South Charleston's Adrian Cunningham looks for running room against Capital Friday night.
That a freshman quarterback led a stirring rally at Laidley Field Friday night wasn't so much of a surprise. That it wasn't Capital's Tyhree Pratt directing that comeback, however, was a very big surprise.Freshman Kentre Grier heaved a 36-yard touchdown pass to Marquel Hampton with 1:07 left to play, giving South Charleston a thrilling 20-17 victory over the previously unbeaten Cougars.SC (2-3) trailed at halftime 17-0 and appeared to be going nowhere until Grier, subbing for an ineffective Jon Alexander, directed two fourth-quarter TD drives, including the late rainbow to Hampton, who beat double coverage from James Richmond and Jordan Kinney to catch the ball in the end zone.Grier, who had attempted just one pass previously this season, hit on 7 of 11 attempts Friday for 146 yards and two TDs."I wasn't really prepared [to play],'' Grier said. "I've been practicing at wide receiver a lot. I was real excited when coach told me I'd finally get a shot to go in. I'm really glad I got it done, too. It was real tough, but we did it.''Capital (3-1), ranked No. 6 in Class AAA with three lopsided wins, simply dominated the first half, leading by large margins in first downs (11-4), total yards (232-70) and time of possession as Pratt calmly directed three scoring drives. Four of SC's six drives, meanwhile, were three-and-outs.The Cougars could have also padded that lead, but twice Capital defenders had the ball go right through their hands on potential pick-six passes thrown by Alexander."I don't think I've ever seen a [coaching] staff chew on a bunch of kids as hard as our whole staff did at halftime,'' said SC coach John Messinger. "I think they listened. They finally realized that they had the potential to get this done. Maybe all that chewing made a difference.''
It all changed in the second half, albeit slowly at first. The Black Eagles took their first possession to the Capital 1, but Trevond Reese was stacked up by Jonathan Pittman to snuff out the threat.For a few moments, that is.On Capital's fifth play of the ensuing drive, Alexander - now playing defense - forced a fumble by Kashaun Haley and Reese scooped up the ball and ran 35 yards for a score, making it 17-7.The Cougars drove to the SC 23 before giving it up on downs with exactly nine minutes left. Grier found Kevin Forrest for a 36-yard gain four plays later, and the Black Eagles had some momentum.
Three plays after that, Grier dropped the snap in shotgun formation from the 20, picked it up and connected with Forrest, who plucked the ball out of the air and away from Tyrell Davis in the end zone, leaving the score at 17-14.Capital shanked its next punt for just 18 yards, giving SC the ball at the Cougars 42, but that possession was fruitless as the Black Eagles lost it on downs at the 27 with 4:39 left.The Cougars were not able to milk the clock much, managing just one first down and punting it back to South Charleston, which took over at its own 13 with 1:57 left.
A Grier-to-Reese hookup gained 17 yards and 15 more yards were tacked on for illegal helmet contact on the tackle, placing the ball at midfield. Two plays after that, Grier found Hampton for the go-ahead score.On its final possession, Capital made it just past midfield on a Pratt pass to Haley that gained 4 yards to the SC 47. However, with no timeouts left and players scurrying all over the field, Capital didn't have much of a chance to line up for one final play. It was twice cited for false starts, the last one coming as time expired.Capital coach Jon Carpenter had a hard time explaining the second-half turnaround."We got lethargic,'' he said. "Just poor coaching, I guess, to be so good the first half and feeling so good about yourself, and to come out the second half and not be aggressive and all that. I don't know. We'll have to go back to work."I think we probably haven't had to play much in these other games, and we didn't have the killer instinct at the end. There's no excuse for that. That was kind of embarrassing. I think we had a rough week of practice as far as growing up and learning how to fight. That kind of derailed us all week. We kind of threw it away in the second half.''Messinger was pleased, and slightly amazed, at the way his offensive and defensive line recovered after being whipped soundly in the first half.
"We absolutely did not think that would happen coming into this football game,'' Messinger said, "but [Capital] came out and got after it. A great performance on their part. But I think that was a little bit of South Charleston heart right there [in the second half] - and we'll take it. It might give us a little bit of momentum to get into this thing [the playoff chase].''Pratt completed 9 of 15 passes for 147 yards, including a 47-yard toss to older brother Cliff Pratt for a TD. Haley (16 carries, 81 yards) also scored on an 8-yard run.Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org