By Tom Bragg, For Lootpress.com
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The quarterfinal round of the state high school playoffs will have a familiar feel in the Kanawha Valley.
Four schools from Kanawha and Putnam counties qualified for the postseason – Herbert Hoover and Winfield in Class AA along with George Washington and Hurricane in Class AAA – and all four advanced past the first round. That sets up rematches in both classes this week, with spots in the state semifinals on the line.
In Class AA, No. 9 Herbert Hoover and No. 1 Winfield come into Friday’s quarterfinal as two of the hottest teams in the state. The top-seeded Generals have not lost since Week 1 against county rival Hurricane and are coming off a 43-0 win last week against Logan. No. 9 Hoover opened the season with consecutive losses, including a 19-14 game at home against Winfield in Week 2, but since falling to the Generals have rolled off eight consecutive wins.
“They have obviously gotten better as the year has gone on,” Winfield coach Eddie Smolder said of Herbert Hoover. “That’s what good teams do and that’s what playoff teams do. They’ve gotten better, we’ve gotten better. Anyone who is still playing this time of year has improved throughout the season. They haven’t lost a game since we beat them and we haven’t lost a game [since Hurricane].”
The Huskies went on the road last week to beat No. 8 Clay County 63-26 behind seven total touchdowns from quarterback Dane Hatfield. The sophomore ran for 173 yards and six touchdowns while also throwing one against the Panthers, but this Winfield defense should present a significantly more difficult challenge.
“We had five turnovers [in the first game against Winfield] and a lot of credit to them, they forced them, but we had five turnovers and we led that game in the fourth quarter,” Hoover coach Joey Fields said. “It came down to an interception inside the 15. So we felt we left a lot on the table. We know it’s going to be a good, hard-fought football game. Physicality and the line of scrimmage is going to be the difference.”
In their first meeting, Hatfield completed 13 of 18 pass attempts for 186 yards, with Levi Paxton accounting for 11 catches and 160 yards. The Huskies, however, dug themselves a hole in that game with turnovers. Hoover trailed Winfield 13-0 at halftime in that game and had to battle back in the second half.
The Huskies completed the comeback on a touchdown pass from Hatfield to Paxton to take a 14-13 lead with a little more than nine minutes to play, but Winfield answered with a 14-play touchdown drive that took more than seven minutes off the clock. Hoover had a chance at the end, but Hatfield was intercepted deep in Winfield territory to seal the win for the Generals.
“Guys didn’t like how they played,” Fields said. “We know it’s a different Winfield team as well. They have gotten so much better from what I’ve seen on film with how hard they play, the relentless effort and the belief.”
In Class AAA, No. 5 George Washington gets another shot at MSAC rival and No. 4 seed Hurricane after the Redskins rolled past the Patriots 56-7 in their regular season meeting in September on the strength of eight GW turnovers.
The Patriots have cleaned things up considerably since then. GW did lose to Huntington the following week, but enters Friday’s game on a seven-game win streak. Last week, George Washington snuck past a pesky Princeton team 31-28 on a late field goal.
“We’re just going to try to do the best we can,” GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. said. “We will try to eliminate some mistakes and play better than we did last time [against Hurricane], that’s for sure. They just jumped on us and got after us, but to their credit they are a very good football team and they have some dominant players there. You can’t give them things, that’s for darn sure, because they’ll destroy you.”
Obviously if GW wants to win Friday it will need to avoid turning the ball over as much as it did in the first game, but even if the Patriots play a clean game they will still have to figure out a way to score points on the stingy Hurricane defense. The Redskins shut down a high-powered University offense last week in a 56-13 win after allowing just 117 points in the regular season – the fewest points allowed by any Class AAA team.
That defense is led by senior Mondrell Dean, who spends time at linebacker and as an edge rusher on the line. Hurricane coach Donnie Mays said Dean is the best defensive player in the state this season.
“Mondrell is clearly the best defensive player in the state of West Virginia because of the uniqueness that he has to be able to play multiple positions,” Mays said. “When you have a kid who can line up at different spots it creates a lot of mismatches with the other offense. One series he could be at linebacker and the next play he’s at defensive end then we can line him up as an outside back and bring the same pressure as when he’s a defensive end.
“He’s got a lot of football savviness to him when it comes to understanding defense.”
On the other side of the ball, running back Jeremiah Riffle has been the home run hitter for the Redskins this season but last week it was sophomore quarterback Noah Vellaithambi, who was at GW last season, who led the way. Vellathambi played less than three full quarters in the blowout win against University but still threw for nearly 200 yards with five touchdown passes.
“He’s got good people around him,” Edwards said of Vellaithambi. “That’s what makes everyone good. He’s got good running backs, and that helps the passing game, and he’s got some good receivers.To me, he’s solid.”
Both games are scheduled to kickoff at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The winner of the Winfield-Herbert Hoover game will face the winner of the No. 4 Scott-No. 5 Frankfort game in next week’s Class AA semifinal round, while the Hurricane-GW winner gets the winner of the No. 1 Parkersburg South-No. 8 Musselman game in the Class AAA semifinals.