Class AAA marquee quarterfinal matchup: Ripley at Musselman

Ripley coach Eddie Smolder could hardly contain his excitement last Friday following the Vikings’ 43-15 win against Greenbrier East in the opening round of the playoffs.

After facing a 15-14 second-quarter deficit, the Vikings scored 29 unanswered points against the Spartans to notch a lopsided win in their first home playoff game since 2002.

While Smolder wanted his team to rightfully enjoy its victory last weekend, all the attention since has been on Friday’s Class AAA quarterfinal against No. 4 Musselman.

The No. 5 Vikings, winners of 10 straight, made the lengthy trip to the Eastern Panhandle on Thursday and stayed overnight as they prepare to battle the Applemen on the turf surface at Spring Mills High School.

“I see a really good football team that’s well coached,” Smolder said of the Applemen. “They’re experienced and they’re in the playoffs year in and year out. They have really good players, size and speed. It’s a big task for us. 

“We definitely respect their program but we’re not scared at all to go up there and compete and hopefully come back with a win.”

Ripley has won every game its played since a season-opening loss to Parkersburg South, while Musselman’s lone loss came to No. 1 Martinsburg. The Applemen also notched regular seasons wins over four playoff teams in Spring Mills, Morgantown, Hedgesville and Wheeling Park, prior to last week’s 60-14 victory against No. 13 John Marshall.

Against the Monarchs, the Applemen were led by offensive standouts Tre Beard and Blake Hartman. Beard, a dual threat senior quarterback, has surfaced as one of the state’s top signal callers, while Hartman, a sophomore tailback, consistently produces.

“It’s going to take our defense playing to the best of their ability and bringing their ‘A’ game,” Smolder said. “They have really good skill players and  it’s going to create a challenge for us on the ground and through the air. You really can’t take away both, so we’re going to have to try to stop what they do well and make them try to hurt us on things they don’t use quite as much. 

“Their quarterback is really good and can run it and throw it and the Hartman kid is really good, especially for a sophomore.”

The Vikings’ defense will need a performance similar to the one it delivered last week, when it got stronger as the game went on and kept the Spartans scoreless after halftime.

On the other side, a Ripley offense that’s scored at least 27 points in all 10 of the team’s wins will be significantly challenged by a Musselman defense that’s held opponents to single digit scoring in six games.

The Vikings showed their big play ability early and often in last week’s win, with Cyrus Casto throwing a 79-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Myers, Jeremy Harper rushing for a 60-yard TD and Casto tossing an 81-yard TD pass to Evan King for the team’s first three scores.

“It was a long time coming for Ripley football, the school and the community,” Smolder said. “This is year four for me and when I got hired in January of 2015, I brought a four-year plan, put it together and put it in place and hired coaches. I sold what we needed to the kids and we’ve continued to work the last four years and we’re right where we want to be. Everything has worked out the way I feel like it’s supposed to.”

Now a pair of one-loss teams will meet at Spring Mills after the contest was moved from the grass surface at Musselman.

“The right and professional thing to do in the second round of the playoffs is give the kids a good surface where it can be a fair game,” Smolder said, “and the best team wins.”

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