We’ve finally reached the part of season where the area Class A teams are going to hog the spotlight. James Monroe, Greenbrier West and Midland Trail are amongst those ready to kickoff a stretch that will determine their playoff fates, mostly while facing each other.
Mavs and Cavs
Greenbrier West and James Monroe have quietly developed one of the better rivalries in the area over the last couple of years. The Cavs dispatched the No. 2 ranked Mavs in the 2021 basketball regional while the Mavs returned the favor on the gridiron and court last year. Now they’ll face off again in Lindside in one of the top matchups in the state this Friday.
James Monroe (5-0) enters the game with a versatile offense and a defense that’s quietly been stellar, pitching three shutouts including one on Monday against PikeView. Greenbrier West’s was proven to be mortal last week when yielding two touchdowns to Shady Spring but it didn’t matter with the offense showing up and plowing its way to victory. If the unbeaten records, bad blood and top tier defenses weren’t enough to sell you, perhaps the star power will be. Greenbrier West running back Ty Nickell, the reigning Lootpress Player of the Week, is the area’s second leading rusher with 1,214 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns and will face his toughest task yet.
James Monroe will trot out its own trio of stars in Layton Dowdy (QB), Eli Allen (WR) and Cooper Ridgeway (RB). After James Monroe head coach John Mustain ran a four-headed monster at QB last year, including all three of the aforementioned players, Dowdy has taken the role and made it his own. He’s tied for the area lead in touchdown passes with 13, supplementing Ridgeway who has rushed for nearly 500 yards and Allen who has had 80 yards receiving and two touchdown catches in all three games he’s played in this season for a total of 255 yards and six touchdowns.
James Monroe pulled off the upset in Charmco behind the play of its defense last season and will likely need to rely on it again in an effort to slow down Nickell and Co. Thus far the Mavs have done a good job stopping the run with no player rushing for more than 98 yards in a game against them but Nickell and the Cavs have made a name imposing their will. An underlying storyline will also be how the host Mavericks handle a physical football game just 96 hours after facing PikeView earlier this week.
Be the man
To be the man, you have to beat the man, or whatever the cliche is. Regardless it’s largely true and for Princeton and Beckley, the two programs that have changed their fortunes over the last two seasons, it’s time to roll.
Riding high after a pounding of Preston, the Flying Eagles are 5-1 with a home game against last year’s state runner-up in Huntington on tap. Beckley hasn’t won a game in this series since 2011 and hasn’t been within two scores since 2012. A win here, or even a competitive game shows the Flying Eagles where they stand with a month to go in the regular season against a program that’s routinely played deep into November. Moreover the game also challenges Beckley’s strengths and may even take the Flying Eagles out of their comfort zone. They’ve ran the ball at will, passing just 31 times through six games. Huntington has historically been stout in the trenches and talented enough to take away the ground game. The positive to that style of play is if you can maintain it, you shorten the game and dwindle possessions.
For Princeton it’s been a quiet month. The Tigers had a pair of byes sandwiching a quality loss to Lord Botetourt two weeks ago. The road doesn’t get any easier with a road trip to Hurricane on tap this week. Historically Hurricane hasn’t been a power in Class AAA over the last decade but with the addition of head coach Donnie Mays, who led South Charleston to the Class AAA state championship in 2020 (the Covid year), there’s optimism up north. Hurricane slots in at 4-1, good enough for a tie for No. 6 in the playoff ratings, while Princeton is 3-1, rated No. 11.
The Tigers’ lethal passing attack guides their hopes of a statement win but it won’t be easy. Any early storyline to watch will be how they execute through the air with timing a rhythm a huge part of their success. With just one game in three weeks, rust could easily come into play. That said, Grant Cochran and Dom Collins had no trouble against Lord Botetourt, hooking up three times for scoring strikes. A win here would be massive for a Princeton team that’s about to run the gauntlet with Beckley, Bridgeport and Parkersburg South (all rated in the Top 10) still left on the schedule.
Last but not least on the Class AAA circuit is a matchup of old local rivals in Oak Hill and Greenbrier East. The two teams have split 1-1 since Oak Hill wiggled back from AA prior to the 2020 season. Both teams sit outside the playoff picture – East at 19 and Oak Hill at 18 meaning there’s a lot to play for Friday. The Red Devils are coming off a pounding at Cabell Midland while East feasted on Hampshire. The Spartans have the more notable skill players but the intriguing part about this matchup is it’s probably the opportunity to see two of the top specialists in the area in East kicker Noah Dotson and Oak Hill kicker Ethan Vargo-Thomas. Either could determine the fate in an important matchup in Oak Hill.
Around the area
Midland Trail at Liberty, Braxton County at Nicholas County, Meadow Bridge at Webster, Richwood at Wyoming East, Man at Shady Spring, Sherman at Summers County, Bluefield at PikeView at Montcalm at Beallsville, Ohio round out the rest of the local slate with Independence and Westside on a bye.
Trail will aim to rebound against a struggling Liberty team while picking up some AA bonus points following a drop to 18 in the latest ratings. Nicholas has been on the up following its opening loss to Oak Hill and hopes to maintain that. Meadow Bridge and Wyoming East will each search for their second wins of the season while Shady hosts a Man team that’s 5-1 and in need of bonus points in a stacked Class A field.
Building on that point, Summers County (2-3) is down to its last gasp with Sherman coming to town. If there’s a push to be had it starts now and head coach Josh Evans is optimistic one’s coming with starting QB Brandon Isaac back from a knee injury that’s sidelined him since the summer. Isaac’s return opens up the opportunity to pass for a team that’s done so 30 times, relying on the run to get things going. That hasn’t been a bad thing with Drake Cole and Duke Dodson both over 400 yards rushing through five games but more balance might help the program finish strong and charge toward a postseason berth for the first time in four years.
The last two area games feature three of the Mercer County teams, two of them facing off against each other.
Bluefield travels to PikeView sporting a 9-0 record against the Panthers. PikeView, sitting at 2-4 has more to gain here in terms of postseason hopes. For the Beavers that ship appears to have sailed. They sit at 1-5, and 31 in the playoff ratings. The long shot of making the postseason hinges on winning out and getting a lot of help.
Last but not least, The Generals will travel to Ohio for a Saturday matchup against Beallsville in Ohio. Sitting at 5-0, the Generals continue to chase history in search of their first playoff berth in school history. Jaylen Younger leads the charge with 13 touchdown passes, tied with James Monroe’s Layton Dowdy for the area lead. Beallsville is 2-5 with a nine-point win over Hundred, the team Montcalm beat 40-8 last week.
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