Eric Little – Seven Ranges Radio
The only unfortunate part of this week’s schedule is that there are those two tremendous Class A quarterfinal games in the same time slot. Otherwise, this is a terrific schedule of action that affords local fans the chance to attend a couple different games and not venture far from home. Here are this week’s games:
Class AA #13 Robert C. Byrd (8-3) at Class AA #12 Ritchie County (8-3) – Friday 7:30
What’s not to love about the #12 versus #13 quarterfinal matchup? (Unless, of course, your team is a #4 or #5 seed, then I concede). Thanks to a pair of upsets, the Ritchie County Rebels are hosting a quarterfinal game for the first time in well over a decade.
The Rebels went to bed Friday night at their hotel in the Beckley area knowing that by virtue of Robert C. Byrd’s upset of Frankfort, a victory against Summers County would bring football back to Ellenboro. Summers County scored first, but the Rebels answered on their next possession and would score the game’s next 17 points on the way to a 24-14 win over the Bobcats in last weekend’s opening round.
The Rebels created six takeaways in the contest, including five interceptions, all of which either thwarted Bobcat scoring drives or led to Rebel points. The pressure, according to Rebel head coach Mike Dawson, came from the guys up front.
“It was a solid effort. We’ve played well the last few weeks. The defense has really stepped up and we’ve done better at controlling the line of scrimmage.” Dawson said. “(Summers County was) a good football team and they know how to win. They’d beaten some quality opponents, but I think we did a good job of preparing our kids for what they were going to see.”
Alex Lipscomb threw for two touchdown passes – the final one coming to Jayden Allender on a 55-yard play that sealed the Rebel win. Lipscomb was aided by huge efforts from every member of his receiving corps.
“Jayden is a big play player and so is Dylan Frye. He had some big catches in the game.” Dawson beamed. “We tell our kids in this offense there’s going to be plays to be made and you have to make them when they’re there, and we made some.”
Dawson said the Rebels were able to take advantage of what the Bobcats were doing on defense to open space for the Ritchie County wideouts.
“We had receivers make plays all day long. They just decided they were going to put seven in the box and not let us run.” Dawson said. “I thought we did an excellent job with pass protection. The coverage they were playing in the secondary gave us some things and we took advantage of them.”
Perhaps most importantly though, Allender’s two interceptions on the defensive side of the ball loomed large for Ritchie County. The Rebels have had a propensity to create takeaways in the second half of games this season and on more than one occasion, that ability allowed Ritchie County to stifle what was threatening to be a surging Summers County tide.
“We’ve played pretty well this year and honestly, out of the three years that I’ve been here, we’ve played pretty well out of the locker room at halftime.” Dawson continued. “We’re kind of accustomed to being behind, but our kids believe we can come back because we’ve done it before.”
The task won’t be easy this week for the Rebels against a Robert C. Byrd team coached by the battle-tested Bruce Carey and featuring the talented Ben D’Annuzio in the backfield. The Eagles have rebounded from a modest 3-3 start to the year to win five straight and make the quarterfinal round as a #13 seed thanks to a 21-17 upset win over Frankfort last week that Carey says will be a program-changer for his team.
“I think win or lose on Saturday, that win we had last week against Frankfort will help us out in a lot of ways for next year.” Carey said.
Dawson knows the Eagles have played a very strong schedule this year and haven’t made it this far in the playoffs without taking their lumps along the way.
“All three of their losses are to teams that are still in the playoffs, so that says a lot about this team.” Dawson said of his opponent.
The Rebels have won three straight – all on the road – since their 20-14 loss in the home finale against Tyler Consolidated and Dawson sees a difference in mentality with his team in that time.
“I’ve seen a difference in the kids’ mentality since the win against Williamstown. I think the kids are really excited and I know the community’s excited.” Dawson said. “There’s a buzz in the community and the kids pick up on that.”
Rebel boosters and local businesses have donated enough funds for the purchase of spirit towels, to be given free to the first 500 in attendance, and to support the largest tailgate party in Ritchie County High School history before Friday’s game. The game can be heard locally on Lite Rock 93R (93.9 FM) and online at www.literock93R.com.
Class A #7 Greenbrier West (10-1) at Class A #2 St. Marys (11-0) – Saturday 1:30
In the playoffs, a win is a win is a win…but is it really? For St. Marys, last week’s 21-6 victory over East Hardy brought a second straight week of playoff football at Imlay Field, but in many ways, it also brought more questions that answers. Playing at home against a #15 seed, the Blue Devils lacked consistency once again on offense and were downright sloppy with the football in the second half.
As a result, the Cougars hung around until the game’s final minutes. For the second game in a row, St. Marys committed four turnovers in the second half and turned a time of the game that’s been closing time for the Blue Devils into less than a sure thing.
Head coach Jodi Mote says fixing the ball control issues will be key heading into this week’s the quarterfinal matchup with the Greenbrier West Cavaliers.
“It’s definitely high on the priority list.” Mote said, of the need to address his team’s offensive woes.
One thing Mote knows for a fact is that when he sees Lewis McClung’s Cavaliers on tape, he isn’t sure if he’s looking at a TV or into a mirror.
“They’re an option feature team, very similar to us as far as formations go, and their defense is relentless.” Mote said.
St. Marys is also well aware of senior quarterback Malik Boatwright, one of the more heralded Class A signal-callers in the state.
“Their quarterback is the real deal. Some media outlets categorized him as one of the top players in Class A.” Mote said. “But they’ve also got some big, hard running backs. They’re big and strong up front. So it’ll be a challenge for us.”
Against East Hardy, Corey Stewart capped a pair of Blue Devil drives with one-yard touchdown runs. The icing on the cake came late in the second quarter for St. Marys on a 15-yard slant route connection from quarterback Michael Stout to receiver Colby Brode that gave the Devils their final margin of victory. The Blue Devils outgained the Cougars 357-193.
The mistakes for St. Marys last week were aplenty, but Mote knows that at this level of the playoffs – to move to next week and a chance to go to Wheeling Island – the margin of error is reduced even further.
“We’re just going to have to execute our game plan in all three phases. You’ve got a 10-1 team going up against an 11-0 team in the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs.” Mote said. “Both teams are very good football teams and it should be a great game.”
This game can be heard locally on Lite Rock 93R (93.9 FM) and online at www.literock93R.com.
Class A #12 Bishop Donahue (8-3) at Class A #4 Williamstown (9-2) – Saturday 1:30
In a game featuring two teams that rarely face each other in the opening round, Williamstown dispatched upset-minded Wheeling Central Friday night with a 27-25 win. Quarterback Jake Tracewell, who has found success throwing to Hunter Neely multiple times this year, hit Neely for one of his four touchdown passes on the night.
But he threw two others to Dakota Watson and another to Logan Lindsey, showing a greater comfort with more targets in the passing game as the season’s worn on. Williamstown head coach Terry Smith says Watson’s emergence in the Yellowjacket passing game may have been born of necessity, but it’s an opportunity the coaching staff has tried to get for Watson for awhile now.
“It looked to me like the last two or three weeks, teams have been focusing on Jake Tracewell and you need somebody to take a little bit of the pressure off him.” Smith said. “Of course, Jake’s gotta throw it to him or hand it to him, but Dakota hasn’t had the opportunities until the last few weeks.”
Whether as a primary option or a safety valve, Watson seems to fit a void previously unfilled in the Williamstown offense as either a slot receiver or a backfield threat.
“We noticed that sometimes when opponents blitz, maybe we can release him and have Jake flip the ball out to him.” Smith said. “And if the linebacker steps up and covers him, maybe that gives us an extra second to throw downfield.”
This week, Williamstown faces a Bishop Donahue team that garnered attention across the state when they went south to pull the upset on a solid Man Hillbillies team. Quarterback Jesse Padlow leads the way for a Bishop Donahue team that battled injuries earlier in the year, but is ready to go in crunch time after five straight wins. Smith had the chance to look at the Bishops in person last week and was impressed with what he saw.
“They score quickly. They throw the ball all over the place. They’re big and fast.” Smith said. “They’ve played Madonna and Wheeling Central. I was impressed.”
Class A #8 Wahama (10-1) at Class A #1 Madonna (11-0) – Saturday 7:30
It seems like every year in the quarterfinal round, there’s at least one quarterfinal matchup that’s probably worthy of taking place in a higher round. Weirton Madonna has faced this in back-to-back years, after knocking off a game St. Marys squad last year in the quarterfinals.
This year, the Blue Dons and Wahama White Falcons square off in a rematch of what was an epic state championship game last year at Wheeling Island Stadium. For Wahama, much is different…namely, the quarterback and the head coach. Hunter Bradley transferred from Roane County and has been an effective triggerman for the White Falcon attack all season.
Last week, Wahama notched a 22-point win in its playoff lid-lifter against Clay-Battelle – a game that stayed close into the third quarter. Which leads to the second difference for Wahama between this year and last year, the head coach. Interim head man Dave Barr has steered the ship through the troubled waters and the midseason resignation of longtime White Falcon head coach Ed Cromley.
He’s unbeaten in five games since taking the reins from Cromley before the October 11th contest against Federal Hocking, Ohio. Now, both team and head coach are battle-tested in playoff football. However, for the White Falcons, they’ll now have to do something they’ve not done since last year’s trip to Wheeling Island Stadium – win a playoff game away from home (or, namely, Point Pleasant High School – Wahama’s playoff “home away from home”).
Fortunately, Barr and the White Falcons possess an offense that’s scored 543 points in 11 games this season. Because of this prolific offense, the White Falcons have the best chance of any possible heir to the throne to trip up the Blue Dons on their way back to Wheeling Island as Weirton Madonna looks to settle unfinished business from a year ago.