J.I. Burton has a new head coach but the results haven’t changed. Jacob Caudill has served on the Raiders coaching staff for the last seven years and was the defensive coordinator before taking over the head coaching position this summer. Caudill has his Raiders in position to claim another Cumberland crown if they can hold serve over the final three weeks of the season. The Raiders are only focused on the daunting task of slowing down Castlewoods Jeremiah Allen. Allen has rushed for well over 600 yards on the season while scoring 8 touchdowns and recording over 70 tackles on defense.
“Definitely a big challenge for us.” Said Caudill. “They run that single wing and that’s a challenge itself to prepare and game plan for. Our principal, Brad Hart, actually coached at Powell Valley and has saw Giles and how they run their single wing offense and he has actually been very helpful with his knowledge of how it’s ran.”
When you hear Castlewood this year, you automatically think Jeremiah Allen but head coach Chris Lark says his team isn’t just a one trick pony. “We’ve got a stable of kids that can run the ball for us. The Dudley twins are both big and physical. MJ Carter has done well for us and made big plays and so has Shane Aesque and Dalton Fields. Both of those guys have stepped up big in key moments.” Noted Lark.
Burton (5-2, 2-0) dropped their first two games of the year against Ridgeview and Chilhowie but have since ripped of five in a row. They lowest scoring output the Raiders produced during that stretch was 41 in a win over Twin Springs on the road. They are averaging 50 points in their last five games. The Raiders have a plethora of playmakers. Seniors Najee Steele Mikey Culbertson lead the attack for the Raiders along with Esau Teasley. Sophomore quarterback Jaymen Buchanan is a capable playmaker with his arm as well as his legs.
“We are fortunate enough to have two seniors in Najee and Mikey to grind it out for us.” Added Caudill. “Esau is just electric, he’s tough when he gets the ball in his hands and when he gets in the open field. I also can’t say enough about our receivers. They don’t show up a lot on the stat sheet but when we’re breaking down film on Sundays you can see how much they contribute to our team in blocking for these backs. They come ready to work every single day for this football team.”
Castlewood (5-2, 2-1) started out 1-2 on the year with three tough games in the first three weeks. A setback to Patrick Henry in week one, a big win over Honaker in week two and a tough 14-12 loss to Thomas Walker in week three in which Castlewood fumbled four times, held the Pioneers to under 100 yards rushing and gave up a kick return for a touchdown. Since then Blue Devils have won four in a row and are holding their opponents to 8 points to game during the four game winning streak. Lark is aware of all the playmakers Burton has and is excited for the opportunity for his kids to playing in such a big game.
“We’re expecting a playoff like atmosphere.” Stated Lark. “We know to get where we want to be we’d have to go through Norton. They have several kids who are tough with the football in their hands. Culbertson is big and strong, Steele is dangerous when he gets to the outside and their quarterback is dangerous running the football when they hit you with that little counter with him. We have to match their physicality and contain their speed. This coaching staff has done a tremendous job all year getting these kids ready to play and we’re excited to be in this position.”
Dating back to 2004 J.I. Burton is 10-0 against Castlewood including a 35-0 win over the Blue Devils in the first round of the 2006 Region D playoffs. In that time, the closest the Blue Devils have gotten to the Raiders is 27-8 loss they suffered back in 2014. Each team will try to take the next step in their quest to becoming Cumberland District champions Friday night inside Lawson Fitchko Stadium in Norton. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.