4D playoff picture heading into week 11? No? Nobody? Didn’t think so. This game is big for playoff seeding. From my rough math, a Pulaski win would keep the Cougars at 3rd. A loss could drop them all the way to sixth. Salem is looking at a possible jump to 3rd with a win and could potentially fall to 7th with a loss. Either way, this will be a big game up at Salem Stadium. It’s hard to go against the Spartans at home. I’ll take Salem.
Brian: This is a huge matchup in preparation for the Class 4, Region D playoff picture as well as an intense rivalry in the River Ridge District. Last week, Gage Mannon ran roughshod all over Patrick Henry – Roanoke compiling 251 yards with four touchdowns on 31 carries leading PC to a 56-19 victory. The Spartans are in uncharted territory for their storied program, scrapping around in the bottom half of the playoff-seeding ladder going into the final week of the season. Salem desperately needs a win here to be able to host one home playoff game in the friendly confines of Salem Stadium. Look for quarterback Jack Gladden to hook up with Chase Ferris early and often. Mannon will get plenty of yardage in his own right, but look for a missed XP on the road be the difference in the contest.
Prediction: Salem 31, Pulaski County 30
Radford at Glenvar:
Brady: Looking back throughout the years, this series is almost deadlocked. Dating back to 1996, Radford holds a 12-10 advantage. Glenvar has won the last four in this district series. Both of these teams are hot in 2018. Loaders and Street have the Highlanders clicking on all cylinders. P.J. Prioleau has been the star for Matthew Saunders team. I think this is ultimately a coin flip for many people. However, Radford has dropped one contest to Galax, whom Glenvar defeated in week one. Give me Glenvar to complete the 10-0 season and head into the Class 2 playoffs as the favorites.
Mark: This is the biggest game between these two teams since both entered the 2001 game at 6-1, but the stakes are even higher this time, as the Highlanders look to complete their third undefeated ten-game regular season in school history (’92, ’15) and maintain the top ranking in all of Class 2 statewide. Coach Kevin Clifford will look to shifty tailback Brady Loders and downhill runner Colby Street to shoulder the running load, while 8-1 Radford – winners of seven straight since a 41-21 setback against Galax in Week 2 – will ride on the shoulders of leading rusher P.J. Prioleau. The “X factor” for the Bobcats might be long-range field goal kicker Connor Lytton. Both defenses have been terrific, with Glenvar giving up just 11.8 points per game (PPG), while Radford is only yielding 14.1 PPG. I look for the Highlanders to charge into the playoffs unbeaten with a “statement game” in tow. Glenvar 30, Radford 17
Ryan: This game will also feature some playoff implications. Radford is currently 2nd, but with a loss would drop to 3rd. But a win? They could potentially jump Glenvar for that 1st seed. Glenvar is a lock for the 1 seed with a win, and even with a loss could still hold on to it. Glenvar has been impressive all season. Give me the Highlanders in a 10 point ballgame.
Brian: The Bobcats and Highlanders head into Friday’s highly anticipated showdown as the top two seeds currently in the Class 2, Region C playoff picture. The Bobcats utilize P. J. Prioleau in the backfield, and Prioleau is one of the New River/Roanoke Valley’s premier backs. The Bobcats seemingly have no way to get the top seed even with a win over the Highlanders on Friday night. However, a win would see a potential second round matchup with three time defending state champion Appomattox come at home instead of on the road. The Highlanders feature linebacker Maxx Philpott who is generating buzz throughout the entire western half of the commonwealth. Even though the Highlanders have the top seed and home field advantage clinched through the regional playoffs, don’t look for them to step off the gas pedal. Playing at home will play a key factor in this game for the Highlanders. Look for a Philpott stop on Prioleau on 4th down in the final minute to seal the deal for the Highlanders.
Prediction: Glenvar 26, Radford 21
Grayson County at Galax:
Brady: It is a Twin County rivalry in the City of Galax on Friday. Both of these teams have enjoyed much success this season. Grayson is sitting at 9-1, but will be playing their second game in five days on Friday. The Blue Devils squeaked one passed George Wythe on Monday, but it may be tough to do so on Friday. Grayson holds the all-time edge over Galax, with a 19-12 advantage. However, since Mark Dixon took over as the head coach of the Maroon Tide, Galax is 6-2 against the boys from Independence. Those two losses come from a combined margin of four. Last year, Grayson needed overtime to knock off Dougie Peoples and the gang, 20-21. Look for Blake Brown and the Tide to ride the wave back into the city on Friday.
Mark: It’s the battle for the Mountain Empire District. The Blue Devils are enjoying their best season since 2011’s 9-1 campaign, with their only loss being a 36-12 setback at unbeaten Glenvar. Galax’ two losses have been to teams with a combined record of 17-1 – a 28-24 opening week loss at home to Glenvar and a 57-21 shellacking at home from Northside. Galax is battle tested in big games like this one; Grayson County not as much. Look for the Maroon Tide to ride a raucous home crowd to a close victory that builds momentum for the playoffs. Galax 31, Grayson County 28
Ryan: This game, like most, also has major playoff implications. Grayson County sits a surprising 2nd. With a win, they’d keep that spot. But with a loss? They’ll drop to 4th. Galax has revenge on it’s mind after the Blue Devils upset them last year. Folks in Richlands, Bristol and Big Stone Gap are all hard on the Maroon Tide bandwagon. I’m from Richlands, so I am, too. Galax wins. To set up..
Brian:This showdown and intense rivalry will decide the champion of the Mountain Empire District in 2018. 15 miles of U. S. Route 58 separate the two schools. The Blue Devils of Grayson County have already clinched a home playoff game in round one of the Class 2, Region D playoffs. The question is will they be the 2 seed (with a win) or potential 4 seed (with a loss)? The Maroon Tide have all but clinched the top seed in the Class 1, Region C playoff race as even with a loss here, it would take monumental upsets by Bland over Fort Chiswell and Holston over Chilhowie to see the Maroon Tide anywhere other than the top seed. The Blue Devils will be playing on short rest, coming off a 36-28 victory over George Wythe on Monday night. In the victory over the Maroons, Jake Hollingsworth and Levi Jones were able to run the ball seemingly at will against GW. The Maroons will be looking for revenge after last season’s 21-20 overtime loss thriller. That loss cost the Maroons the top seed in the region playoffs last season. Look for revenge to be served on Friday night.
Prediction: Galax 28, Grayson County 13
Richlands at Virginia High:
Brady: Richlands and Virginia High. This one brings back a lot of memories for me. The playoff game between these two teams in 2013 is one of the greatest games in SWVA history. This year’s matchup is a coin flip. Race Moir and Trey Brown have been solid for the Blues this season. Ian Wade has done well for the Blues, also. However, Richlands has been very inconsistent at times, struggling to find a rhythm. Virginia High knows about that all too well. The Bearcats also sit at 5-4 coming into this Southwest District battle. Virginia High has struggled to find a rhythm offensively in 2018. However, when things are clicking for the boys from Bristol—watch out. Aaron Rose is one of the best all-around players in the region. Stevie Thomas is also a great young back for the Bearcats. However, there has been an inability to seem to get everything moving in the same direction. I think this will be a lot closer than some expect. Give me a Levi Forrest field goal to move the Blues to 6-4 and Greg Mance to his 197thwin.
Mark: Greg Mance’s Blue Tornado stands at 5-4, but they have played a brutal schedule, including 9-0 Class 4 Blacksburg, 7-2 Class 4 William Byrd (a 27-21 road win), West Virginia reigning AA champion Bluefield and 8-1 Graham on the slate. Virginia High also comes in at 5-4, and has faced some stiff competition itself – 9-0 Chilhowie, the G Men of Graham and the 7-3 Tennessee Vikings. Richlands’ winning streak over the Bearcats stands at 15; the last Virginia High win over Richlands was in 1999. Look for the streak to be extended to 16 after Friday night. Richlands 42, Virginia High 21
Ryan: This game has less of an impact on the playoffs outside of the two teams. Richlands is 5th, Virginia is 6th. The winner will hold the 5th spot, and a potential road trip to Grayson County with a Galax win. The loser will drop to 6th and potentially head to either Union or Graham. A win here is critical. Aaron Rose and Stevie Thompson are hot right now. The Blues need a critical win and a good performance from Race Moir. Give me the Blues by 4.
Brian: The winner of this Southwest District matchup will see the winner in all likelihood get the 5 seed in the upcoming Class 2, Region D playoffs, while the loser will be the 6 seed. The Blue Tornado have dominated this series since the dawn of the new millennium. The Bearcats last victory over Richlands came in 1999. The Bearcats received some good news last week, as power back and defensive stalwart Aaron Rose was cleared to return from concussion protocol. The Tornado juggernaut offense is led by quarterback Race Moir and running back Trey Brown and the two gel together like peanut butter and jelly. With the contest being played in the friendly confines of Gene Malcolm Stadium in Bristol, look for Bearcats quarterback Jamie Lathrop, Rose and speedster Stevie Thomas to do damage. But it won’t be enough this time. Coach Greg Mance’s high powered offense will do just a little bit more damage in the end.
Prediction: Richlands 28, Virginia High 21
COALFIELDSPORTS.COM GAME OF THE WEEK: Thomas Walker at J.I. Burton:
Brady: For the first time in a long time, the Thomas Walker Pioneers will play for a district championship. For the third time in school history, Thomas Walker has posted back-to-back winning seasons. Be certain that this is going to become the regular for Nick Johnson and the boys from Ewing. Johnson has his team heading in the right direction. The Pioneers are two scores away from sitting at 9-0. However, they will travel into Norton to take on the J.I. Burton Raiders, whose head coach knows a thing or two about winning a district title. Houston Thacker and Mikey Culbertson have been outstanding for the Raiders on their way to a 7-2 record. I think the Raiders have been more battle tested. Look for that to be the difference on Friday.
Mark: 7-2 Burton is on a roll; after opening losses to Union and Chilhowie (there no shame in either of those losses) the Black Raiders have rattled off seven in a row while averaging 41.4 PPG. T. W. is also 7-2, but the Pioneers’ level of competition hasn’t been quite as stiff as that of the Black Raiders. I’ll give the nod to the home team. J. I. Burton 35, Thomas Walker 24
Ryan: A surprising entry to the Game of the Week, and it won. Thomas Walker is a few plays away from having a much better record. Burton has navigated their schedule with relative ease. The difference in this one is Houston Thacker. Raiders. Big.
Brian: This battle decides the Cumberland District title for 2018 as well as a potential home playoff seeding in Class 1, Region D. The Pioneers have never won a game in this series, which dates back to 1988, going 0-14 all time against the Raiders. The Pioneers are led by do everything threat Dawson Lee. Lee has 1,162 rushing yards, 287 receiving yards and 186 passing yards on the season. The Raiders are led by two-way standout Houston Thacker who is a threat behind center at quarterback and on defense as well. The Raider offense is averaging over 36 points a game on the season. The deciding factor in the contest will be if the Pioneer defense can contain and limit the aerial strike offense of Thacker and the Raiders. An overflow crowd should pack Lawson-Fitchko Stadium in Norton on Friday night. The Pioneers were not expected by most to be here, however the Coalfield Sports Staff was represented by one first place vote for the Pioneers in the preseason. Although the Pioneers will give it everything they have, the Houston Thacker show and the Raiders historical dominance over the Pioneers will be too much in the end.
Prediction: J. I. Burton 38, Thomas Walker 21
I am a graduate of Richlands High School—class of 2014. In May 2018, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism and History with a minor in war and Society from Virginia Tech.
My passions in life are numerous. We don’t have all day. This is not the place to divulge into Hokie Football, so I will shed some light on one of my other favorites.
I was born and raised in the coalfields of southwest Virginia—Richlands to be exact. I remember the first time I ever went to a high school football game (Richlands-Tazewell ’02). Since then, a passion has grown that is stronger than the current in the Clinch River. As a football player in this region, I was able to witness the passion oozing out of the hills firsthand. It was something that when I began college, people had a hard time believing the spectacle that is high school football in the coalfields. Luckily, I was able to go 42-8 in between the white lines on Fridays and Saturdays from 2010-2013. I look forward to having another platform to tell you my stories, your stories and their stories. Here’s to the good times and hoping I don’t leave you like I did Coach Greg Mance numerous times—by saying, “Gosh Durn It!”
Let’s talk, SWVA sports, Hokies, history or maybe even barbecue.