Prep football: There are no tricks with Princeton, Hurricane
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In a battle of disciplined squads, the football team that stays closest to plan should emerge victorious when Hurricane plays host to Princeton today.
The Redskins, tied for 16th in the first Secondary School Activities Commission high school football playoff ratings, and Tigers (19th) face off in a game that could have profound playoff implications. Hurricane (2-1) hosts Princeton (2-1) at Redskins Stadium at 7:30 p.m. today.
"They're the most disciplined team I've seen in a long time," Hurricane Coach Jeremy Taylor said of his opposition. "They're not real fancy. They're not going to trick you; they're going to run right you. Defensively, they're real basic and real sound. They're a very well-coached football team."
Princeton Coach Randy Peek said he felt similarly about the Redskins, who are led offensively by senior quarterback Austin Hensley and senior running back Zach Pate.
"They're a very disciplined football team," Peek said. "They're a senior-dominant team.
"They have a bunch of returners from last year. The running back, the Pate kid, he does a good job and their quarterback, I think he was second-team all-state last year. He does a real good job and they have some big-time receivers."
This season, Hensley has completed 37 of 64 passes for 547 yards, including seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
While the Redskins maintain an advantage, with Hensley, through the air, Pate and the running attack remain pivotal, Taylor said.
"Zach Pate's going to be a key to the rest of the season," he said. "As he goes, we'll go, and I know he'll have plenty of opportunities."
Pate leads the Redskins with 30 carries for 307 yards, with six touchdowns. He also leads the team in receiving with 10 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown.
In Hurricane's season-opening 23-8 loss to Huntington, Taylor said the Highlanders limited the Redskins' rushing ability, thus diverting the squad from its game plan.
"The problem we ran into with Huntington was they knew Austin was going to throw, but they knew they had to stop Pate," Taylor said. "They had to stop our running game and make us throw all the time and put pressure on Austin, and that's what Huntington did and they're an excellent defense."
Defensively, Hurricane will look to halt Princeton's spread, flex-bone, triple-option-type offense led by senior fullback Tahj Sho-Johnson. It's a similar offense run by Cabell Midland and Spring Valley, both teams that beat Hurricane last season, Taylor said.
"They look like Navy," Taylor said. "They go double wing, two wides, double wing a lot, but they look just like Navy.
"This (Princeton) team reminds me of that Spring Valley team last year, but our defense doesn't remind me of anything we had last year. It's so much better."
With a run-heavy offense, Peek said Princeton will look to keep the ball away from Hurricane, as the Tigers have done all season, including a 29-28 loss at seventh-ranked Capital.
"We're a grind it out team," he said. "We try to control the clock and I've said our best defense is our offense and it proved against Capital a little bit. At one time, we had them like three to one in possession until the fourth quarter, and that's how we hung so tight with them."
The bulk of production is expected to come from Sho-Johnson, a diminutive yet strong back.
"He's about five-foot-seven and 165 pounds, but he'll bang in there and I think against Bluefield he had 31 carries," Peek said. "He'll get three or four at a time and all of a sudden he's got speed to break one."
In addition to Sho-Johnson, senior Devin Allen will carry the ball. Second-year starting quarterback Jay Palmer, a junior, will look to other targets, too, including sophomore Jordan Jones and Aaron Saunders, Peek said.
While Princeton and Hurricane focus on each other tonight, for both teams it's just the latest Mountain State Athletic Conference battle as the squads fight to increase their playoff resumes.
"It's crossed our minds," Peek said. "These four games in MSAC we've had in a row - we had Capital, we've got Hurricane, Spring Valley and George Washington. Those are four top-notch programs and we got to get after them. Now's the time we take them one week at a time, but we got a sense of urgency also."