High school football: Cabell Midland features total package
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There is an interesting evolution going on at Cabell Midland, and it doesn't involve the Knights' wing-T running game.
Having a highly effective offense can pull attention from the defensive shortcomings of many teams. Ask any West Virginia fan about that this week.
But an effective offense can also disguise a strong defense just the same, and that is what is going on in Ona. In their second year under Coach Luke Salmons, the Knights have cut their points against average from 21.4 in 2011 to 14.4 this season.
"It's been a point of emphasis since the end of last season," Salmons said of improving the team's defense. "Heck, we have two guys coaching the offense and six guys who work on coaching the defense. It was that important that we improve it."
Cabell Midland (8-0), ranked No. 1 in the Daily Mail Poll, gave up a pair of long touchdown runs to Capital (4-3) running backs Kashaun Haley and James Richmond in the first quarter of the Knights' 21-13 over the Cougars on Friday night.
After halftime, however, Capital was held to 42 rushing yards as Midland overcame a six-point halftime deficit to win for the 16th time in its last 18 games dating to Sept. 9, 2011.
Capital freshman quarterback Tyrhee Pratt was held to 40 passing yards in the game, and was intercepted once. It was the third consecutive game in which he threw for less than 100 yards after opening the season with a series of performances filled with highlight-reel plays.
Salmons said the team did little to change its scheme in effort to slow Capital's speedy stable of ball carriers.
"It wasn't anything we really changed. It was just the kids making tackles and getting on people better in the second half," he said. "I'm real happy with the way they executed."
Knights defensive tackle Gage Gould, a 6-foot, 245-pound senior who was a second-team All-State selection in 2011, said the second-half performance could be attributed to desire.
"We didn't really get off the bus, and they took it to us. We had to step it up and want it more in the second half," he said.
As far as the Knights' improved defensive acumen, Gould chalked that up to intense work regimens implemented when Salmons took over the program.
"I guarantee no team in the state of West Virginia worked harder in the offseason," he said. "They put us through hell, but it pays off."
Also key to the improvement is Salmons' installation of a two-platoon system, Gould said. Unlike the vast majority of high school teams, the Knights use a completely separate set of players for defense and offense. The team's third-leading rusher on the season, senior Stephen Matthews, played defense Friday night and picked off Pratt in the second quarter. He did not see action on offense until the fourth quarter, when he scored on a 3-yard run to give Midland the lead.
It was his only carry of the night.
A year ago, when Midland finished 8-4 and lost 41-8 to Bridgeport in the Class AAA playoff quarterfinals, such standouts as Cody Carter (running back and safety) and Ryan Reidel (tight end and linebacker) played both ways.
"It's amazing. We basically get two practices in one practice every day," Gould said. "Then in games, other teams get out there and get tired, and by the fourth quarter we're still out there with fresh legs. It makes a huge difference down the stretch."
Midland, which opened in 1995, tied its school record for wins in a regular season Friday night. The Knights play Princeton (1-7) this week before an off week. They conclude the regular season at home against Hurricane (5-2) on Nov. 2.
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WHILE PRATT and Nitro running back Brayden Underwood have enjoyed solid freshman seasons, the race for Kanawha Valley Rookie of the Year has become even more interesting in recent weeks with the emergence of South Charleston quarterback Kentre Grier.
Grier, who took over the starting job from Jon Alexander following SC's 20-17 win over Capital on Sept. 21, completed 15 of 22 passes for 467 yards and seven touchdowns without an interception Friday night in a 70-28 pasting of Nitro at Oakes Field.
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ST. ALBANS gave up its lowest point total of the season Friday against visiting Ripley (3-5), and got first-year Coach Steve Stoffel Jr. into the win column with a 20-14 overtime victory.
Senior Drew Kirby, the Red Dragons' (1-7) leading rusher on the season, caught a touchdown pass from Noah Reed in the overtime period to break SA's 10-game losing streak that dated to Oct. 7, 2011.
St. Albans entered the game giving up a Class AAA-worst 44.6 points per game.