George Washington fullback-linebacker Dustin Crouser (left, with ball) is battling a shoulder injury.
One thing you want to avoid when playing Bridgeport is going into the game shorthanded. Against the Indians' bruising ground game, you need all hands on deck - especially your leading tackler.So George Washington is hopeful that linebacker Dustin Crouser will be able to answer the call Friday night when his team travels to Bridgeport for a Class AAA playoff semifinal game at Wayne Jamison Field. Kickoff is set for 7:30.Crouser aggravated an injury to his right shoulder in Saturday's 33-6 quarterfinal win over Hurricane and had to leave the game late in the second quarter. He tried to play at the start of the second half, but again had to leave the lineup.The 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior tops GW with 114 total tackles, 101/2 for loss. If Crouser is limited or cannot play at Bridgeport Friday, it's sure to shake up GW's defense.
However, Patriots coach Steve Edwards Jr. - and the rest of the team - has confidence in the players who replaced Crouser in the win over Hurricane.Sophomore Zach Malone took Crouser's spot on defense, and Malone and junior Trevon Johnson split duties at Crouser's fullback position on offense."I'm glad the other kids rallied around that and did a good job,'' Edwards said of Crouser's injury. "Those guys don't get a lot of reps at some of those positions, but they get a lot of mental reps in practice. I'm always talking to them and saying, 'You never know when you're going to get your shot.' And they took advantage of it."They're good players who could play for a lot of teams. They're just playing on a real good team right now, and are doing a good job.''Edwards said he wouldn't hesitate to call on Malone or Johnson to run the ball in Crouser's stead. Johnson, also a linebacker, is GW's No. 2 tackler."Trevon's very capable of running the football,'' Edwards said, "and so's Zach. We've got some kids who can do it. Of course, you'd always rather have Dustin in there. But we've got guys who can pick up the slack, and hopefully they'll be able to do that this week. It's just a different part of practice for them - a different part of their mental preparation. So if we do that, we'll be OK.''Bridgeport, of course, presents a physical challenge to opponents with its stick-I formation offense, which pounds the ball on running plays upwards of 50 times a game for 300-plus yards.The last time GW met the Indians, Bridgeport won 31-0, rushing for 312 yards on 58 carries - shortening the game and keeping the ball away from the big-play Patriots. So slowing that relentless running game would have to be one of the keys if GW expects to advance to the Super Six in Wheeling.Patriots tailback Ryan Switzer feels Crouser will be able to give it a go this weekend, but has faith in the understudies if they're needed."Dustin's a tough kid,'' Switzer said. "He'll bounce back."If you're going to win games, guys have to step up. Last year, we had guys hurt in this [quarterfinal] round, and we didn't have guys step up. This week, I have to give Zach Malone tons of credit. He came in on offense and defense and played his tail off. Trevon played well, too. You've got to give those guys credit for coming in and playing well.''
Malone's biggest play on defense Saturday came midway through the third quarter with GW leading just 7-0 and Hurricane threatening to tie it.Redskins quarterback Austin Hensley prepared to throw a pass on fourth-and-4 from the GW 9 when Malone plowed into him just as he released the ball. It fluttered toward the line of scrimmage, where GW lineman J.J. Holstein picked it off and returned it to the 19.Two snaps later, Switzer broke off an 81-yard touchdown run to bump the lead to 13-0.Edwards said Crouser's condition would be monitored during this week's preparations."We hope he's going to be OK,'' Edwards said. "The doctor said to rest it and ice it up. It's been bothering him all year. He jammed it real hard and got overextended on it.''Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org