CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Capital wasn't the only Class AAA football team looking to get back into the ranks of state powers Friday night at University of Charleston Stadium.
"We haven't been able to beat a good team for a while," an emotional Denny Price said after his 10th-seeded Musselman team manhandled No. 7 seed Capital in a 42-23 win in the first round of the playoffs.
"We've won some games, but this is one of those wins that can make the program take a step up a little bit," Price said. "Capital has a heck of a talented football team. They're young, and I know that, but they went through their last four games and beat three playoff teams, so I'm real proud of the way our kids played tonight."
Unlike Capital's roster, Price is not new to a playoff run. The 40-year veteran, who has spent his entire coaching career at the Berkeley County school and won state championships there in 1974, 1982 and 1995, is the state's all-time wins leader with 276. However, his teams had not won a playoff contest since the 1999 Class AAA quarterfinals, when they beat Morgantown.
On Friday, his team got the job done with as efficient of an effort as has could be expected of a high school squad. The Applemen did not have a 100-yard rusher, but had four backs run for more than 60 yards.
The team averaged 7.5 yards per carry in picking up 316 yards on the ground, and quarterback Caleb Dembeck completed 10 of 13 passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns without throwing an interception.
"We ran whatever we wanted to, and we got a good push from the offensive line all night," Dembeck said. "Everything was rolling, man."
Musselman (8-3) took the opening kickoff and marched 71 yards in 11 plays, taking 5:08 off the clock before fullback Daniel Arndt plowed into the end zone from 4 yards out to put the Applemen up 7-0.
Capital answered the march with a 61-yard drive of its own that found paydirt when James Richmond scored on a 2-yard run with 1:40 left in the opening quarter, but the visitors had set a tone for the game with their running ability that the Cougars could not change.
"The old guy took me out to the woodshed and gave me a whoopin'," Capital Coach Jon Carpenter said of Price. "They just shoved us around and did pretty much whatever they wanted to do."
Musselman led 17-10 at halftime thanks to a 10-yard run by fullback Cody Spinks with 3:39 left in the second quarter. Although Capital took a 17-14 lead after the first drive of the second half when James Richmond recovered a Tyrhee Pratt fumble on the quarterback's first-and-goal run from the Musselman 6-yard line, the lead was short-lived.
On Musselman's ensuing possession, Dembeck connected with Darrin Zombro for a 25-yard touchdown that gave the Applemen a 21-17 lead, and they never trailed again.
"It wasn't anything we as coaches drew up, or anything like that," Price said. "The players just went out there and executed the game plan. I can't tell you how happy I am for them."
Musselman's leading rusher on the season, senior tailback Josh Ferguson, led the team with 76 rushing yards on nine carries. Spinks had 72 yards, Arndt added 69 and Maverick Keller had 65 yards.
The Cougars, who played without standout sophomore multi-purpose back Kashuan Haley, got a game-high 107 rushing yards from Richmond on 16 carries. Richmond was also the team's leading receiver, hauling in seven passes for 70 yards.
Pratt completed 13 of 31 passes for 143 yards, and was intercepted once, by Keller.
Capital had beaten No. 3 seed George Washington, No. 15 seed Beckley and No. 4 seed Huntington in succession in the final three weeks of the regular season. Carpenter said the personnel match-ups of those games had favored his team, while Musselman provided a mismatch that the Applemen were able to exploit.
"They're just so big and strong up front. That's what a weight program does for you, and they just pushed us around," Carpenter said.
Musselman advances to the quarterfinals, where it will face the winner of Saturday's game between No. 15 seed Beckley and No. 2 seed Martinsburg. The Bulldogs handed Musselman a 73-0 loss in the regular season just two weeks ago.
MUSSELMAN 42, CAPITAL 23
First downs 21 18