By DAVID GRAVELY
The last games of the VHSL football season will take place this weekend, and while Cougar fans will have to wait at least one more season before we see Pulaski County back in the hunt, there are at least two local teams still in action.
The Group 5A and 6A titles will be decided at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Just a few minutes after noon, Briar Woods and L.C. Bird will take to the field for the 5A title. At just after 4 p.m., the 6A game should start between Centreville and Oscar Smith.
The Group 3A and 4A title games will be held at Liberty University in Lynchburg. The 3A title game will have a noon start, and will feature James Monroe vs. the Northside Vikings. At approximately 4:30 fans will get to watch the Group 4A game between Sherando and Dinwiddie.
The Giles Spartans will take their single-wing offense to Salem Stadium on Saturday to take on Brunswick High School in the Group 2A State Championship game. Prior to that game will be the Group 1A title game at noon. That game, much to the displeasure of another group of local fans, will feature Altavista vs. Essex.
That brings us to the big question of the week: why is everyone still talking about last weeks state semi-final game between the Essex Trojans and the Fort Chiswell Pioneers?
When you get a game between two very good teams, things can get tough. When you make that game a big time playoff game, things get even more exciting and emotions can run even higher. Anyone who has ever played the game, coached the game, or been a fan of the game for any amount of time has had their share of ups and downs and seen their share of things they didn’t particularly care for or understand.
Fort Chiswell went into the game well prepared. Pioneer Head Coach Stephen James and his staff had their team fine-tuned and ready for the challenge. The team was followed across the state by a large group of loyal Pioneer fans that have supported their team since before the first day of practice.
Fort Chiswell played hard, and so did Essex. There is no disputing the fact that both teams are talented teams that deserved to be there.
It would also be tough for any honest fan to say that the better team didn’t win last Saturday. That’s a tough pill to swallow some times, especially when you have so much invested in the program like this community does. That statement isn’t as clear as it could be, however, because of the way the game played out.
Fort Chiswell has been beaten before. They didn’t like it, but it happened.
Let me start this next part of this story by saying very clearly that I was NOT at the game. I did not see the game, I have not seen the video of the game, and I have not talked to any of the officials or VHSL personnel involved with controlling the game.
The part that is tough for most of the Fort Chiswell fans that I have talked to is that lingering question that was left out there….what if?
What if the ball had not been spotted short of the goal line several times? Would the Pioneers have gained momentum and scored again to take a bigger lead?
What if the officials had noticed the time it was reported that there were 12 Essex players on the field? Would not getting a touchdown on that play have given Fort Chiswell a chance to hold them?
What if the face mask call against Fort Chiswell that those in attendance say was clearly a face mask BY the Essex offensive player was called the other way? Would backing Essex up 15 yards have stopped them from scoring that drive?
What if there hadn’t been eleven penalties against the Pioneers leading into the final drive and only two against Essex? Would more penalties against Essex have caused their offense to stall?
All of these “what if” questions leave a doubt in the mind of Pioneer fans that won’t soon be erased. It leaves them feeling like they were cheated out of an opportunity at that big game on the biggest stage in high school football. It leaves them feeling cheated out of the goal they have worked for since they were first year players in the recreation league system.
Simply put, it hurts really bad, and it’s not fair to leave that question hanging out there for people to wonder about.
Not only is it not fair to the Fort Chiswell faithful, but it’s not fair to the Essex players who will now have at least one group who will always feel like they made it to the big game unfairly. At some point down the line, one of those players will be somewhere talking about that game and someone will make the comment “yeah, but…….”.
In times like this it’s always the easiest thing to look at the officials and point. I’ve heard different opinions on this, some saying the officials can’t really have an effect on the game and some saying they can. Personally, I have always thought that the best officiating crews were the ones that you never really remember much about. They manage the game, keep the players under control and safe, and make sure that things go smoothly. I also believe that the officials can have an effect on the outcome of a game. Sports depend, much of the time, on momentum. I can’t count the number of times that momentum has been stopped by a yellow flag that may or may not have been warranted.
Fort Chiswell lost last Saturday by a final score of 38-13, a 25 point difference. Would the officials making a few different calls have really made a 25 point swing in the score?
We’ll never know, and that my friends is where the big “what if” really hurts.
Fort Chiswell can be proud of their program, and the support that their community gave that program this and for many seasons. For many years the Pioneers were regulars at the bottom of their district. Those days are no more, and I don’t expect to see them return any time soon. Fort Chiswell has become one of the top programs in the area, and their time at the big dance will come.
Congratulations to the Fort Chiswell Pioneers on a fine season.