For the second straight year Beckley has battled its way to the postseason.
The tough news is if the Flying Eagles are going to make a run to Wheeling, they’ll do it the hard way. When Beckley opens postseason play on Friday, it will do so on the road facing a familiar foe in Huntington.
The two teams have met every season since 2005 with Beckley’s last win coming in 2010.
Still there’s optimism this is the game that reverses the Flying Eagles’ fortunes.
When the two teams met in the regular season the Flying Eagles trailed 14-7 at the half, frustrating Huntington QB and reigning House Award winner Gavin Lochow. The Highlanders went on to win that game 42-15 after a strong second-half push but that’s part of the reason Beckley head coach Street Sarrett is optimistic.
“We controlled the ball pretty good,” Sarrett said. “We just came out in the second half and they scored to go up 21-7. After that we made some mistakes and missed some tackles and there was one big pass. We didn’t put our special teams in very good position either with some of our punts so they always had a short field. That’s been our story – we play everybody tough for a half and we’re too far behind. We were pretty successful with our run game against them and getting Matt (Moore) out in space against them in the open field so that’s what we’re going to be looking forward to this Friday.”
Moore leads Beckley’s wing-T ground attack, having rushed 1,092 yards and five touchdowns. Darmonte Mitchell comes in with 624 yards and nine touchdowns. In total the Flying Eagles have rushed for 2,982 yards, making their ground attack lethal.
They’ll go head-to-head with a Huntington team that can run but will also allow Lochow to take over when he gets hot. He’s thrown for 1,759 yards and 25 touchdowns with just two interceptions, though one of those interceptions came against Beckley. Wayne Harris is his top receiver with 41 catches for 793 yards and 12 touchdowns. Zah-Zah Jackson leads the team in rushing with 941 yards and 12 touchdowns but the offense runs through Lochow.
“Let me tell you, last week against Hurricane it was the Gavin Lochow show,” Sarrett said. “He’s throwing to two good receivers in Harris and (Malik McNeeley) and he’s carried the ball multiple times. I think we counted 15 times there Friday night so he’s very dangerous. He’ll probably be up for (The Kennedy) for sure.”
Grinding out possessions and controlling the clock aided the Flying Eagles last time the two teams met and Sarrett is hoping to execute that formula again but for two halves this time instead of one.
“The biggest thing was we ran a ball control offense and we established our run game,” Sarrett said. “It got them out of their 4-3 defense and they got into a 50 and six (man front). It had them change their game plan to try and stop our run. We just chip away at people with our run game and it worked, it’s just when you run a ball control offense and you get behind by three scores it’s a little tough to make a comeback.”
One advantage Sarrett has is he likely doesn’t have to worry about playoff jitters or nerves. Most of those were dispelled last year when the team broke its playoff drought.
“It helps,” Sarrett said. “Last year everybody was excited to be in the playoffs and it was the first time since 2014. This year we expected to be in the playoffs and these guys, we’re starting the second part of our season and there’s 16 teams. Everybody’s 0-0 and we’re moving forward. Hopefully every Friday we’ll keep moving forward.”
The Flying Eagles will travel to Huntington on Friday for a 7:30 kickoff.