GW takes on Midland tonight
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's the game everyone in the Mountain State Athletic Conference wanted to see last year, but it still shapes up as a pretty good one this year.
This time, it's George Washington (6-0) out to protect an unbeaten record as the Patriots venture to Ona to take on Cabell Midland (5-2) at 7:30 tonight.
Last year, they were the top two teams in the MSAC, with Midland streaking to a 13-0 record and taking the Class AAA No. 1 playoff seed all the way to the Super Six state finals in Wheeling before losing to Martinsburg. However, they weren't scheduled to play in the regular season and avoided each other in the playoffs.
Each team had superior individual talent last fall, with GW sporting two-time Kennedy Award winning tailback Ryan Switzer and Midland flashing a backfield of David Gaydosz and Lowell Farley, who combined for more than 4,000 rushing yards and 51 touchdowns.
Both sides have rebuilt with success for this season, GW getting yeoman's work from senior running back Draven Riffe (1,379 yards, 18 TDs) and Midland utilizing a three-and four-headed ground game that cranks out 417 yards per game.
"They're really solid. They're a machine,'' said GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. "What concerns me is that they run at a quick pace and they're very disciplined in everything they do. Their kids play really hard, and that's something we've had to emulate in practice, something to try and get across to all our kids. Hopefully, we can match their intensity.''
The only two losses for Midland, ranked No. 10 in AAA, have come to No. 1 Huntington and No. 5 Capital. The Knights fell 35-26 to the Cougars last Friday, giving up five long scoring runs of 25 of more yards.
"When you play good teams, that's going to happen,'' said third-year Midland coach Luke Salmons. "That's life. You've got to execute when it matters. You lose some close ones, you've got to battle through it.
"They've responded well. We've had a great week of practice, and [Wednesday's workout] was probably the best practice since I've been here. They don't like [losing]. They're hungry. They want to win, that's their mindset. They're willing to do anything to win.''
GW presents Midland with a bit more of a smashmouth approach than Capital, especially with Riffe carrying the ball 26 times a game. But the Patriots can also spring a few big gainers with playmakers like Jacob Jackson and Austin Giacomo.
"It's not like they're completely one-dimensional [with Riffe],'' Salmons said. "You can't be out of position because they'll throw it over the top and they have the ability to spread the field.
"Of course, they want to get the ball to [Riffe] - he's a good high school running back. He's a different kind of back - he just keeps his feet moving and follows his blocking extremely well, and his speed's deceiving. You've got to tackle him. That's the key. We didn't do our jobs at times [against Capital] and it was the simple things that hurt us. That's why it was upsetting. We didn't squeeze it defensively. They understand that now.''
Midland, meanwhile, prefers to keep it on the ground even more than GW.
The Knights average better than 50 rushing attempts per game, led by Kasey Thomas (850 yards, 13 TDs), Teran Barnitz (611 yards, seven TDs), Dontae Hendricks (556 yards, five TDs) and Alex Childers (375 yards, three TDs).
George Washington is coming off its worst defensive performance of the season, a 60-54 win over Hurricane in which it allowed 386 yards rushing to a Redskins team averaging 162 yards on the ground coming into the contest.
Edwards said his squad was feeling the effects of a physical game against Princeton from the week before it played Hurricane, and had several players leave last Friday's game with injuries.
"We were already a little nicked up,'' Edwards said, "and then it got physical [against Hurricane]. Those things happen. Every week around here with the schedule we play, there's some hitting going on. We got some guys with more than just their feelings hurt.
"But nobody's going to feel sorry for us. We'll try to get those [injuries] taken care of, and I expect we'll have everybody back by Friday.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.