By Marty Gordon
The final week of high school football in our area is marked by the annual “Battle of the Burgs” between Blacksburg and Christiansburg. The rivalry dates to 1914.
Blacksburg head coach Eddie Sloss has played and coached in the game. Matter of fact, he has coached on both sides of the field. He said the game means a lot to players and fans at both schools.
“It means a lot for our players and even the coaches to play this game. We know a lot of their players and coaches personally and we have a lot of respect for them as people, players and coaches,” Sloss said.
On the flip side, Christiansburg’s Alex Wilkens is only slowly learning what it means to both schools. “Coming in as someone who has lived in Christiansburg for several years prior to coaching here, you hear about the ‘Battle of the Burgs, but being inside a locker room of one of the schools takes it to another level,” Wilken said. “Blacksburg has been an elite program the past few years, and that has given our kids a standard to shoot for, which we appreciate and respect. We prepare to play and compete against these tough River Ridge opponents year-round, and our kids haven’t backed down from anyone all year. Friday night will be no exception.
Some facts on this longtime matchup:
Blacksburg is 56-35-6 against Christiansburg whose last win was in 2013 (38-17). Since then, Blacksburg has won five straight: 15-14 in 2015, 70-7 in 2016, 49-14 in 2017 and 35-0 last year.
Christiansburg had won five straight games of its own from 2009 to 2013.
The rivalry started in 1914 when Blacksburg won 9-0. In 1915 and 1916, Christiansburg took a 6-0 and 7-0 win. In 1919, things got a little weird with a 6-6 tie. There has been six of those over the years including 13-13 in 1952, 0-0 in 1972 and 27-27 in 1980.
In the early years, six games between the two schools were played at Miles Stadium on the campus of Virginia Tech.
Blacksburg typically has the week off every year in their schedule to sit back to prepare for the Blue Demons. This year, Sloss admits it came at a very good time as he has several players that have been dealing with nagging injuries.
“We needed the off week to rest up mentally and physically. I feel that both were accomplished,” he said.
Christiansburg is coming off a big win over Cave Spring. Wilkens said it always helps when the work you do pays off on the scoreboard. “Our kids had fun and enjoyed the game” he said.
Sloss knows this year’s opponent is a little different from the past. “Christiansburg is playing good football right now. They’re playing with a lot of energy and confidence. I expect a good football game Friday night,” he said.
This year, the rivalry also takes a new step in its history with a symbolic trophy. The winner will receive the “Huckleberry coal miner helmet,” something that links the two communities for a lifetime.
The Huckleberry Trail has deep roots and a long history in providing transportation between Blacksburg and Christiansburg. It began as the Virginia Anthracite Coal and Rail Company in 1902 to transport coal and soon extended to Blacksburg.
On September 15, 1904, the first passenger train rolled into Blacksburg. It was soon nicknamed “Huckleberry Crossing” because when the train would stall, passengers could step off the train and pass time picking the abundance of huckleberries along the route. The name stuck, and “Huckleberry Crossing” was soon painted on the depot.
On July 25, 1958, the Huckleberry made its last steam run and operated on power until August 9, 1958. In the summer of 1966, the Blacksburg depot was closed.
In 1966, work began to transform the train path into a nature trail for about one mile between the Blacksburg Library and Airport Road. The paved trail now extends to Christiansburg High School, an estimated eight miles.
Work is currently under way to extend the Trail south into downtown Christiansburg and north to the Jefferson National Forest in Blacksburg.
Back on the field, both Christiansburg (4-5) and Blacksburg (6-3) seem primed for a chance at the postseason.
Maston Stanley leads the Blue Demons with 158 carries for 856 yards, while MJ Hunter has 103 carries for 599 yards. Hunter is also 48 of 103 through the air for 797 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has thrown four interceptions. Stanley also leads the team’s defense with more than 100 tackles.
Blacksburg’s Luke Goforth has thrown 165 times with 86 completions for 1,518 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions. His top receiver has been Karim Mohammed, who has caught 30 passes for 575 yards. Brian Mitchell has rushed 91 times for 721 yards. Parker Epperley leads the Bruins with 64.5 tackles, and Goforth has five interceptions on the season. Broadcast: 100.7, 93.1 and 97.1 FM.
Game balls this week:
Braiden Thomas and Justin Otey each returned an interception for a touchdown for Auburn in a win over Hurley.
Auburn’s Carson East ran for a touchdown and kicked a field goal.
Dylan Owens ran for 73 yards and a score on 10 carries for Eastern Montgomery in a loss to Parry McCluer.
Christiansburg’s Travis Altizer picked off two Cave Spring passes.
Other games this week:
Eastern Montgomery (1-9) at Craig County (1-7)
Last week: Parry McCluer downed East Mont 35-12. Adam Bahnken was 6-of-17 for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Game plan: Craig County has been facing the ongoing problem of encouraging players to come out for football. One of Virginia’s smallest schools finished 2-8 last season, and Mark Harrison is in his third season with only a 2-18 record. The Rockets did end a 30-game losing streak last year with two straight wins but have found the road tough this season. Freshman Zachary Peters (5-8, 210) starts under center for Craig.
Game time: 7 p.m.
Carroll County (3-6) at Radford (7-2)
Last week: Carroll County downed Alleghany 40-7, and Radford was upset 14-12 by Floyd County. For Carroll, Brady Dalton completed eight of 15 passes for 135 yards and three touchdowns. Dylan Rodriquez also rushed for 96 yards with a touchdown.
Game plan: Carroll is still fighting a season which saw its head coach leave after just three games. Last year, the Cavaliers were 3-7 and do return seven starters on both sides of the ball. The three wins were the school’s most dating back to 2011. Jacob Motley (6-1, 190) returns as the key back in the Wing-T after playing some quarterback over the past two seasons. Brady Dalton (6-1, 196) now steps under center. The offensive line is a little inexperienced with no seniors starting but does return Teague Henley (6-0, 235) and Michael Combs (6-0, 275). Sophomore Paul Restuccia (6-0, 230) does add a little size in the trenches. Because of enrollment, Carroll has dropped to the Class 3 ranks this season.
Game time: 7 p.m.
Broadcast: 101.7 FM, 103.5FM and 1460 AM.