Expectations have turned into reality for the Greenbrier West football team.
Now the Cavaliers want to book a trip to Wheeling Island Stadium.
Entering the 2022 football season with high hopes for a return trip to the state football playoffs, Greenbrier West went 9-1 and finished No. 8 in final WVSSAC Class A football ratings.
Friday night the boys from Charmco open what they hope to be a postseason run to the Super Six in Wheeling by hosting No. 9 South Harrison at 7:30 p.m.
As the saying goes, this battle will not be for the faint of heart.
“We haven’t played anybody quite like South Harrison. They just lineup and bring the football right at you and you better be ready to play,” Greenbrier West head coach Toby Harris said. “They run the Stick-I. They play two tight ends, and only throw the football if they have to. If they don’t have to throw it, they will just get three yards at a time and be happy with it. That will be a big challenge for us.”
The Hawks had a rough start to the season dropping two of their first three games, but South Harrison has since rebounded to win six of their last seven games.
All three losses were to teams that qualified for the 16-team Class A state football playoffs.
“They started off a little slow at the beginning of the season, but since then they have been pretty solid,” Harris said. “They beat an undefeated team (last week) that was 9-0 and they just pounded them. Their momentum is moving forward and they have won the last two games pretty good.”
The final regular season win last Friday by South Harrison came against Tucker County who was No. 4 at the time. It was a must win situation for the Hawks who earned a playoff berth by steamrolling the Mountain Lions.
South Harrison opened the game with a long touchdown drive before the Hawks defense punched Tucker in the mouth. A punt and a forced fumble led to a 24-0 lead en route a 44-22 victory.
The Hawks piled up 365 yards on 61 carries led by senior tailback Noah Burnside who had 228 yards. Aiden Moreno added 104 yards more on the ground.
“Burnside is their main ball carrier on offense and anytime he has the ball in his hands he has two lead backs up in front of him. It is really tough to get to him,” Harris said.
The visitors will also bring some imposing size to the contest which has been the one component that has hurt a Greenbrier West defense which has recorded a school record, seven shutouts this season.
“They have some size. One of the tackles I watched on film is a good size kid. I thought he might be 6-foot-5. Actually he is 6-foot-10 and about 340 pounds. He also moves pretty good on the offensive side of the ball,” Harris said. “He blocks for Burnside and the two lead backs. They play a lot like Bridgeport. They just bring it right at you and challenge you. Our defense has been good. This will be a real test to see if we can bring it to them on defense.”
The Cavaliers have had the good fortune of being able to run 17 or 18 players out on the field defensively led by Ty Nickell at inside linebacker.
The West defense has also benefited from a couple of new faces this year.
“The whole team has played well, but we got Dalton Heath out this year who had not played,” Harris said. “I don’t think he had played since middle school. He plays tight end, split end and inside linebacker for us. He and Ty are pretty tough in there at those positions. He is probably one of our leading pass receivers and one of our leading tacklers on defense.”
“We also picked up Ethan Holliday this year,” Harris went on to say. “He is one of our defensive leaders, although he has been hurt a lot. We had him about 50 percent down at James Monroe and he didn’t play the following week at all. He has been a nice surprise on both sides of the ball. The entire group plays really aggressive and they play together. They fly around on the field and make tackles. They have a lot of pride in that defense.”
While Burnside and company will challenge the West defense, West is not short on talent offensively where Harris believes his team can makes some noise.
“I don’t believe they are quite as tough on defense as they are on offense. We think the challenge for them, we hope, will be can they stop our backs. We are going to run it at them and see what they say,” Harris said.
Nickell does the heavy-lifting for the Cavaliers and is a beast to bring down. The 6-foot, 225 pound bruiser punishes defenders and has good speed in the open field.
In the season finale against Moorefield, the senior standout rolled up 228 yards on 20 carries and found the end zone four times. Nickell has 1,836 yards for the season and has scored 28 times.
“Ty has worked super hard all year long. He has been a leader on the football team and he works hard every day. He has done a great job for us,” Harris said.
While Nickell is the main weapon offensively for the Cavaliers, they also get big play capability from Kadin Parker, Cole Vandall and Tucker Lilly.
The verbiage may sound old and stale, but clearly in a battle of two teams that are aggressively running the football, turnovers will be a huge factor, especially with rain in the forecast.
“We turned the ball over several times down at James Monroe (in our only loss). We can’t do that and beat this team,” Harris emphasized. “If they get up on you they will be content to run at you and keep the ball a long time. We have to force them out of that run game if we can.”
The winner of Friday’s battle in Charmco will play the winner of No. 1 James Monroe and No. 16 Petersburg next week at a time a date to be determined.