Tonight’s tussle in Millers Creek between two Wilkes County rivals will feature teams trending in different directions.
Recent trends usually don’t matter, however, when longtime rivals like North Wilkes and West Wilkes square off.
The game between the two county foes will be the last chance for the Blackhawks’ faithful to see 11 seniors on the gridiron, seniors who have yet to beat the Vikings in three consecutive tries.
“It’d be great to get a win, of course, especially for these seniors,” said West Wilkes Head Coach Todd Rutz. “This senior class is a group of real leaders. And it’s more than their play on the field. We’ve had a tough season (the Blackhawks are 1-9 overall and 0-6 in the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference), but these seniors have stepped up and kept our kids fighting each and every game.”
For instance a few weeks into the conference slate, Rutz said, his seniors brought the team together after a string of tough losses.
“They asked the team if we were going to fold or fight. Dallas Rash, Jackson Jarvis, John Shepherd — to name a few — stepped up and helped refocus our kids on having the mentality that were weren’t going to give up on the season. And I think you see that when you look at the film of our last couple of games.”
North Wilkes has a potent offense, according to Rutz, predicated on balance.
“They throw well, they run well,” said Rutz. “We’ve faced teams recently who predominantly throw the ball, but North can hurt you both ways.”
Defensively, the Vikings have given up some big plays in the passing game, but that won’t change the Blackhawks’ preferred style of play.
“We’re going to run the football. We run to set up the pass, but we’re going to try and go after you on the ground first. And we have several options — Dallas, Seth Culler, Garrett Patrick, Jackson — so we can go with the hot hand out of the backfield.”
While the Blackhawks have struggled in 2019, the Vikings’ season has been — pardon the cliché — a rollercoaster. But the good news for the North Wilkes faithful is that ride is on a late-season upswing.
North Wilkes won three of its four nonconference games and beat East Wilkes in the MVAC opener before dropping three straight. Then, the Vikings rebounded to claim their last two contests over Starmount and Alleghany.
But while the Vikings are rolling, there is cause for concern. North gave up 339 yards rushing to the triple-option Trojans — and West is another grind-it-out running team.
“They are a power football team, and after last week we know we have to do better against power football teams,” said North Wilkes Head Coach Monty Chipman, whose team is currently 6-4 overall and 3-3 in league play. “So my biggest concern going into Friday is the defense just playing a lot better. We have to be able to make stops, and keep their offense off the field. A better effort on defense gives us more opportunities to be able to score offensively.”
Chipman does like what he sees from the Vikings’ offense, which scored 56 points against the Trojans last week and 31 two weeks ago in a win at Starmount.
“We’ve cut back on the penalties. That’s huge,” said Chipman. “And we’ve simply been more consistent with the way we’ve played offense. We’re doing a much better job converting once we get in the red zone, for instance, than we did earlier in the season.
“Now, we just have to make sure we continue to do those things. We can’t have a letdown,” continued Chipman. “We can’t concern ourselves with the playoffs (the Vikings are in prime position to receive an at-large playoff bid) and overlook West Wilkes. They always play us hard and I know they will be ready to play on senior night Friday.”
Last season, the Vikings cruised to a 41-7 victory in Hays, North’s third straight win against its rival.
Several Vikings who were key catalysts in that victory are back this fall, including now-senior quarterback Cole Chipman. Chipman is enjoying another solid season after throwing for over 1,800 yards in 2018.
Chipman threw for four scores in last year’s win — all to the since-graduated Ethan Brown — and running back Dylan Church, North’s leading rusher this season, added a touchdown of his own. And the North Wilkes defense shined against the Hawks last fall, too, only allowing 128 total yards of offense.