High school football: Black Eagles not overlooking winless Panthers
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One-hundred and ninety-two minutes.
That's all the time guaranteed to South Charleston (3-3) for the remainder of the high school football season. The Black Eagles travel to winless Lincoln County (0-5) tonight.
And while the Black Eagles are heavy favorites, there is no margin for error for a .500 team at this point in the season.
"Our goal to get to the playoffs is to win seven football games," South Charleston Coach John Messinger said. "But we can't look past any one opponent."
Messinger knows all too well how tough a team with a losing record can play. Last Friday he watched his Black Eagles get matched point for point in the first half against St. Albans.
"I've got just as much or more respect for those guys that come out on Monday morning that are 0-6 than those guys that are coming out every week undefeated," Messinger said. "It takes a great salesman when you are facing an 0-6 start."
What is required of South Charleston now is a sustained sense of urgency.
"One little mental lapse and you can put yourself behind the eight-ball real quick," Messinger said. "There are no guarantees ... your schedule is as tough as your opponent that week."
South Charleston has to do it without running back A.D. Cunningham, the team's leading rusher through the first five games, who is nursing a shoulder injury.
"Without A.D. takes a lot of blocking from me," freshman quarterback Kentre Grier said. "He's my best running back, best blocker, everything. Basically, he's the heart of this team."
There are two questions this South Charleston squad has to answer this week. First, who is going to fill Cunningham's shoes on the field? Second, will the Black Eagles play as a cohesive unit?
"We've got some strong senior leadership right now," Messinger said. "The linemen are going to have to start carrying the load as far as leadership. We have got to start running the ball more efficiently if we plan to make a run of any kind at the end of the season."
Standing behind that line will be Grier, who looked more seasoned than anyone could have expected last week. Grier completed 16-of-24 passes for 210 yards against St. Albans, and he showed he could replace some of Cunningham's production on the ground. Grier rushed for 87 yards on 11 carries.
Grier did, however, fumble late in the second quarter, which helped St. Albans go up 14-7. The high school rookie then found his composure and South Charleston scored 28 unanswered points.
"Coach told me don't worry about it and move on to the next play," Grier said. "And that's what I did."
One hundred and ninety two minutes - four games against Lincoln County, Nitro, Ripley and Parkersburg. Messinger and his team may be experiencing a little déjà vu. This time last year, South Charleston had these four games and needed all four to make the playoffs. The Black Eagles went 3-1 over that stretch, losing to Parkersburg and ensuring that it would indeed be their last game of the season.
"We've got to take care of business at South Charleston," Messinger said. "It was a real wakeup call last year when we finished 5-5 and didn't make the playoffs."
If the playoffs started today, the Black Eagles would be enjoying the crisp fall Friday nights without their pads and helmets. They are currently ranked 20th, according to the SSAC. Their biggest win was over Capital (3-2), along with losses to George Washington, Spring Valley and Cabell Midland.
South Charleston wants to prove it belongs in the postseason again, but there is no doubt what the Black Eagles' coach and starting quarterback think. When asked if his squad was a playoff team, Grier said, "Yes, by far."
He and his teammates have four games, 16 quarters and 192 minutes to prove it.