By Tom Bragg, For Lootpress.com
HURRICANE, W.Va. – When Huntington High needed Gavin Lochow the most, the veteran quarterback came through for the Highlanders.
Class AAA No. 3 Huntington trailed late on the road Friday at No. 2 Hurricane when Lochow led his team on a eight-play, 80-yard drive capped by his own six-yard touchdown run to lift the Highlanders to a 24-21 win in the final game of the regular season.
The win gave Huntington (9-1) its fourth Mountain State Athletic Conference championship in football since 2013 and put last season’s state runners-up in position to host throughout the playoffs as one of the top two seeds in the Class AAA bracket.
Prior to the game-winning drive, Lochow came to Huntington coach Billy Seals and told him, “We got this.” That was all Seals needed to hear to have confidence his senior quarterback was about to go out and do something special.
“[Lochow] has played a lot of snaps for us,” Seals said. “He’s a young man, being a three year starter, that we can lean on. He’s a guy we know is going to make plays. He’s one of the guys who came to me and said we got you, we’re going to go down and score. Proud of our football team, now we’ve got to get going next week in the playoffs.”
Hurricane (8-2) led late following a Jeremiah Riffle touchdown run to give the Redskins a 21-17 advantage. Huntington started its game-winning drive on its own 20 and had struggled to finish drives in the second half. That, however, is when Lochow showed why he won last season’s J.R. House Award as the state’s top quarterback and this season is in the mix for the Kennedy Award as the state’s top player.
Lochow completed two quick passes to move the Highlanders into Hurricane territory before a Zah Jackson six-yard run set Huntington up at the 41. Facing a third-down after an incompletion, Lochow hit Tyrone McNeely for a 20-yard gain to give Huntington a fresh set of downs. Jackson then broke off a 15-yard run to put the Highlanders inside the Redskins’ 10-yard line, and two plays later Lochow ran it in from six yards out to cap the drive with his third rushing touchdown of the game.
“They just did a good job of executing and finding the open receivers,” Hurricane coach Donnie Mays said after the game. “Credit to their quarterback. He’s one of the best players in the league, when you’ve got a guy like that he’ll put it on his shoulders and take it down there and do stuff for them.”
In a game featuring two of Class AAA’s top offensive teams, it was a defensive struggle early. Hurricane got the scoring started late in the first quarter on a six-yard touchdown run by senior Mondrell Dean.
The Highlanders answered on the following drive when Lochow scored a two-yard touchdown to finish a five-play, 55-yard drive. Huntington would then take the lead on its final drive of the half as Lochow led a nine-play, 88-yard march down the field and scored from seven-yards out to make it 14-7. Hurricane put together a decent drive near the end of the half, but could not dent the Huntington lead. A 33-yard field goal attempt by Caleb Johnson missed to the right with just a few seconds to play in the half.
The Redskins eventually equalized in the third quarter on a seven-yard touchdown run by Dean, his second of the game.
Huntington would jump back in front 17-14 with about five minutes to play on a 36-yard field goal by junior Johnny Aya-Ay, but Hurricane picked up the tempo and wasted little retaking the lead. The Redskins needed just five plays to cover 73 yards as Jeremiah Riffle capped the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run.
Lochow’s late touchdown that followed was, of course, the game-winner, but the Redskins still had about a minute on the clock to work with after the Highlanders took the late lead. Quarterback Noah Vellaithambi quickly moved his team to the Huntington 27, but after consecutive incompletions had just five seconds to play.
The Redskins lined up for one last shot at the end zone, but Huntington defensive lineman Donovan Garret came free around the edge to sack Vellaithambi and put an exclamation point on the Highlanders’ win and send Huntington back home for the playoffs on a high note.
“[Getting home field advantage in the playoffs] is huge,” Seals said. “You look at the history of Huntington High, I think we’re like 13-3 in the playoffs. It’s a great place to play and obviously we’re excited about where we finished. We hope we’re one or two, at least that’s what we’re figuring. We’ll see who we’re going to play, but you know it’s going to be a tough opponent because when you get in the playoffs everyone is good”
Lochow finished Friday’s game with 98 rushing yards on 22 attempts to go with his three touchdowns while completing 11 of 19 pass attempts for 173 yards.
For Hurricane, which will likely still host at least one playoff game despite the loss, Riffle led the team with 151 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Dean finished with 77 rushing yards to go with his two touchdown run.
H: 0 14 0 10 – 24
H: 7 0 7 7 – 21
Hurr: Mondrell Dean 6 run (Caleb Johnson kick)
Hunt: Gavin Lochow 2 run (Johnny Aya-Ay kick)
Hunt: Lochow 7 run (Aya-Ay kick)
Hurr: Dean 7 run (Johnson kick)
Hunt: Aya-Ay 36 field goal
Hurr: Jeremiah Riffle 8 run (Johnson kick)
Hunt: Lochow 6 run (Aya-Ay kick)
Rushing: (Hunt.) Gavin Lochow 22-98-2, Zah Jackson 13-66; (Hurr.) Jeremiah Riffle 27-151-1, Mondrell Dean 12-77-2.
Passing: (Hunt.) Lochow 11-19-173-0-0; (Hurr.) Noah Vellaithambi 15-27-159-0-2.
Receiving: (Hunt.) Duane Harris 7-101, Jackson 1-18, Tyrone McNeely 2-37; (Hurr.) Tyshawn Dues 5-26, Colin Montgomery 4-13, Bryson Murrell 3-81, Lucas Rippetoe 2-37, LaRon Dues-Hall 1-9.