Capital looking to catch up
Capital might feel like it's got some catching up to do.
Of the three Kanawha County teams that forged spots in the Class AAA playoffs this season, the Cougars have lagged behind a bit in recent years.
George Washington and South Charleston have each played in the state finals twice in the previous five seasons. GW, in addition, has reached the postseason seven straight years - tops in the area - while the Black Eagles have won 11 playoff games in the last five seasons, also a Kanawha Valley best.
Capital, by comparison, hasn't even reached as far as the semifinal round since Darrion Scott led his team there in 1999. Since then, the Cougars have won just four playoff games in 13 seasons.
But none of that history may matter to the youthful Capital squad, which has its eyes fixed on the present and little else.
"We're trying to accomplish our goal,'' said sophomore quarterback Tyrhee Pratt. "We're trying to get there. We're trying to go to Wheeling. We try to play our hearts out. We've got a good team this year - I think we've got a good chance.''
Certainly, finishing third in the AAA playoff ratings will help.
The Cougars (9-1) have drawn a rematch with Hurricane (6-4) in the opening round, set to take place Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Laidley Field. It was there less than two weeks ago that Capital hammered out a 39-8 verdict over the Redskins.
Hurricane was able to play its way into the postseason with a stirring 20-17 come-from-behind victory at Spring Valley on Friday.
If Capital is able to advance to the quarterfinals, that game would also take place at Laidley Field against the Morgantown at University winner.
"It's very exciting to get to play our first two playoff games at Laidley,'' said senior defensive end James Walton, "because we're used to going on the road in the second round. Last year, we got beat in the first round. But it's good to know we can play our first two games at Laidley.''
Hurricane is fueled by the senior tandem of quarterback Austin Hensley and running back Zach Pate, each a three-year starter. The Redskins beat Capital during the regular season in both 2011 and 2012.
Capital coach Jon Carpenter just wants his team to stay together and have fun during its playoff run. Following Friday's 14-6 win at GW, Carpenter needed a moment to unwind.
"I think I'm going to go drink some Dr Pepper and smoke a cigar,'' he said, "and enjoy this one, to tell the truth.
"I don't think anybody in our locker room has mentioned playoffs very much [this season]. We're just excited to be able to play again on Friday night.''
George Washington, meanwhile, has drawn an interesting foe in Oak Hill (8-2), which is powered by Kennedy Award candidate Jalen Jones, a senior running back with 1,535 yards and 20 touchdowns. Kickoff is set for 7:30 Friday at GW.
The Patriots (8-2) fell from No. 5 in the ratings to No. 8 in the final tally following their loss to Capital.
Still, GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. saw some good things against the Cougars - a defense that allowed just two long gainers for TDs, but otherwise held Capital to seven total first downs and 224 net yards, along with the return of injured senior running back Draven Riffe.
"We haven't been playing very good defense of late,'' Edwards said, "but when our kids play hard, we can be a tough out.
"So that's what we're going to have to do - bottle this effort and keep working and don't dwell on this. Like I've said before, this is just one-tenth and now really next week is when it picks up.''
Riffe, who had run for 1,379 yards and 18 TDs in the team's first six games, played against Capital after missing three full games. He finished with 30 carries for 143 yards and his team's lone score.
"He was good enough to go,'' Edwards said of Riffe, who had been nursing an ankle ailment. "It's not going to be as flamboyant [against a team like Capital], because that's a good football team. You're not going to run all over them.''
Jacob Jackson, who had run for 900-plus yards in Riffe's absence, returned to his former position at receiver. He only touched the ball on offense thrice, catching two passes for 18 yards and running once for 2 yards - a play that was mostly negated by a holding penalty against GW.
The Patriots had won 28 of 34 games at their South Hills campus before Friday's loss.
South Charleston, the county's other entry in the AAA derby, gets to play its first game at Wheeling Island Stadium since the 2009 state championship game.
The No. 12 Black Eagles (7-3) draw a date against No. 5 Wheeling Park (9-1) in the first round, and selected Friday night to play the game at Wheeling Island Stadium.
SC won back-to-back titles in 2008-09 with current coach Donnie Mays serving as offensive coordinator.
The Black Eagles missed the postseason party in both 2011 and 2012.
"It's a great experience for our kids,'' Mays said on Saturday. "Our goal was to get to the playoffs and at 7-3, we accomplished that goal. We're looking to try and make a little bit of noise.
"Our kids are excited about the opportunity. It didn't matter if it was a home or away game. The fact we get to do it where the Class triple-A championship is played is a neat experience.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Counting the county playoff teams
A year-by-year look at the number of Kanawha County teams qualifying for the Class AAA football playoffs since 1991, when the postseason field was expanded from eight to 16 teams:
Total (67 appearances) - Capital 15, George Washington 11, South Charleston 9, Nitro 8, Riverside 7, Herbert Hoover 6, St. Albans 6, DuPont 5