Hathaway hopeful South Harrison’s strong closure to regular season carries over

When South Harrison faces Greenbrier West in a Class A first-round playoff game Friday night, it’ll be Hawks’ head coach Brett Hathaway’s first time in Charmco.

One way or the other, it’s an experience Hathaway won’t soon forget.

Winners of six of seven games to close the regular season, South Harrison (7-3) is the No. 9 seed. The Hawks been in de facto playoff mode for some time following a 1-2 start. Even after rattling off four consecutive wins, a loss to St. Marys left South Harrison next to no margin for error over its final two regular season games.

All the Hawks did was win at Braxton County 28-7 for their third victory this season over a Class AA opponent, before concluding the regular season with a resounding 44-22 victory over what had been an unbeaten Tucker County team.

“I expected to be in the playoffs,” Hathaway said. “We go 7-3 and we were pretty competitive in all 10 of our games this year. Even the three losses, we competed well. Our goal has been to take it one game at a time. I know that’s pretty standard coach talk, but that’s been the goal and it’s no different this week.”

The Hawks got after the Mountain Lions in a big way at Gary Barnette Field, racing out to a 24-0 lead and rushing for 365 yards in a 44-22 victory that not only allowed South Harrison to secure a spot in the postseason, but also improve its seeding.

Noah Burnside (228 yards) and Aiden Moreno (104) did the bulk of the damage on the ground, but it was the play of the defense that left Hathaway especially impressed.

“Defensively, we stepped up a little bit. We know on offense that we want to be a physical team and we were from the get go,” Hathaway said. “We were able to establish the ground game, which we’re going to be in trouble if we don’t establish the ground game. Defensively, causing turnovers is something we’ve struggled a little bit on this year, and last week we’re able to create four. One was on special teams, but four turnovers is big. If we can play like that defensively, I feel like we’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”

The Hawks’ three losses this year came to Doddridge County, Wahama and St. Marys — a trio of playoff teams with a combined record of 25-5.

After starting the season with a 25-6 loss to the Bulldogs, the Hawks defeated Liberty Harrison, 16-7 for their first win.

Following a bye week, they then fell to 1-2 despite a valiant effort in a 27-22 loss to the White Falcons, who otherwise were largely unchallenged en route to a 10-0 regular season.

“We kind of proved to ourselves that we could belong with the top teams in the state from the way we fought back in that game,” Hathaway said.

Convincing wins over Gilmer County and Valley Wetzel followed, allowing South Harrison to climb above the .500 mark. A close victory at defending state champion Ritchie County was followed by a victory at Grafton in which the Hawks produced a season-high 48 points.

Now comes a new challenge Friday in the form of the Cavaliers, whose only regular season blemish was a loss to top seed James Monroe. 

Greenbrier West (9-1) has seven shutout victories this season and much like South Harrison, prides itself on controlling the line of scrimmage to establish a ground game. Ty Nickell, a 225-pound senior running back, is the focal point of the Cavaliers’ rushing attack.

“I know he’s the real deal,” Hathaway said.

The Cavaliers have allowed only 46 points and 27 of those were to the Mavericks.

Something will have to give against South Harrison, which isn’t short on momentum or confidence thanks in large part to its performances to end the regular season.

“The last couple weeks and last week in particular, we played our best football of the season,” Hathaway said. “We’ll try to keep that going this week.”

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