CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Aug. 23, George Washington pushed around the defensive front of the Huntington Highlanders in what, to many, was the first look at the Patriots with Draven Riffe in the backfield.
It didn't count, of course. The "showdown that wasn't" was at the Mountain State Athletic Conference Grid-O-Rama at Laidley Field, one week before the start of the regular season.
Some things have changed since then. For instance, the Huntington defensive line has become the most heralded in the state, led by defensive tackles Nigale Cabell (5-foot-11, 235 pounds) and Shamar Ingram (5-10, 245) and twin-tower defensive ends Kilan Nicks (6-5, 235) and his brother, first-year player Arick Nicks (6-5, 245).
In the process, the Highlanders (11-0) ran the table through the regular season and own the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. They host the No. 8 seed Patriots (9-2) in the quarterfinals at 7:30 tonight at Bob Sang Stadium in Huntington.
For another, Riffe - though Class AAA's top rusher whose team is still alive in the postseason with 1,669 yards on 204 carries - has been bitten by an injury bug that has followed him throughout his prep career. After missing three games with an ankle sprain in the second half of the regular season, Riffe (5-10, 180) reinjured the ankle last week in GW's 21-14 overtime win over Oak Hill in the first round.
George Washington Coach Steve Edwards Jr. said Sunday that Riffe's injury was less serious than early reports indicated, but sources from within the school say he will not play tonight.
If he is out, senior Jacob Jackson (5-10, 170) is expected to start at running back, where he has gained 1,269 yards and scored 15 touchdowns, with most of the yardage gained while subbing for Riffe earlier in the year.
The teams did not meet in the regular season. While Huntington emerged as one of the state's top title contenders, however, the GW faithful were ever mindful of their team's success against the Highlanders in the preseason.
Edwards doesn't buy into such thinking.
"I don't know that I take anything away from that," Edwards said. "The Grid was an organized practice, and people get different things out of there. I don't think it means anything.
"The proof is in the pudding. He's undefeated, and plays in our conference, which I have the utmost respect for. If you go undefeated, it's hard to do. The only thing I really take from the Grid is that, since we played against them a little bit, they're not going to catch me off-guard of their size and athleticism and things like that," said Edwards, whose teams have reached the playoffs in each of the last seven seasons and compiled a 12-6 postseason record during that stretch.
Huntington Coach Billy Seals was equally dismissive of the Grid-O-Rama performance by both teams.
"They came out and kicked the crap out of us," Seals said. "I think we're both better football teams than we were then. We don't put a lot of stock in the Grid, but I think GW's a good football team."