Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Single-Wing instant football classic: Giles’ 46-43 comeback win over Blacksburg

Community abuzz over instant football classic

Giles’ 46-43 comeback win over Blacksburg in six OTs after trailing 23-0 at the half

PEARISBURG -- Steve Ragsdale, the Giles High School football coach, had one reaction last week when somebody suggested he send in kicker Cody Journell with seconds left against Blacksburg to attempt a 57-yard field goal.

"Are you crazy?"

Rusty Kelley, one of the assistant coaches, then put forth a compelling argument.

"It's only 3 yards farther than the one he just kicked."

That 54-yarder had tied the score 23-23 just minutes before and had brought the Spartans all the way back from a 23-0 halftime deficit to set the stage for one of the great high school football epics in Timesland history. The game eventually lasted six overtime periods, tying a state record.

Ragsdale reconsidered.

"Why not?" he said. "If he missed it, then it would be no worse than a punt anyway."

Of course, if the kick were blocked, the Bruins could pick the loose football up, return it for a touchdown and win the game themselves. Or, the snap and hold could be botched, Blacksburg could recover and then drive from a short distance for the winning touchdown or field goal.

Ragsdale took it all into account. Then he sent in the field goal team.

Journell was wide right on the kick, but the boot had the distance. It turned out he'd have another chance. The score remained deadlocked, which sent the game into its first overtime. The Spartans finally won 46-43 on Gavin Lee's 2-yard touchdown run, one of four scores by Lee.

Giles wouldn't have made it that far if Journell hadn't belted a 42-yarder in the fourth overtime that forced another tie and again saved the Spartans from defeat. Blacksburg's Caleb Violette had earlier in the fourth OT kicked a 22-yarder of his own, one of his five field goals in a notably remarkable performance measured on its own merits.

"I never dreamed I'd ever have a chance to kick a 50-yard field goal," Journell said this week. "I was pretty excited about it."

No more so than holder Josh Stump, who for the previous two seasons had served as the Spartans manager. Stump, now a player, was pressed into service at the last minute last week when regular holder Luke Jackson was hurt. The deep snapper was Corey Martin.

"A kick is one of the hardest plays to execute," Ragsdale said. "The snap has to be good, the hold has to be good, the line has to block well, and then after all that, he has to make the kick."

All that was going through Stump's head when he trotted out for the kick that tied the score in regulation.

"Cody told me not to worry about it," Stump said. "He said, it'll be just like practice. Just put it on the tee and the kick would be there."

Adding perhaps to the pressure was the presence of Journell's private kicking coach, Doug Blevins, who was in attendance at the invitation of Journell's father, Jim. Blevins, who has also helped Violette, has worked with several professional and amateur kickers, including most notably NFL great Adam Vinatieri.

"Something I've often told our players about pressure is not to forget to look at the flip side," Ragsdale said. "And that is that there is pressure, but you also have a great chance to be a hero."

Journell had plenty of those chances against Blacksburg. Not only did he place kick and kick off (four of his five kickoffs were out of the end zone and unreturnable), but he also went the distance at safety and played most of the second half and all the overtime periods at wingback. The regular wingback, Mario Jones, had moved to fullback to fill in for Hunter Williams, one of many suffering cramps.

"We don't look at Cody as just a kicker," Ragsdale said. "We look at him like a darned good football player."

Journell got into kicking when his father, who had coached him in youth soccer, realized what a remarkably strong leg his son had.

"The key is getting them started early," Jim Journell said.

The past couple of years, Cody Journell has visited several kicking camps in addition to studying with the Hillsville-based Blevins. In January, he won a competition among many top high school kickers at the Atlanta-based Jim Rafter kicking camp. In July, Journell finished third in a similar competition at the Chris Sailer camp in Charlotte, N.C.

Sailer has Journell ranked No. 6 nationally among kickers in the junior class. Journell, who took a recruiting visit to Duke last weekend, figures to be a Division I prospect as a kicker.

He's got plenty of high school ball to play yet. At Giles, his reputation is already secure.

"He's the best kicker we've ever had," Ragsdale said.

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