South Charleston defenders swarm Capital's Kashaun Haley in Friday night's game at Laidley Field.
South Charleston was staring down a second straight 1-4 start to its season on Friday night, and coach John Messinger knew that could deal his team's playoff hopes a fatal blow.
So the Black Eagles put together an unexpected rally from a 17-0 halftime deficit to capture a 20-17 victory over previously unbeaten Capital at Laidley Field, reviving SC's postseason chances.
Last year, South Charleston began 1-4 only to string together four straight wins and go into its regular-season finale with a chance to nab a playoff spot. A loss to Parkersburg, however, squelched that notion.
So even with his schedule again easing up in the coming weeks, Messinger didn't think his Black Eagles could recover from yet another 1-4 mark if they lost to Capital.
"No, we didn't want to do that again,'' Messinger said. "That really put us behind the 8-ball. Because I kept saying that this year's different. Look around the state. A 6-4 record this year isn't going to do anything for you - it just isn't going to do it.
"So we've got a lot of football to play and there are a lot of people on our schedule who can whip us, and we know that. So we're going to have to come around and get after it.''
SC's first five foes are now a combined 15-7 - including Black Eagles' losses to No. 1 Cabell Midland and No. 8 George Washington. SC's final five opponents are currently 7-18, which includes a pair of 0-5 teams (St. Albans, Lincoln County) coming up the next two weeks.
Capital, on the other hand, is also trying to avoid a repeat of its non-playoff effort in 2011. The Cougars, however, did it the other way around - they began 4-0, suffered some key injuries, and like SC finished 5-5 and out of the money.
With games remaining against the likes of Midland (5-0), GW (4-1), Woodrow Wilson (4-1) and Huntington (4-1), a youthful Capital club needs to shake off the doldrums of its first loss to ensure its own postseason spot.
"I think we'll be all right,'' said Cougars coach Jon Carpenter, pointing to the locker room presence of players like senior safety Davon Tyson and freshman quarterback Tyhree Pratt. "You heard Davon speak up there [in the locker room]. I think with him and Pratt and some of the other guys, they'll step up and be leaders.
"The problem with being young is they stand around in the second half and wait for somebody to make a play instead of going out and making it. Again, I can preach and preach to them about how things are supposed to go, but - like I tell them - you can see it happening out there and learn a lot better from it than I can tell them to.''
The Kanawha Valley's other highly ranked AAA team, George Washington (4-1), protected its spot among the top eight with a 61-11 win at Princeton. It marked the first game for the Patriots since the death of freshman lineman Drew Morton in an auto accident last Sunday.
The top eight teams in the final playoff ratings earn home-field advantage for the first round. Hurricane (2-2), tied for 16th, was idle last weekend. The Redskins host Capital on Friday.
Several large games loom on the statewide schedule this week, none of them bigger than a Class A clash of unbeaten teams in Fayette County.
Valley (4-0), which was ranked No. 2 in last week's playoff ratings, visits co-No. 3 Meadow Bridge (5-0), which has allowed just eight touchdowns in five games.
The Greyhounds swept a pair of games from the Wildcats last year - both on artificial turf - 30-14 during the regular season at Martin Field in Montgomery and 22-6 in the first round of the playoffs at Laidley Field.
The second game provided veteran Valley coach Benny Hopkins with his first playoff win in 33 years of coaching.
Other key contests this week include:
Bridgeport (4-1) at Elkins (5-0) - The Indians were ranked sixth in AA before beating East Fairmont 28-7, and the Tigers were tied for fourth in AAA prior to downing AA No. 12 Fairmont Senior 39-6.
Hampshire (3-1) at Keyser (3-1) - Another cross-division showdown of neighboring rivals. The Trojans were tied for 14th in AAA before beating Mountain Ridge, Md., 49-14 and the Golden Tornado was second in AA prior to a 14-12 setback to unbeaten Allegany, Md.
Mingo Central (3-1) at Wayne (4-0) - A new matchup of Cardinal Conference AA teams. The Miners, in their first year in the league, were tied for 12th prior to beating Man 30-14 and the Pioneers were third before blanking No. 7 Sissonville 42-0.
Woodrow Wilson (4-1) at Cabell Midland (5-0) - Prime Class AAA playoff positioning and perhaps a Mountain State Athletic Conference title on the line between the Flying Eagles (tied for eighth before shutting out Ripley 44-0) and the Knights (tied for No. 1 with Huntington prior to a 14-13 win over the Highlanders).
Fumbles and jumbles
Setbacks to several top-10 teams should juggle the top of the rankings in both Class AAA and AA when the SSAC releases its next of playoff ratings on Tuesday.
In AAA, losses came to co-No. 1 Huntington, No. 3 Martinsburg, No. 6 Capital and No. 10 Parkersburg South.
In AA, the list of victims included No. 2 Keyser, No. 7 Sissonville, co-No. 8s Summers County and Wyoming East and co-No. 10 Philip Barbour.
In Class A, the only member of the top 10 to fall was No. 1 Notre Dame.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.