Prep football: Redskins look to overcome trend against Patriots
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hurricane Coach Jeremy Taylor knew his football team would face George Washington in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs almost as soon as the final buzzer sounded to end the Patriots' 54-17 victory against Parkersburg last Saturday.
It wasn't long before Taylor announced the news to his players, fans and anyone connected to him on Facebook.
"We play GW at GW 7:30 Friday night...Then we play University the next week," Taylor wrote.
For the record, the West Virginia high school football playoffs do not employ a double-elimination format.
Although the winner of tonight's game between the third-seeded Patriots (8-2) and No. 14 seed Hurricane (6-4) will advance to the quarterfinals to face the winner of another first-rounder between No. 6 University (8-2) and No. 11 Lewis County (8-2), the loser's season will end.
Therein lies the rub. Hurricane lost to George Washington 41-15 at Steve Edwards Sr. Field on Sept. 14, lost to the Patriots 33-6 in the quarterfinals a year ago and dropped a 35-0 decision at home to GW last year in the regular season.
How, then, does the confidence-building first-year coach intend to overcome a recent trend of lopsided losses to tonight's foe?
"Offensively, we're better able to run the ball than we were the first time, but they're going to be tough though," Taylor said. "They're easily the second or third-best team in the state.
"We can't change everything we've done all year just for one game. It would be counterproductive. Really, they've gotten better in terms of blocking and tackling since then, and so have we. Hopefully things will roll a little bit better for us than they did the first time."
Junior Zach Pate (5-foot-8, 162 pounds) leads the Redskins with 648 rushing yards on 83 carries. He has seven touchdown runs, but has also been productive in the Hurricane passing game. Pate has 49 receptions for 596 yards and five scores.
Hurricane ran 28 times for 92 yards in the regular-season meeting, but a 28-15 GW fourth quarter lead was blown open with touchdown runs by GW senior quarterback Trevor Bell and senior fullback Dustin Crouser to produce the final score.
George Washington senior tailback Ryan Switzer had 30 carries for 266 yards and two touchdowns. He put GW up 14-0 in the first quarter when he returned an interception of an Austin Hensley pass 55 yards for a touchdown.
Switzer (5-10, 175) leads the Kanawha Valley in rushing this season, rolling up 1,971 yards and 25 TDs on just 151 carries, an average of 13.1 yards per carry.
It was the second time in as many years Switzer - who has 30 total TDs this year after winning the Kennedy Award as a junior and committing to North Carolina in the offseason - has returned an interception of Hensley for a score. Hensley (6-2, 179) has fared well otherwise, and has completed 165 of 275 passes for 2,156 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a junior.
Junior Koi Turner (6-foot, 157) is the Redskins' leading receiver with 53 catches for 773 yards and seven TDs.
A key element of tonight's game that will differ from the teams' three most recent meetings is the absence of Crouser. The All-State linebacker was lost for the season when he tore his ACL against Capital on Oct. 19.
GW Coach Steve Edwards Jr. said the loss has hurt the team in some ways but has enabled other players to mature into greater roles, particularly on defense.
"Guys like Zach Malone have stepped up. Trevon Johnson has stepped up. There's a void there without Dustin that we knew we were going to have to fill and fill quickly," Edwards said. "It's not just a matter of statistics, it's a matter of leadership on and off the field that Dustin supplies.
"Those guys and other guys too, have been able to rise to the occasion. We just hope we can continue to get that from them."
A junior linebacker, Malone (6-foot, 205) is the team's leading tackler with 91 1/2 stops. Johnson (6-1, 205) is second on the team with 51.
Edwards said that while both teams entered the season - and played in the first meeting - with many first-year starters, youth should not be much of an issue for either team.
"By now, everybody's battle tested," he said. "A lot of things have changed. They've gotten a lot better. You can look at their scores and see that."