CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The biggest key to a successful season finish begins Friday when Nitro and Ripley, two teams struggling to find a rhythm, seek to sync against one another.
The Wildcats (1-3) play host to the winless Vikings (0-5) at 7:30 p.m., as both Mountain State Athletic Conference teams look for a win as well as positive momentum as the season passes the midpoint.
"Playing in the MSAC is tough, but it's another game, another opportunity to get a win, and we're going to go out there and do everything that we can to get one and get win number two," Nitro Coach Derek Midkiff said. "That would match the win total from last year and that would mean that we're improving and heading in the right direction, so it's very important. Every week is important."
Nitro enters with three straight losses after a 41-22 season-opening victory against Class AA Poca. Most recently, the Wildcats lost 43-19 to St. Albans in the Battle of the Bridge.
Through all the team's struggles, sophomore running back Brayden Underwood continues to excel. Underwood, listed at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, ranks among top AAA running backs statewide with 100 carries for 545 yards and seven touchdowns.
"We like to refer to him as a vision-type runner," Midkiff said of Underwood. "He does a good job reading blocks.
"I think he has the potential to be a power back here in a year or two. Again, he's only 15. He's still a pup, and he's improved his body and gotten stronger than he was last year, but his vision is going to make sure he gets in the right places and when he gets a little stronger, he's going to be tough to stop."
Ripley Coach Dave Tennant said the Vikings' ability to slow Underwood and the Wildcats running game will be among top keys to the game.
"They've got a good running game and that's been our problem these last few weeks," Tennant said. "We've given up a lot of yards rushing. We've really got to scheme to stop their run attack."
Ripley opened the season with its closest game of 2013, a 47-35 loss to Parkersburg South.
Since then, the Vikings dropped contests against a slew of physical teams, including Point Pleasant, Winfield, Spring Valley and Huntington.