The last time Spotswood football went undefeated in the regular season, Dale Shifflett was a sophomore on the team, but said he remembers it just like it was yesterday.
The Trailblazers went 10-0 that season, outscoring opponents 305-92, but turned around and fell to district foe Fort Defiance 14-0 in the opening round of the playoffs.
Oddly enough, both of those feelings hold a special meaning for this year’s Spotswood team and it’s something Shifflett, who is in his fourth year as coach, is preaching.
“It means a lot to our kids,” Shifflett said. “They still have that taste from last year of going out in the first round. Obviously, that’s been a big pushing point for us. We’re looking forward to the playoffs now as the regular season comes to a close here.”
When the Trailblazers travel to Harrisonburg tonight to take on the Blue Streaks at 7 p.m. in a big Valley District clash, it’ll not only decide the league’s champion for a fourth straight season. It’ll also provide Spotswood a chance to finish the season 10-0.
That’s a task Spotswood hasn’t accomplished since that 1991 season with Shifflett as a sophomore and it’s one only seven other Rockingham County Schools have done.
“The overall mindset going into this game would be focus and perfection,” said Trailblazers running back Ethan Barnhart, who leads the district with 160 carries for 1,768 yards and 20 touchdowns in just eight games played this season. “We are extremely focused and prepared and are perfecting our game, working hard in practice and getting ready for the game. The biggest keys to getting the win would have to be discipline and execution. We have to stay focused and execute the task ahead.”
Some of the flash from tonight’s game was taken off last week when the Blue Streaks suffered a frustrating 34-29 loss to Rockbridge County in the third game of the Shenandoah Valley Football Classic at James Madison’s Bridgeforth Stadium.
But despite suffering its first district loss of the season, Harrisonburg remains in play for the district title with the Trailblazers sitting perfect at 4-0 and both the Streaks and Rockbridge County sitting even at 3-1. In fact, if the Wildcats defeat Turner Ashby tonight in Lexington, there will be a three-way tie atop the district standings.
“We know what we have and we know it’s a winning team,” HHS quarterback Keenan Glago said. “So every week, we go in with the mindset that we can win. That being said, we also know that we have to remain focused and have to work to get those wins.”
Glago has provided a different aspect to the Streaks offense this season after being named the team’s quarterback two games in. The sophomore has thrown for 1,173 yards this season with a district-best 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Harrisonburg receivers Malachi Davis and Jazen Walker, meanwhile have both used their size and athleticism to combine for 52 catches for 869 yards and 12 scores.
“For us, we’re focusing on both, but their passing game is tough,” Shifflett said. “They have two really good receivers on the outside and with [running back Kwentin] Smiley coming out of the backfield, that’s a hard thing for a lot of high school teams to cover. You take a guy like him in the backfield, with the speed he has, that’s a concern for us.”
Against the Wildcats, the Streaks struggled to stop the run and had four turnovers.
That’ll have to change if they have success against a stout Spotswood defense that is giving up just 10.3 points per game and has one of the best front eight in the state.
“We have to finish,” Glago said. “We left a lot of touchdowns out there against Rockbridge. We didn’t finish in the red zone. If we execute, we can be dangerous.”
This will be Glago’s first taste of the rivalry formed between the Streaks and Blazers.
He said despite his inexperience, he’s ready to embrace the big stage.
“Anytime you get to play a game like this, it’s obviously going to be exciting, but you can’t let that get to your head,” he said. “We’re locked in, determined and ready to play.”
On the other side of the ball, Spotswood quarterback Ryan High felt a similar way.
High, who has completed 71-of-117 passes for 1,261 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions, said the Trailblazers are keeping the same mentality they’ve had all year.
“We’re keeping the same mindset we’ve had all year and that is to go out, play our type of football and dominate,” High said. “This is like any other game for us. We’re not doing anything differently from what we usually do to prepare. We aren’t thinking about the postseason we are thinking about this week’s game and we will go from there.”
Whether it’s their head coach’s connection, the idea of not getting eliminated in the postseason again or making history, the Trailblazers said they know what’s at stake.
And for their head coach, 28 years later, he said he’ll keep reminding them.
“It is special,” Shifflett said. “I’ve brought it up. It’s something that, other than the playoff seedings and those things, we’re playing for a chance to be the second team in 28, 29 years to have a chance at finishing 10-0.”