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High school football: Black Eagles, Cougars are ‘mirror images of each other’

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state track and field meet isn't scheduled to arrive at University of Charleston Stadium until May, but that won't keep the fleet-footed from making their presence felt there tonight, when South Charleston (1-3) visits Capital (3-0) for a pivotal game near the midpoint of the high school football season.

The game was originally scheduled at Oakes Field in South Charleston, but a generator problem has left the field without lighting. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.

South Charleston Coach John Messinger said that he doesn't mind playing the game on the road, and he has good reason.

His Black Eagle program has won eight playoff games there since 2008, and the artificial surface will be a benefit to SC's speed the same way it benefits Capital's skill-position players.

"I think we match up pretty well with their receivers, and in a lot of ways we're mirror images of each other," Messinger said. "One difference is our quarterback is a little more experienced, but their quarterback is so young he doesn't know he's not supposed to be able to do the things he's been doing."

Messinger's reference to Capital freshman quarterback Tyrhree Pratt (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) is similar to much of the praise he has received in his rookie season. Maxpreps.com currently lists Pratt as its favorite to win the website's National Freshman of the Year Award.

Pratt has completed 28 of 44 passes for 573 yards and nine touchdowns without throwing an interception.

"He completed passes to seven different guys in our first game. I don't know that we had seven different guys catch passes in my first two years here," Capital Coach Jon Carpenter said.

"I think it shows that he doesn't play favorites, like a lot of quarterbacks tend to do. He's not just throwing it to his buddy. He's making good decisions and trusting his receivers to pick up the yards."

Messinger noted that Pratt's ability to freelance and extend plays has been a key to the freshman's fast start.

"We've told our (defensive backs) that they'd better stay in coverage and stay focused. He runs around and there's times when you look at him and you swear he's past the line of scrimmage when he throws, but you wind back the tape and you see he knows exactly where that line is," Messinger said. "He has amazing field presence."

The similarity between Pratt and SC junior quarterback Jon Alexander is one thing. The likeness between the teams' receivers is also impressive. Capital and South Charleston each have three players that rank among areas leaders in receiving yardage. SC's 6-foot, 185-pound junior Kevin Forrest leads the group with 18 catches for 371 yards and two touchdowns, while 5-9, 175-pound Black Eagles junior Marquel Hampton has 19 receptions for 257 yards and three touchdowns.

Trevond Reese, a 6-2, 210-pound senior, is SC's third-leading receiver. He has 19 catches for 184 yards and a touchdown.

Capital sophomore Kashaun Haley is the Cougars' leading receiver, with 120 yards and two touchdowns off just three catches. Cliff Pratt - a 6-foot, 170-pound junior and Tyrhee's older brother - has five catches for 116 yards and two scores while 5-7, 135-pound sophomore Tyrell Davis has caught seven passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.

Carpenter said Pratt's early season success has been in part thanks to his trust of his receiving corps. The freshman averages 20.5 yards per completion.

"He realized pretty quick that we don't get more points by him throwing the ball 20 yards downfield instead of 3," Carpenter said. "It's not the Olympics. It's not a javelin. A lot of quarterbacks feel a need to get out there and show how far they can throw it. He doesn't do that."

Cliff Pratt said the education of his freshman brother continues at home.

"When I go home I tell him to go out, practice and work hard every day," he said. "I tell him to practice the same way he plays. With him showing short passes, that's how it needs to be done."

To Davis, part of a receiving corps' role is to make things easier for its quarterback.

"It takes a lot of pressure off him, and with him being a freshman, that's a lot of pressure to come in and be the starter," he said. "Just having him pass off to us and allowing us to use our ability to pick up yards has to make it easier on him."

South Charleston throws more frequently, averaging 30 attempts per game to Capital's 14.7 attempts. Still, the offenses are similar in that both teams use their short passing games as a substitute for more traditional straight-ahead running attacks.

Alexander has completed 68 of 120 passes for 753 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions for South Charleston.

"We both cheat off the same people," Carpenter said. "We're familiar with what they do because we do a lot of it ourselves. But, they're just as familiar with what we do, so it's a wash, really."

Having already sustained losses to George Washington, Spring Valley and Cabell Midland, South Charleston finds itself in dire need of a win for its Class AAA playoff hopes, Messinger said.

"You look at a lot of the teams across the state, and I think it's going to take a 7-3 season to assure ourselves of a playoff spot," he said. "Sure, we might be able to load up with wins on the back end of our schedule, but we're going to have to get some (bonus) points somewhere, and a lot of those teams aren't going to give us many points."

Capital enters the game ranked fifth in the Daily Mail Class AAA poll, and sixth in the latest Secondary School Activities Commission Class AAA playoff ratings.

Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at derek.taylor@dailymail.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ItsreallyDT.


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