Midland-Capital: Expect the unexpected
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Cabell Midland and Capital, the combatants in tonight's MSAC showdown at Laidley Field, have something in common. They both dropped the ball against No. 1 Huntington.
If not for a case of the dropsies, one or the other could come into today's 7:30 contest unbeaten and holding the top spot in the Class AAA ratings.
Three weeks ago, the Knights (5-1) ran for 325 yards against the Highlanders, but were handed a 19-7 defeat largely because of five fumbles, three of which they lost.
Last week, the Cougars (4-1) suffered the same fate, forfeiting four of 11 fumbles in a 24-10 setback at Huntington, a game in which they ran for 231 yards.
In each instance, the defensive-minded Highlanders prevailed despite fewer rushing yards and fewer total yards.
"I think that's more fumbles than we've had the last two years,'' said Capital coach Jon Carpenter. "I don't think it was of us being lazy or not disciplined or not taking care of the ball. A lot of other things played into it.
"It's like a golfer staring down a water hazard. He tells himself, 'Don't hit it in the water. Don't hit it in the water.' Then he hits it in the water. We tried so hard not to fumble that we fumbled. They know the importance of hanging on to it. I expect they'll get it straight.''
The No. 7 Knights and No. 8 Cougars have come to expect the unexpected in their series, as they've exchanged close wins on each other's home field the last two years - Midland won 21-13 at Laidley last year, and Capital prevailed 31-29 at Ona in 2011.
"I know Capital hurt themselves last week fumbling the ball and things like that,'' said Knights coach Luke Salmons, "but they can move the ball all over the field. That was just one game and they can put a lot of points on the board. That's how we look at it. We've got to tackle well and get them on the ground. That's our mindset.''
The Cougars can flash a bevy of playmakers in either the running or passing game with backs Kashuan Haley, James Richmond and Silas Nazario, quarterback Tyrhee Pratt and receivers Cliff Pratt and Tyrell Davis.
"They're the most athletic team we've seen, I feel like,'' Salmons said. "I know the quarterback is good, the running backs are good, the receivers are good. They can hurt you a lot of different ways. We can't give up big plays because they can score from anywhere.''
Midland prefers to keep the ball on the ground, but second-year QB Coy Pettit occasionally hurts defenses with the pass. He averages 18 yards per completion and has thrown for eight TDs.
The Knights' bread and butter, their diversified running game, features three of the top 10 rushers in the Mountain State Athletic Conference - No. 2 Kasey Thomas (795 yards, 12 TDs), No. 7 Teran Barnitz (552 yards, six TDs) and No. 9 Dontae Hendricks (527 yards, five TDs).
"You can't let them run it down your throat,'' Carpenter said. "You can't let them get chunks of yards on first down.
"They play hard and they do exactly what their coach tells them to do. That's why they're good. They bought into it and no matter what he asks them to do, they do that as hard as they can go.''
Like a lot of MSAC teams, Cabell Midland is venturing through a tough portion of its schedule. In the space of six games, the Knights face five teams in the top 18 of the AAA ratings. Next week, it's a home game with No. 2 George Washington.
"Each week is a big game,'' Salmons said. "We know that everybody we play can beat us. We prepare every week the same as coaches and players. Most people say that, but we believe it. We want to be better by the time we get to Week 11.
"We know we're not going to be perfect. That's the way the schedule is and we can't do anything about it. It doesn't upset me. You've got to play difficult games every season. The kids like playing against Capital and GW, games like that. I hate to say they don't like to play when it's 50-6, but they like to compete. They enjoy playing teams like that.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.