For the last couple years, Roane County's football program has been trying to restore the roar the community had enjoyed in previous seasons.The Raiders took the initial step last year, going 9-3 and winning the first playoff game in the history of the consolidated school that opened in 1993.This year, eighth-seeded Roane (8-2) will be hosting its first-ever postseason game when it welcomes No. 9 Oak Glen (9-1) to Spencer at 1:30 p.m. Saturday."We've never done that before,'' said coach Paul Burdette, "and it's been our goal all year. Last year, we missed by a little bit [as the No. 9 seed].
"Our guys have really been focused on the task at hand this year. They've been working their butts off every day in practice. They come to practice ready to work every day and never complain. They never say, 'Man, this is ridiculous.' They're a hard-working group of guys.''Roane is trying to get back to the success turned in by Spencer High in the early 1990s before it merged with Walton. Spencer reached the Class AA title game in back-to-back seasons (1990-91), winning it all in 1991."We've taken it one game at a time,'' Burdette said. "I know a lot of people say that, but our guys truly believe in it. They haven't looked ahead to anybody. They know there's no need to look forward without taking care of what's in front of you, because then the rest of our goals don't come to fruition.''Gone, not forgottenHurricane coach Willis May thinks it's a reflection of the mentality of senior receiver Ben Fletcher, who continues to be a part of the team even after suffering a season-ending knee injury.Fletcher needed surgery a few weeks ago to repair the damage after playing in less than 11/2 games for the Redskins this season."He's still there every day at practice,'' May said recently, "and he still goes out there [for the pregame coin toss] as one of our captains. But it kills him every game not to be playing, and it hurts our heart to watch him."He's a special player, and I hope he rehabs that [injury] and it heals up and he gets an opportunity to play somewhere else next year. He's a tough kid and he works hard. I hope he can get back to football because he loves it and he's good at it.''Out of the ashesLogan's football team from two seasons ago has been a topic of conversation around the county fairly often these days. But not because of its success.The Wildcats went just 1-9 in 2009, which makes this year's 8-2 record and No. 4 seed in the Class AAA playoffs all the more unexpected. However, coach Gary Mullins said that 2009 squad taught his current players plenty of valuable lessons.
"They get mentioned a lot, that 1-9 team,'' Mullins said, "but I'll tell you that team taught us how to play - the Austin Farmers and the Mike Cottrills and those guys. Every snap, they played as hard as they could at 1-9 - even when they knew their season was over."They showed these guys to play every snap like it might be your last one, and I think they learned a lot of good lessons from those guys.''MSAC mashParkersburg is probably the poster child for the physical level of play throughout the Mountain State Athletic Conference.The Big Reds were down to their No. 3 tailback by the fourth game and also went through a stretch playing without three of their top linemen and two leading receivers.Other league teams battling key injuries this season were Capital (Dustin Pullin, Tyler McClaskie), Nitro (Michael Hall, Ethan Clark), Princeton (Tre Hopkins, Tahj Johnson), Hurricane (Fletcher), Greenbrier East (Ethan Level) and Riverside (Leon Mitchell).
"When we had our MSAC meeting, all the coaches were talking about how we literally beat each other up,'' said Parkersburg coach Don Reeves. "Everyone's losing two, three kids. It's just a tough conference week in and week out, and it's tough for us to survive the conference schedule by late in the season.''Fresh legsLuke Salmons, Cabell Midland's first-year coach, thinks his team's late-season surge (winning seven of eight after an 0-2 start) could be partially attributed to its penchant for platooning players.About the only regular to play both offense and defense for the Knights this season has been senior running back-free safety Cody Carter."Through the course of the year, you're going to have your ups and downs,'' Salmons said, "and kids will get hurt. But I've felt like we've had a lot of kids who stepped up. We don't play anybody but one kid both ways, and we stay true to that."It's hard at times, especially when kids get banged up. We've developed some depth, and playing kids one way has been really beneficial in the third, fourth quarters. That's what we pride ourselves on. The kids have done a good job buying into that every week.''Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org