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Column: Thanksgiving Sports Slate Was Plentiful
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Nov 26, 2012, 13:42

This year’s Thanksgiving weekend was stuffed with mouth-watering matchups for sports fans in the Tri Cities to feast their eyes on.

Here are my thoughts on three of the more flavorful local pairings:

Despite sustaining a season-ending loss to Hanover in the Central Region Division 5 championship game on Black Friday, the Hopewell High School football team gave the city a lot to be thankful for.

Before the season started, I asked several Central District coaches which teams they expected to see in the playoff picture at season’s end. As I recall, not one mentioned the Blue Devils, who limped to a 3-7 record in 2011.

Nobody expected to see Hopewell hoisting the region runner-up trophy. Nobody, that is, except for Hopewell coach Ricky Irby and his senior-laden bunch.

Hopewell opened the season with a 21-19 home win over Cosby. The non-district victory snapped the team’s five-game losing streak to the Titans, and the theme of reversing losing trends became a prevalent one for Hopewell.

The Blue Devils defeated Thomas Dale for just the second time in eight years in Week 5 and went on to halt seven-game skids against Matoaca and Dinwiddie. Those are accomplishments that a program can build on.

“It has absolutely been a successful year. I wouldn’t think of it in any other way,” Irby said. “We had no expectations from the outside and our kids worked so hard to get to their first playoff game. We’re regional runners up.

“There were two teams left in Division 5 and we were one of those two. That’s something to be proud of.”

It’s safe to say that when I conduct my unofficial poll at the beginning of next season, the Blue Devils will crack the conversation.

***

The Virginia Commonwealth University men’s basketball team toppled No. 19 Memphis on Thursday in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, thereby setting up a tantalizing game against fifth-ranked Duke on Friday.

VCU fans have fond memories of this fixture. In 2007, the Rams stunned the Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA tournament thanks to a tie-breaking jumper from then-sophomore Eric Maynor with 1.8 seconds remaining.

Maynor currently plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the National Basketball Association. VCU further established itself as a giant killer with an improbable run to the 2011 Final Four.

The Rams were unable to replicate the upset on Friday, however, as their touted counterparts prevailed 67-58. That’s not to say VCU didn’t have its chances, or that there weren’t promising signs for the team from Richmond.

The Rams managed to linger within striking distance despite missing seven free throws and shooting a paltry 22 percent from 3-point range. They also forced just eight turnovers in the game, 12 shy of their season average.

Perhaps most surprisingly, VCU held a 37-31 rebounding edge over Duke’s much-ballyhooed frontcourt. The poor shooting statistics seem to indicate a missed opportunity for VCU, but if the loss revealed a silver lining, it’s this: When they are on their game, the Rams can contend with anyone in the country.

***

And then there was the annual football tilt between Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia on Saturday. The Hokies prevailed in the rivalry game for the ninth consecutive year, using a late field goal to secure a 17-14 win in Blacksburg.

The victory makes the Hokies (4-4 ACC, 6-6 overall) bowl eligible and brought a merciful end to a disappointing campaign for the Cavaliers (4-8, 2-6). As I watched the mistake-riddled showdown between the state’s flagship universities, one thought repeatedly permeated my Tryptophan-dulled consciousness:

Bring on basketball season.

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