By Tom Bragg
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – It has been a season of firsts for the Hurricane High football program, but the Redskins still have a few items left on their to-do list for 2022.
Hurricane set program records for points scored and points per game this season, hit the No. 1 spot – albeit just briefly – in the WVSSAC playoff rankings during the regular season for the first time and just last week throttled Mountain State Athletic Conference rival George Washington to push the Redskins into the state semifinals for the first time. Still, there is work to be done, and it won’t be easy.
The Redskins, seeded No. 4 in the Class AAA playoffs, travel to take on No. 1 Parkersburg South at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Patriots (11-1) have been a buzzsaw this season, with their lone loss coming to Bridgeport. Other than that, however, South has been a juggernaut.
As good as Hurricane’s record-setting offnese was during the regular season, South was just a little bit better when it comes to scoring points. The Patriots tallied 489 points prior to the playoffs, and have not slowed down in the postseason.
There was a 78-12 mauling of Hedgesville in the first round followed by another blowout, 58-14, against Musselman last week in the quarterfinals. That attack has been led by quarterback Robert Shockley, who seems likely to be among the contenders for this season’s Kennedy Award given to the state’s top high school football player.
“Schematically they are similar to what we do,” first-year Hurricane coach Donnie Mays said. “They’re up-tempo, they like to spread the ball around to the guys who make plays for them and everything goes through their quarterback. That kid is really good. He does a good job running the football as well as throwing the football and he has some weapons around him that make him dangerous.”
On defense, the Patriots fly around and are aggressive. They like to get after the quarterback and put him in bad situations, and that leads to turnovers in bunches. That will be a challenge for Hurricane and its sophomore quarterback Noah Vellaithambi.
“We worked on a lot of things that Noah needs to do to recognize when the heavy blitz is coming, but we also taught him where to go with the football when they’re not blitzing,” Mays said. “We have to be prepared for both parts, and they do a real nice job of mixing it up. At the end of the day, it’s nothing we haven’t seen already this year, they just do it with a little more passion”
Hurricane, of course, is making its first appearance in the state football semifinals in school history, but Mays said he doesn’t think the spotlight will be too bright or the stage too tall for his team. Mays came to Hurricane after a long successful stint as the head coach at South Charleston, where he won one state championship and played for another. As an assistant at SC, Mays was also part of the Black Eagles’ back-to-back Class AAA title teams in 2008 and 2009. He said he has leaned on that experience in big spots to help guide his first team at Hurricane, and so far that strategy has paid off.
“I’ve been there, so I’ve been talking to them about what it takes and the expectations and little things like that throughout the year,” Mays said.”The beautiful thing about it is kids only have four years of high school football, so they don’t remember what happened in the past or what has not been done at Hurricane, what was accomplished or what was not. They’re focused solely on what they can do. After they do stuff, then I explain to them what they’ve just accomplished.
“It’s a group that really thrives on being together and fighting for what they believe in. One of the things they believe in is that they can do anything together. This is a tight knit group that just plays football hard together and they have each other’s back. It’s very reminiscent of the 2008 South Charleston team I was a part of.”