ROANOKE, Va. - Time is running out on the 2017 high school football season.
That’s not the only clock ticking for Louisa County head coach Mark Fischer.
Fischer is preparing his team for Saturday’s VHSL Class 4 championship game in Williamsburg against Salem.
At 14-0, Louisa County is undefeated.
So is Fischer’s spirit.
The 53-year-old Louisa County coach has cancer — multiple myeloma — and the prognosis is not good.
“I was supposed to die in October,” Fischer said Tuesday. “I’ve already turned in my resignation. I’m in chemotherapy two mornings a week, and I’m in dialysis six days a week.”
Fischer’s final season at the rural school located between Charlottesville and Richmond has been special for many reasons.
The Lions have never won a state football championship. Their only previous trip to the final resulted in a 34-27 loss to Amherst County in 2005.
Louisa emerged from a foursome of unbeaten teams in the Region 4B playoffs with victories over Monacan (35-28) and Dinwiddie (37-28), and the Lions advanced with a 20-13 semifinal victory over Lafayette.
Louisa’s players sit proudly for a preseason team picture taken in August.
Fischer is missing from the back row. He was in the hospital when the photo was taken.
Senior running back Raquan Jones is in the center of the front row holding an empty No. 38 jersey.
It is the one that was worn by Jaden Athey, who was killed earlier this year in a car crash.
Fischer kept Athey’s name on the Louisa roster all season.
“He was just a great kid,” Fischer said. “It was really tough because he was a cousin to two or three boys on the team.
“Last year our tailback lost his mom during a game to cancer. These kids have been through a lot.”
The Lions’ state semifinal was played at Louisa’s home field in Mineral, which was rocked by a magnitude 5.8 earthquake in 2011 that was so strong it cracked the Washington Monument.
Louisa County’s football facility is known as “The Jungle,” but it was officially named Mark Fischer Field earlier this season.
For years, the school made headlines for having a live lion named Bubba in a cage on the sidelines.
Bubba died earlier this year, but that didn’t stop him from supporting the team last week against Lafayette.
“They brought him out to our game last week ... after he got back from taxidermy,” Fischer said.
Home games at Louisa feature a quartet of paratroopers delivering the game ball to midfield.
When the kickoff commences, then Brandon Smith starts flying around.
“Football is important in this community,” Fischer said. “Friday night is what people like to do. When the season is over, they start talking about the next one.”
Louisa County’s next coach will be happy to have Brandon Smith on the roster.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior linebacker is the reason Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente showed up at last Saturday’s playoff game in Mineral.
Smith has scholarship offers from a multitude of FBS schools, including Tech and Alabama.
Fischer said Smith might be the first big-time recruit ever at Louisa.
“This is the 79th year of the school, and he’s the first one,” Fischer said. “We’re just a bunch of average little doughnuts.”
Smith isn’t listed as a starter in Louisa’s multiple offense, but he can play tight end, wide receiver or slot receiver. He also doubles as Louisa’s long-snapper.
“He’s a special kid,” Fischer said. “He can run. He’s got the twitch.”
Fischer and Louisa are standing in the way of a third consecutive state title for Salem.
Undefeated opponents haven’t fazed the Spartans in the past two years — Lake Taylor in 2015 and Dinwiddie in 2016.
Even though Salem (12-2) lost 25-20 at home earlier this year to Dinwiddie, Fischer is very concerned about the two-time champions.
“They’re kind of like the Alabama of our level of football,” Fischer said. “They don’t make mistakes. They don’t beat themselves. They run their scheme, and they do it perfectly.”
Fischer has a bigger struggle ahead after the game.
His family includes a 22-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son who serves as Louisa’s ball boy.
“He’s with me on the sidelines, in the locker room, in the film room,” Fischer said. “That’s the toughest part. He’s a 13-year-old boy and his old man is close to kicking the bucket.”
The coach isn’t letting his illness prevent him from feeling fortunate.
Tuesday, his Louisa County football team participated in the community’s Santa Council, loading hundreds of boxes with food that the players will distribute on Friday to elderly residents of Central Virginia.
Fischer’s future? A football game on Saturday? Days and months ahead?
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no idea,” Fischer said. “They told me I’d be dead in October and it’s December now. I ain’t even listening to it now. This is a cool way to go out. Whether it’s 15-0 or 14-1, I’m blessed to be a part of it.”