Hurricane, Huntington square off in season opener
Hurricane senior quarterback Austin Hensley is poised for a breakout season in 2013, and he gets that season underway tonight along with the rest of his teammates when they play host to Huntington at 7:30 p.m. in Hurricane.
Hensley threw for 2,200 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a junior, earning second team All-State status. But for the Redskins to make further strides as a program, Coach Jeremy Taylor knew that the team's defense was going to have to improve in order to decrease the pressure on Hensley to win shootouts.
After a pair of successful scrimmages against Parkersburg South and Woodrow Wilson, Taylor thinks his defense is headed in the right direction.
"Defensively we've come a long way. We have a two-year starter at nose, then we've got a big 330-pounder there at tackle and he's finally getting two really good defensive ends - one's a senior and one's a junior, and our linebackers have a chance to be really special," Taylor said.
Senior Mike McCracken (5-foot-9, 233 pounds) is the nose tackle, with senior Alex Cummings (6-3, 336) at tackle and senior Tanner McCallister (6-4, 194) and junior Brian Hughes (6-2, 187) at defensive ends. Junior Dylan Kimble (5-10, 185) is the Mike linebacker with senior Jon Francis (5-11, 175) and junior Bradley Hodges (6-0, 190) on the outside.
A defensive captain, Francis spoke after the Redskins' scrimmage against Woodrow Wilson last week about the attention - or lack thereof - paid to the team's defense in the midst of increased spotlight on players like Hensley and Pate.
"We'd like to shock the state. We're going to keep continuing to get better. I thought we did all right today, but we still need improvements," Francis said. "We should be fine.
"The really good defensive coaches we have, they will make us better," Francis said. "They'll make us better for every game."
Huntington enters tonight's game as the fifth-ranked team in the Daily Mail Class AAA preseason poll. Hurricane is unranked, but is just outside the Top 10 among other teams that received votes. Highlanders Coach Billy Seals said that he was more impressed with what he saw of the Redskins during the preseason than from his own team.
"We've got to get a lot better. We're not coming off the ball at all on offense, and that's been the way we've played so far through the preseason," Seals said at the MSAC Grid-O-Rama last week.
"You can have Walter Payton and Barry Sanders in the backfield, but if you don't have the guys up front doing the job they need to do it doesn't matter."
Huntington has junior quarterback Clark Wilson starting in place of former starter Mark Shaver, who is now on the roster at Marshall. The Highlanders will alternate carries between fullback Paden Christian and running back Nick Tubbs for much of the night in their double-wing attack.
Seals added that he doesn't put much stock into preseason scrimmages for his own team - "We don't do a lot at the Grid that we do in the regular season," he said - but he added that, when assessing a first-week opponent, he must go by what he sees.
What he's seen from Hurricane troubles him.
"We've obviously got our hands full," he said. "They're good up front and, defensively, they're getting after the ball," Seals said. "They're flying around. You hear people talk and all that talk about, 'Oh, they're not very good on defense.' I tell you what, I sat here and watched them play a pretty good half of football against Woodrow, who's got a lot of similar athletes to what we do, and they got to the football."
The trouble Huntington had in keeping George Washington's defensive front from getting to its ball-carriers in those teams' final scrimmage was not going to influence Hurricane's defensive approach to the opener, Taylor said.
"We're going to do what we do. We haven't played them in a few years but they know what our defense is like," Taylor said. "It hasn't changed in 10 years, since Coach (Gary) Eggleton was here. They're going to have to stop us, and we're going to have to stop them, and they've got a lot of great athletes."
The teams have not met since Oct. 1, 2010, when Hurricane beat the Highlanders 53-28 in Huntington during Seals' second season with the program.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.