George Washington's Trevon Johnson (22) closes in on South Charleston ball-carrier Trevond Reese.
With Kennedy Award winner Ryan Switzer knocked out by a first-quarter injury, George Washington had to revert to Plan B Friday night.
It turned out to be a pretty good option.
Fullback Dustin Crouser rumbled 23 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns and the Patriots had the final surge to earn a 36-24 victory over South Charleston before an overflow crowd estimated at more than 5,000 at Oakes Field.
"I've actually never carried the ball more than 10 times,'' Crouser said. "Switzer goes out and they call on me, and I had to do what I had to do.''
The Patriots, coming off a 13-1 season and a narrow loss in the Class AAA title game, were expected to ride the exploits of Switzer, their speedy tailback who had committed to North Carolina. However, Switzer left the game after his team's second offensive series with a possible shoulder injury and/or concussion and didn't return.
Thus, GW leaned on the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Crouser, a fullback and himself a potential Division I recruit, who scored on a pair of 1-yard runs in the first half as the Patriots took a 21-16 lead.
GW was able to hold on in the second half in a game that featured six lead changes, thanks to an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jacob Jackson and an insurance score on an 11-yard run by Trevon Johnson with 1:15 left in the game.
"What we've been fighting all along is proving that we weren't a one-man show,'' said GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. "I was hoping I wouldn't have to call on [Plan B] too soon, but we did and it's to our kids' credit - and to [South Charleston's] credit.''
The Black Eagles, coming off a 5-5 non-playoff season, were trying to gain some early momentum of their own and perhaps wipe out memories of last year's 61-0 shellacking handed to them by GW in their season opener.
Junior quarterback Jonathan Alexander led a wide-open SC attack, completing 22 of 39 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns to three different receivers - a 10-yarder to Marquel Hampton, a 31-yarder to running back A.D. Cunningham on a middle screen and a 52-yarder to Kevin Forrest that gave the Black Eagles a 24-21 advantage with 2:31 remaining in the third quarter.
However, SC held that lead for a scant 13 seconds.
Jackson brought back the ensuing kickoff 83 yards for a TD and Trevor Bell found Zach Malone all alone on a 2-point conversion pass to put the Patriots up for good 29-24.
"It's my fault,'' said SC coach John Messinger. "We can't cover a kickoff. We take the lead, and I'm thinking, 'We've squibbed [kickoffs] all night long and Switzer's not back there. We can kick this ball.' And what do we do? He gets too far underneath the ball, the ball gets high and we don't tackle. This is one loss this coach is going to take square on his shoulders, because that took the wind out of our sails. It took momentum away and that's what beat us.''
SC had two more solid chances to get the lead back right after Jackson's kickoff return.
The Black Eagles drove to pick up a first down at the GW 35 as the fourth quarter started, but four straight Alexander passes fell incomplete - two of them in the end zone as SC tried, and failed, to attack a Switzer-free secondary.
SC's Trevond Reese, with defensive help, then stopped Crouser on a fourth-and-1 GW gamble from its own 44, and the Black Eagles took over in good shape with 9:47 left in the game. However, lineman Sam Plantz intercepted an attempted Alexander dumpoff pass on fourth down and the Patriots got the ball back.
"They kept putting pressure on us,'' Edwards said of the Black Eagles. "They were not letting us get adjusted. We had guys going down in between plays . . . it was chaotic out there. It was bad. We had to make [plans] on the run. It really looked bad because that's the way they were pushing us.''
SC was later doomed by a short punt that gave GW the ball at the Black Eagles' 47. Crouser broke off a 17-yard run early in the drive and converted a fourth-and-2 at the 13, setting up Johnson's late scoring run.
"I get maybe 10 percent of the reps at tailback in practice,'' Crouser said. "I was never expecting Switzer to go out like that. We did what we had to do.''
Edwards had no word on the severity of Switzer's injuries after the game. Switzer fell hard to the ground at his own sideline chasing an incomplete third-down pass with a little over seven minutes left in the first quarter. He dropped back to punt on the next play and did not return. He also serves as GW's punter, kickoff man and plays defensive back.
Switzer did provide the game's first score on a 63-yard run on the game's opening play from scrimmage.
"To our credit, we fought through and persevered,'' Edwards said. "We had lots of kids go out tonight, had a lot of kids out of position, and we were forced to come up with some things. To be able to weather that perfect storm in the first half, that's to our kids' credit. It shows some maturity on our guys. Other kids stepped up and they practiced what we preach - bail a main out.''
For SC, Reese caught six passes for 49 yards, Hampton six for 43 and Forrest five for 121.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org