Tonight, George Washington honors a team that pulled off quite a feat 30 years ago - winning the school's only Class AAA football title. Quite coincidentally, the Patriots have another sizable task at hand tonight.They face an unbeaten and explosive Paul Blazer team from Ashland, Ky., without their chief playmaker, Kennedy Award-winning running back Ryan Switzer.Switzer was not cleared to play this week because of a concussion he suffered in GW's opening win at South Charleston, but is expected to be ready for the Sept. 7 game at St. Albans.He played a key role in GW's 18-14 victory at Paul Blazer last year, carrying 27 times for 211 yards and one touchdown, a 53-yard run.
Switzer's status, however, was hardly an issue with Ashland coach Leon Hart. He realizes the Patriots are dangerous no matter who they line up at tailback, as evidenced by their 36-24 win last week at SC."That hasn't crossed my mind,'' Hart said before Thursday's decision on Switzer was made. "It's not like Switzer scored those 36 points last week. He went out of the game and they had seven, and they still put 36 up. They put [Dustin] Crouser back there and he rushes [24 times for 150 yards] running the same offense."Not to take anything away from Switzer. My gosh, he's a great back. He's as good a player as I've coached against in 10 years. But they're certainly not one-dimensional. As a coaching staff, we haven't even discussed [Switzer's status]. It isn't like they changed their whole game plan when he went out. They ran the same stuff, and that says a lot about their program.''Crouser, who ran just 58 times in 14 games last year, carried the load last week and figures to do so again tonight after his big game at SC. Quarterback Trevor Bell, who threw for one TD and ran 57 yards for a score last year at Ashland, should also contribute.
"Certainly, you want to have all your horses,'' said GW coach Steve Edwards Jr., "because it's a tough game - a real tough game. But to our kids' credit, they responded last week when we lost a key performer, offensively and defensively, and an emotional leader. Our kids responded in a positive manner, and that speaks well for them, and speaks well for our staff.''GW's defense, which allowed 419 yards in last week's win at SC, will be tested tonight by a Tomcats attack that has thrived in wins against Kentucky rivals Lawrence County (51-20) and Raceland (42-19).Freshman running back Quinton Baker, part of an almost entirely new backfield, has the most carries for Paul Blazer, 21 for 162 yards. Evan Yongue leads with 169 yards on 15 attempts, and Aaron Elam has hit on 12 of 21 passes for 221 yards and four TDs. Ashland returned all but one offensive lineman from a year ago."It doesn't look like they lost much,'' Edwards said. "They're running the same things, just with new guys. They're physical, and they challenge you every down. You'd better come ready to play or you're in for a long night. They do a good mix of running and throwing the football. They figure out what they want to do and whatever works, they wear you out with it.''The Tomcats, with five of their front six returning on the other side of the ball, also feature an opportunistic defense that has forced nine turnovers, turning three into immediate TDs on returns and later cashing in four others for scores. Ashland has allowed 580 yards in two games, but Hart said that carries an asterisk."A lot of that becomes skewed,'' he said, "because we're ahead 30-0 in the first quarter of our first ballgame and we start subbing, and they get points on our JVs and freshmen. I'm not a big stats guy, but we haven't played as good a defense as we're capable of playing. We've made some plays, but we've got some things we need to get corrected.''Hart said the teams have agreed to continue their series after tonight's game.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org