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Two years ago, Staunton River played its final game of the season against Rustburg.
A win in that game would have prevented an 0-10 season. The team lost a heartbreaker, 22-14.
This year, the Golden Eagles play their final game of the regular season against Northside.
A win in this game gives the Eagles the Blue Ridge District championship.
That’s quite a shift, by anyone’s measure.
“This is a whole different story,” said Eagle standout kicker Stephen Hardy. “A few years ago, we were looking to just put points on the board to keep it close. Now we’re looking for the win.”
Nobody on the team remembers the painful past better than Cody Jones.
Now in his fourth year as the Golden Eagle quarterback, Jones endured consecutive 0-10 seasons during his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
“I played with these guys as sophomores when we went 0-10 and were getting kicked around by grown men,” recalled Jones. “Now, we’re the big guys.”
It wasn’t a simple matter of just waiting to grow up, though. “I didn’t have a summer this year,” said Jones, of his season spent in the weight room, while others hit the beach.
OK. The Eagles have gotten this far. Now, what do they think about their final regular-season foe?
“Their size and experience,” is what River Head Coach Chuck Poston cited when asked what concerns him about Northside. “They are also huge up front and are going to be difficult to move.”
These Vikings are the defending state champions, after all. Many key players from that team returned for this season.
Northside has (in this newspaper’s opinion) the best-throwing quarterback (Adam Hardister) in the region and its best defense (8.4 points per game).
They also will have a tiger by the tail when River takes to the Northside turf on Friday night. That’s a tiger that has won its last six games with an average victory margin of 28.6 points.
Northside, however, is not Patrick County or Tunstall.
Therefore, we’ll point out some keys to this game.
-Stop the Northside passing attack. Hardister has thrown 17 touchdown passes this season (about two per game) while throwing for 1,400 yards.
Hardister has a stable of capable receivers that has proven itself in the face of injury.
-Run the ball.
Sure, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you to do what River has done well all season long.
But, against Northside, that approach brings a unique set of problems.
Last week, for instance, Lord Botetourt gained a whopping 14 yards on the ground against the Vikes.
And the Bots have a couple of darn good running backs.
When Salem beat the Vikes, 17-13, for Northside’s only loss of the season, defense carried the day.
Hardister put up 190 yards in the air, but the Vikes were only able to grind out 12 yards on the ground (on 25 carries).
That may have been more of a testament to the Salem defense than an indictment of any Northside weaknesses.
Either way, it’s strange to be thinking of Staunton River being in this position.
Fans are unaccustomed to following the Eagles at this point in the season.
Typically, the end-of-season banquet would be foremost in the minds of the Monetans.
Instead, planning a road trip to Northside seems to be the order of the day.
“We would love to see the visitors’ section filled with gold and black,” said Poston.
With an easy jaunt of 25 miles between the schools, we’re hopeful that River fans can find their way up North.