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Prep football: Gilmer County wants to start winning tradition

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Valley (Fayette) and Gilmer County will be looking for signature wins for their respective programs when the two face off at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Martin Field in Montgomery.

The host Greyhounds (9-0) will be looking for the school's first undefeated regular season.

Gilmer County (5-4) seeks a signature victory en route to a winning season. Valley comes in ranked No. 3.

"Our program hasn't had a tradition before but we are trying to change that," Gilmer County Coach Jason Cunningham said.

"Friday would be a huge step in the right direction. It would vault us into next year.

"It is very exciting for our guys to play against first class competition and program. Valley is a very good football team and we are trying to get to that level. We are excited for the challenge."

The Titans lean heavily on an explosive offense, led by the arm of senior quarterback Austin Cunningham.

Cunningham is the top passer in Class A, having completed 137-of-214 passes for 1,722 yards with 23 touchdowns and two interceptions.

"As a head coach, I like both numbers but the lack of interceptions is great," said Cunningham, who is not related to the quarterback.

"I really enjoy seeing him run our offense. He does it with complete control, and has the moxie you can't coach."

The QB is pleased with his accomplishments this year.

"I'm very proud of it," Cunningham said.

"Not many quarterbacks get to throw the ball around like I do. To have the ability to do it is great. I have a heck of a lot of good receivers."

Gilmer junior Austin Ratliff is Cunningham's top target, having caught 58 passes for 707 yards. He also has rushed for 379 yards, and has 456 return yards on special teams. Ratliff also is the team's top tackler on defense.

Both Cunninghams (quarterback and coach) have revitalized a struggling Gilmer County program.

When the Titan signal caller was a sophomore, the team won just one game. Coach Cunningham took over the program Gilmer finished 3-7 in his first season.

This year, the Titans made another significant jump and will seek their sixth win on Friday, although they are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

"We have made a lot of strides as a program," Coach Cunningham said. "Austin has been a vital piece for us. This is his third year starting at quarterback. You can't beat experience.

"He has been through some rough, lopsided games early on.

"Two seasons ago, sometimes he didn't have but a second or two to get rid of the ball. They had to forfeit a couple games even."

Even with their quarterback graduating after the academic school year, Coach Cunningham hopes the carry-over of a positive season hits home with the rest of players.

"The seniors are leaving a nice legacy, and Austin has been an integral part of that," Cunningham said. "We believe brighter days are ahead. We know what we have accomplished and we are excited for the program."

Cunningham, himself, would like nothing better than to end his high school career with a victory and build even more for the program.

"It would be great and would make my season," Cunningham said. "We are very excited and ready to go. Coach has us pumped up. We hope to knock off a top five team in the state.

"This year has been great. It has given the county some hope and drive. Hopefully it opens the eyes of the younger players to know we can compete in football."

Coach Cunningham is sad to see his standout quarterback graduate but hopes his days of playing football aren't over.

"Austin has an opportunity at the next level, and I hope he gets it," Cunningham said. "He has been contacted by Marietta College, and we plan to get more films out to get more looks.

"Being 6-foot-2, it gives him a nice frame in the pocket.

"He sees the field so well and has great vision. It's rare to see some of throws he makes. He has the capability to grow. He's not really fully developed yet."



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