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Prep football: Capital loss brought up issues for GW

The cloud of uneasiness that hovered over the George Washington football program between the final horn of the Capital game and kickoff of last Friday's meeting with DeSales was substantial.

The most significant win of Coach Jon Carpenter's tenure with the Cougars represented a low point of the Patriots' season -- one in which the stars were expected to align in Coach Steve Edwards Jr.'s 17th season running the show.

Last year wasn't expected to be the year for the team on The Hill. That moniker belonged to the 2012 squad.

Despite being a mostly youthful bunch in 2011, George Washington took experienced and senior-laden Martinsburg to the wire in the Class AAA title game. Save for a couple of miscues and a tough Bulldog defense, the Patriots might have been able to secure the school's first football title since Jr.'s dad was the head coach (1982).

Still, Martinsburg managed to reel in its second consecutive crown.

A little more than 11 months later and - from the angle of expectations - some seem to think the Patriots are scratching for their lives.

Obviously that's an overreaction from this person's objective point of view, but it does have some, albeit minimal, traction.

The Patriots' first loss to Capital since 2005 raised some questions in South Hills and served as a microcosm of some surprises during a season GW was expected to dominate.

Martinsburg graduated 2011 Kennedy Award runner-up Brandon Ashenfelter, and George Washington returned the kid who won the award.

That kid is running back Ryan Switzer, a driven athlete who wants nothing less than a state title to take with him to the University of North Carolina next season.

Much of the offensive line, a stout defense and athleticism that burns - and to burn - would give the Patriots the inside track.

There were bumps along the way. Switzer suffered a concussion in a week-one victory over South Charleston and didn't play a week later as Paul Blazer (Ky.) handed the Patriots their first regular-season loss since Sept. 18, 2009.

Then came Martinsburg and its own Kennedy Award candidate and multiple-threat player in Cedric Brown. Remember him? He was the defensive back who had a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone in the 2011 title game when GW trailed 28-27.

Last week, after scoring four touchdowns in a 73-0 blasting of Musselman, Brown told Dave Morrison of the Martinsburg Journal that it wasn't a statement game, because the statement was made more than a decade ago.

"People pretty much know that we contend for titles here."

Fair enough. Brown was about 6 years old in 2001 when the Bulldogs finished as runners-up the first of four times (2001, '03, '04, '06). He was on the last two title teams and is second in Martinsburg school history in receiving yards behind two-time Kennedy Award winner Brandon Barrett.

Their top three linebackers also graduated, but the Bulldogs are poised for a run at a third consecutive crown.

Enter Cabell Midland. Second-year Coach Luke Salmons' team has taken the state by storm and earned the right to play its postseason games on its expanse campus in Ona. The Knights also have a stout running game and have the 2011 experience of two playoff rounds.

They are 17-4 under the former Ravenswood star and 1998 Hunt Award winner.

Then there were potentially debilitating injuries. Against Capital, Dustin Crouser - a Charlotte recruit and GW's second-best player - suffered a knee injury that ended his prep career.

The Patriots were without starting linemen Jack Skidmore and Alex Jones, as well as receiver/defensive back Jacob Jackson last week against Columbus, Ohio-based St. Francis DeSales.

The Patriots circled the wagons, as they say, and came away with a 49-20 win over the Stallions.

You can read into however you like Edwards Jr.'s comments after the game: "We have to establish some unity and keep this thing going."

Between a loss to Capital and last week's inspired victory, there were some air-clearing conversations behind closed lockerroom doors at GW.

"We put some things into perspective for them," Edwards Jr. said. "We had some talks, got down and got honest."

"It was a rough week, but it also was a good wakeup call," senior quarterback Trevor Bell said.

George Washington has a regular-season game against Parkersburg on Saturday at University of Charleston Stadium before the playoffs begin.

The added pressure of being the team that's expected to win has dissipated considerably, but the Patriots' aren't exactly also-rans either.

Against the upstart Cougars, it appeared as if the window of opportunity was being shut on the Patriots' fingers.

That time hasn't come, but GW is in rally mode as it has thus far fallen short of its goal despite having Switzer, arguably the best player in the history of the program, doing virtually everything for the better part of his four years on the team.

The Patriots were No. 1 in 2007 when they lost 14-3 to No. 8 East Fairmont at University of Charleston Stadium. They also were top-ranked in 2010 when Brooke, another No. 8 seed, defeated them 28-21 at Steve Edwards Sr. Field.

As the playoffs near, Martinsburg will be trying to become the second Class AAA team to win three consecutive state championships, dating to the Charleston High teams of 1968-70.

North Marion won Class AAA championships in 1980 (10-3 over Brooke) and '81 (21-6 over Fairmont Senior). The Huskies reached the 1982 title game but fell to Coach Steve Edwards Sr.'s Patriots.

George Washington wouldn't mind a repeat of that scenario with Martinsburg replacing North Marion.

The Patriots need a lot to go right to make that happen, but it just doesn't seem as hard when it's not expected.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.


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