Prep football: Ripley visits Nitro in search of first victory
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.
As Nitro rides behind Underwood, Ripley relies upon quarterback Trevor Tucker as he continues to excel despite overcoming a knee surgery. Tucker has completed 34-of-82 passes for 612 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also leads the team in rushing with 507 yards on 82 carries and three scores.
"He's not 100 percent, but he's hopefully going to get there this season," Tennant said.
"He hasn't been full speed, he hasn't been healthy all season, but he's still having one heckuva year."
Despite the knee issues, Tucker presents problems for opposing defenses with his legs as well as his arm. In a 49-20 loss at Winfield on Sept. 13, Tucker rushed for 100 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries. Additionally, Tucker completed 10-of-20 passes for 195 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Wide receiver Kade Harrison represents Tucker's top target with 17 receptions for 397 yards and six touchdowns.
"Kade is our definition of a playmaker," Tennant said. "He's just got that natural ability that when the lights come on, he's ready to make plays. He's actually gotten better each week, too. He's probably one of the top receivers in AAA right now as far as touchdowns and receiving yards, so he's definitely our deep threat."
Though Ripley remains winless, the Vikings boast the pieces in Harrison and Tucker as well as others to compete each week. Ripley will continue its quest Friday for its first win.
"To get that first win, this is a must-win game," Tennant said. "There's no doubt about it. This is a must-win. Our upcoming schedule, we have to get some momentum going heading into South Charleston and George Washington, Lincoln County and Ravenswood.
"We don't have an easy path in front of us, so this is definitely a 'we must win' situation, and just like for Nitro. It's a must-win situation for them, too, just to get some momentum to carry into the last part of the year."