We’re almost at the halfway point of the season and Week 5 brings the area Class A schools into the limelight. Record watch is on as well as a couple area defenses hope to build on historic starts.
Ground vs. Air
After suffering a blowout loss to a Class AA Clay County team that’s charging up the playoff ratings, Midland Trail has rebounded to win three straight games behind a passing offense that statistically leads the area. Trail QB Jaden Gladwell has thrown for 886 yards and nine touchdowns while his top receiver Cody Harrell is putting up numbers that will vault him into the Moss Award conversation. He leads the area with 22 catches for 506 yards, 209 more than the next closest player.
The task now will be maintaining that pace against a Summers County defense that has historically defended the pass well, but struggled to do so when the two teams met last season in Hinton. The Patriots threw for 145 yards and two scores in that matchup, winning 35-14.
Helping to keep the explosive Trail offense at bay will be a Bobcats offense that would prefer to keep the ball on the ground every play if possible and for good reason. Summers running back Drake Cole is coming off a 200-yard rushing performance and has rushed for 532 yards and five touchdowns in four games, making him the area’s second leading rusher in Class A. Right behind him is teammate Duke Dodson who has 357 yards on the season, forming one of the area’s best rushing duos.
For good measure there are early playoff implications riding on this game with Trail sitting at No. 19 and Summers County at No. 22. For reference only the top 16 teams make the playoffs.
Meadow Bridge will have the unenviable task of not only handing undefeated Greenbrier West its first loss, but also figuring out a way to score. When the Cavaliers welcome the Wildcats on Friday they’ll be chasing history, seeking to become the first team in program history to shutout their first five opponents. The 1981 and ’83 teams shutout their first four opponents but the streaks ended there.
Further complicating the Wildcats’ prospects is that they’ve struggled to score aside from their Week 2 win against Richwood. They scored six points in their opener, eight points in Week 3 and were blanked last week by James Monroe. That means there’s plenty of film available to put together a gameplan aimed at another shutout.
West meanwhile rolls in as a Goliath on both sides of the ball. Running back Ty Nickell narrowly holds the area rushing lead with 853 yards and 13 touchdowns and will likely approach, if not breach, the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight year on Friday.
Defenses have overtaken the area this season, posting astronomical numbers. James Monroe is amongst the elite, having allowed just six points in three games. The Mavericks will aim to add to their ledger when they host Covington, Va., a team that rolls into Lindside Friday with an 0-4 record.
Cooper Ridgeway (293 yards rushing) and Layton Dowdy (164 yards rushing, 282 yards passing) have anchored the offense in John Mustain’s second year back at the helm. Each win becomes more important as the Class A playoff race heats up with the Mavericks’ seeing PikeView, Midland Trail and Greenbrier West all within the next month.
In an unlikely turn of events, PikeView has rebounded from an 0-2 start to post consecutive shutouts and climb into the playoff picture, sitting at No. 18. The opportunity to make it three straight shutouts – the program’s single-season record is two in a season – exists with a matchup at Shady Spring on tap.
The Tigers were blanked last week by Independence and have been reliant on big plays to ignite their offense. The unfortunate part is in order to generate those you need time from your offensive line and Shady coach Vince Culicerto is breaking in a group of sophomores in the trenches. Now he’ll hope they can sustain against a defense that’s gained confidence and figured out how to play well.
The Panthers have shifted more towards a run-heavy style of offense but remain a threat to pass. Zach Rose and Nathan Riffe have been huge targets for Peyton Greer and Braiden Mullins who have split time at QB but Logan Cook and Austin Shrewsbury have emerged from a stable of solid running backs that have reinforced the Panther ground attack.
Shady isn’t without its own talented group of skill players in Tyler Mackey, James Sellards and Adam Richmond. Richmond has been effective through the ground and air while Mackey exploded over the first to weeks but has been held in check since. Connecting with him could open more opportunities for the rest of the Tiger offense.
Shady won the matchup a year ago in Gardner, overcoming a 20-7 halftime deficit.
Reinforcement of position
Princeton and Independence are both riding high, slotting in at No. 4 in the latest playoff ratings in Class AAA and AA, receptively. The Tigers will hit the road to face Lord Botetourt, Va., a team that’s proven how tough it is over the years. During campaigns that saw Bluefield play for titles in 2018 and 2019, Lord Botetourt beat the Beavers in each season. The Cavaliers come in at 3-1, hosting a Princeton team that’s coming off a bye after an eye-opening experience against Oak Hill.
A bad week of preparation led to a sloppy game against the Red Devils, one that took three overtime periods to win
With two weeks to prepare the hope is that’s behind the Tigers who will aim for a signature win in a contest that serves as their litmus test.
For Independence the train keeps rolling, this time making a stop in Clear Fork.
Indy’s defense has allowed eight points in four games while Westside hasn’t scored since Week 2. That likely doesn’t bode well for the Renegades as they search for solutions on offense. Even if they can find groove there’s the task of slowing down Indy’s offense which is averaging 59.5 points per game behind the area’s top rusher in Class AA, Judah Price. Price broke the school scoring record last week against Shady with 56 points and has rushed for 829 yards and 14 touchdowns through four games. He has a deal in place to buy his linemen donuts each time he eclipses the 200-yard mark. Doing so Friday would not only ensure more donuts but push Price over the 1,000-yard mark and put him on pace for the most prolific season in school history.
But I wouldn’t rule out a big showing from wide receiver Cyrus Goodson. Indy effectively attacked the Renegades through the air last season and Goodson is due for a big game.
Pushing towards the postseason
Beckley and Oak Hill will both be in action Friday, aiming to strengthen their playoff cases. Beckley will travel to a struggling Lincoln County while Oak Hill will host a Ripley team that hasn’t fared much better.
A win for the Flying Eagles improves them to 4-1 with a matchup against a struggling Preston following next week. That would be enough for Beckley to reach 5-1 and nearly clinch a playoff berth. Class AAA has routinely seen four and five-win teams reach the postseason over the last five years, making that the mark to reach.
Oak Hill would improve to 3-2 with a tough slate ahead, including matchups with Cabell Midland, Bluefield and Beckley.
On the board
The remaining winless teams in the area – Bluefield and Wyoming East – will give it a go again. East faces a tough Man team while Bluefield travels to a struggling Richlands, Va. For Bluefield this is where any hope for a playoff run has to begin. Sitting at 0-4, six wins alone doesn’t guarantee a spot in the postseason and the schedule is unforgiving with Independence, Oak Hill and Ridgeview, Va. still on the slate.
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