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VHSL CLASS 1 STATE FOOTBALL SEMIS: Galax takes 51-21 win over Holston

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DAMASCUS, Va. — Trent Johnson drifted back, settled under the opening kickoff, corralled the football and then took off, shedding a couple of would-be tacklers as he sprinted to the end zone.

Fifteen seconds into Saturday afternoon’s VHSL Class 1 state semifinal showdown with Galax, the Holston Cavaliers led 7-0, and the home stands were rocking after Johnson took it 96 yards to the house.

“We hadn’t had a big kickoff return all year,” said Holston coach Chris Akers. “Trent made a great play, there were a couple of good blocks, and we felt good about things.”

However, Johnson’s TD turned out to be just a glimmer of hope instead of a harbinger of things to come.

It was a fleeting surge of momentum instead of the prelude to a trip to the state title game.

Six turnovers and the versatility of Galax senior Ian Ashworth ended up being detrimental to Holston as the Cavaliers suffered a 51-21 defeat at the hands of the Maroon Tide.

Holston (13-1) lost to Galax in the state semis for the second straight season and fell to 0-4 all-time in state semifinal games.

The Maroon Tide had to turn the tide after Holston struck first.

“Their fans were really into it after that touchdown, and that can be a hard thing to come back from,” Ashworth said. “We just knew that we had to come back and answer.”

Ashworth was the answer.

On Galax’s ensuing offense possession, Ashworth ripped off a 76-yard TD run along the left sideline on a 3rd-and-10 and play, while Alberto Vera made the extra point kick to pull the Maroon Tide even with 10:12 remaining in the first quarter.

A safety less than two minutes later gave Galax a lead it never relinquished, and things only got worse for Holston as the turnovers piled up and Ashworth thwarted the Cavaliers at every turn.

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Ashworth rushed for 128 yards and three touchdowns, had one catch for 19 yards, threw a TD pass to Mason Cox and returned an interception for a score in showcasing his valuable versatility.

“He’s not that big,” Akers said. “But he’s tough, and he’s a good athlete.”

The playmakers are many on the Galax roster.

Take 5-foot-10, 220-pound junior linebacker Riley Jo Vaught, for instance, as he orchestrated a tone-setting play early in the second quarter.

Vaught deflected a pass by Holston quarterback Brycen Sheets, snared the pigskin out of the air and returned it 63 yards to the Cavaliers’ 1-yard line. Vaught was runner-up in the Class 1 state wrestling tournament last season, losing to Grundy’s Peyton McComas in the 220-pound finals.

“He’s pretty athletic,” Ashworth said. “I didn’t expect him to make that play though. I’ve never seen him run that fast in my life.”

Ashworth’s 1-yard touchdown plunge on the next play extended Galax’s lead to 23-7 with 10:55 remaining in the first half. None of Holston’s first 13 opponents had scored more than 16 points against the Cavaliers.

Ashworth capped an eventful first half by stepping in front of a Sheets pass and speeding to the end zone from 45 yards out as Galax’s lead expanded to 37-7 62 seconds before halftime.

“We gave up 37 points in the first half and only punted once,” Akers said. “We had some unfortunate breaks. Galax is really, really good. They are fundamentally sound, all their kids are locked in, and they have good athletes to go with it.”

Of the 173 total yards Holston amassed, 90 of them came on the final possession against Galax’s second-stringers as Jordan Ezzell ripped off a 61-yard touchdown run with 1:30 remaining in the contest.

Galax picked off five errant passes by the Cavs.

“I feel like out front seven is our strength, but our secondary has done a great job of maturing as the season’s gone on,” said Galax coach Shane Allen. “The guys just played really well defensively.”

Holston also lost a fumble, which set up a first-quarter TD by Tedruhn Tucker of the Tide.

“They definitely have a really good defense,” Johnson said. “It was hard to get the run game going and hard to get our pass game going. They just have a great defense overall.”

A history-making season came to a close for the dudes from Damascus.

Holston repeated as Hogoheegee District and Region 1D champs and established a single-season program record for victories.

“I’m proud of our kids,” Akers said. “I told them after the game that we never quit, and that’s all you can ask for as a coach. It’s going to sting for a couple of days, but maybe we can look back in a few weeks and be proud of what we’ve done here.”

And when folks from the small Washington County town reflect back on Saturday’s game decades from now, they’ll remember how it started for the home team with Johnson’s electrifying kickoff return.

It was the final game for five senior starters for the Cavaliers, including Johnson.

“This season was amazing,” Johnson said. “It’s crazy how it ended so fast, because it seems like yesterday it was starting.”

Game Score

Galax 16 21 7 7—51

Holston 7 0 6 8—21

Scoring Summary

H – Johnson 96 kickoff return (Hall kick)

G – I. Ashworth 76 run (Vera kick)

G – Safety, Sheets sacked in end zone

G – Reeves 6 run (Vera kick)

G – I. Ashworth 1 run (Vera kick)

G – I. Ashworth 6 run (Vera kick)

G – I. Ashworth 45 INT return (Vera kick)

H – Sheets 10 run (kick failed)

G – Cox 23 pass from I. Ashworth (Vera kick)

G – Tucker 4 run (Vera kick)

H – Ezzell 61 run (Quina run)

Team Stats

First Downs: G 13, H 8; Rushes-Yards: G 43-236, H 22-115; Passing Yards: G 114, H 58; Comp.-Att.-Int.: G 6-11, H 10-31-5; Fumbles-Lost: G 0-0, H 1-1; Penalties-Yards: G 11-95, H 4-50; Punts-Average: G 3-39.7, H 3-28.7.

Individual Stats

RUSHING – G: I. Aswhorth 15-128, Tucker 18-89, Reeves 8-25, Robinson 2-(-6); H: Ezzell 6-63, Johnson 4-36, Sheets 9-13, Quina 3-3.

PASSING – G: I. Ashworth 5-9-1, 95, Cox 1-2-0, 19; H: Sheets 10-31-5, 58

RECEIVING – G: Cox 2-51, White 2-24, Barnes 1-20, I. Ashworth 1-19; H: Johnson 2-27, Ezzell 3-21, Quina 4-7, Tweed 1-3.

thayes@bristolnews.com | Twitter:@Hayes_BHCSports | (276) 645-2570

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