Prep football: Defensive-minded Cougars, Hawks clash in quarterfinals
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Capital and University will enter their Saturday Class AAA quarterfinal game against each other at Laidley Field with plenty in common.
Both are defensive-minded teams. Aside from the late-season emergence of Capital junior running back Kashuan Haley (6-foot, 190 pounds) as a true offensive star, both teams lack a jump-off-the-page statistical phenomenon. Both are also riding waves of positive energy fueled by late-season wins over rival schools in their respective cities.
"This is an incredible bunch, to be able to pull that off," University Coach John Kelley said of the Hawks' 9-3 win over Morgantown last week at Mylan Pharmaceuticals Stadium in Morgantown.
"That was probably the most gut-wrenching game I've ever been in," Kelley said. "I thought I was going to have a stroke a couple times.
"(We had) missed scoring opportunities, low-scoring game, big play after big play, kids on both sides rising up and making great plays. It was a war. There's no question about it."
It was the second consecutive win over the Mohigans in as many games played by the Hawks. University won the teams' meeting in the regular-season finale, 14-3.
Capital enters the game having rolled Hurricane out of the playoff field with a 38-10 win, one week after stifling rival George Washington in a 14-6 win in South Hills.
University has the second-best scoring defense in Class AAA, giving up just 124 points.
Capital is No. 5 on that list, giving up a total of 166 points.
Both teams are also seeking to return to the semifinals after varying lengths of absence.
While University has reached the semis five times since 2000 - the last appearance being a 32-15 loss to Brooke in 2010 - Capital's last visit to the semifinals came in a 41-7 loss to Riverside in 1999.
To that end, both have made adjustments to their lineups late in the year.
In order to get more speed in his lineup, Kelley moved junior Jace Neville (5-6, 162) to running back in the final third of the regular season. Neville has quickly risen into the statewide rushing leaders, and has 616 yards and seven touchdowns on 75 carries.
"He can run. He's quick," Carpenter said. "I was just in awe watching them against Morgantown because Morgantown was so much bigger than they were."
Senior quarterback Travis Renner (6-0, 175) leads University in rushing with 842 yards and nine touchdowns on 142 carries. Renner has completed 80-of-135 passes (59.2 percent) for 1,125 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. Senior Jack Armstrong (6-1,165) is the team's top receiver, with 41 receptions for 565 yards and seven TDs.
Armstrong and Neville comprise half of University's starting secondary, and a late interception by Armstrong helped seal the Hawks' first-round win.
"They don't have a superstar," Carpenter said. "They're just a really good team, and that's what it takes to win this time of year."
For Capital, Haley's recent exploits - including a 268-yard, two-touchdown performance against Hurricane last week - have made him the undisputed No. 1 back in a deep stable of runners. Senior James Richmond (5-9, 162) has been playing in the secondary almost exclusively after running for more than 1,000 yards a year ago.
Haley has carried 172 times for 1,412 yards and 18 touchdowns.
"They've got unbelievable speed and athleticism and the program has great tradition," Kelley said.
"It just is what it is. Each week it gets tougher, so this week is going to be a tremendous challenge."
Capital senior defensive tackle Jaisson Dyer (6-0, 265) is expected to return to action this week after leaving the first-round win with a leg injury. Senior linebacker/tight end Jonathan Pittman (6-1, 215) is also expected to return after missing last week with an injury.
The winner of Saturday's game will play three-time defending state champion and No. 2 seed Martinsburg (10-1) or No. 7 seed Cabell Midland (9-2) in the semifinals.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.