Ground and pound Indians can pass, too
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sissonville has certainly made a living off its ground game this season.
The Indians crank out nearly 314 yards per game running the ball and have scored 45 touchdowns on the ground.
But don't go to sleep on Sissonville's passing game. It's developed into a nice threat that complements the bevy of running backs coach Eddie Smolder carries.
Senior quarterback Nathan Miller, who played two seasons as a wideout and was one of the top returning receivers in the state this year, has been a reliable source of offense for the Indians.
Miller has thrown for 1,169 yards and 14 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He's also hit on four 2-point conversion tosses.
In seven games this season, Miller has completed 50 percent or better of his passes. Six times he's thrown for more than 100 yards, including a personal-best of 220 against Poca.
"We can run the spread offense with Nathan Miller if we wanted to,'' Smolder said. "He probably has one of the strongest arms in double-A.
"We try to stay within our system [of running the ball], but we can throw if we need to, if we have to. Obviously it's not something we want to do coming into a game, but we like to mix it up and throw it if we can.''
Luke Salmons has developed a solid program in just his third season at Cabell Midland.
The Knights are 29-7 in his three years heading into Saturday's Class AAA first-round playoff game against Washington, reaching the quarterfinals in 2011 and the title game last year.
Salmons swears by two of his biggest decisions when he took over in Ona - the belief of lifting weights four times a week even during the season, and the concept of platooning his players, that is using entirely different 11-man units for offense and defense, something few state high schools employ.
"I think it's why we've played so well,'' Salmons said earlier this year. "Everyone's healthy. In Year 3, we're right where we need to be. They're excited and they understand it's a long season. Every week we continue to get better.''
Salmons is also pleased that he's been able to rely on a squad that's long on veteran, experienced players.
"We've got good depth on both sides of the ball,'' he said, "playing everybody one way. We've got good depth behind them, and they're all juniors and seniors. There's not one sophomore who plays - and we've got a good sophomore class, so that's a good sign, and the [junior varsity started] undefeated.
"They know the system, and it's good. We want the kids to play as juniors and seniors. We've run the ball up and down the field. We've got five running backs who can run the ball. It's important to keep them fresh because it's a long season. We're watching their weight and making sure they maintain their weight because the season can get you run down a little bit. I've seen it so many times.''
George Washington's pass defense has become pretty well regarded in this part of the state, and the Patriots are doing nothing to change that notion this season.
The Patriots have allowed just four TD passes all year, and opponents are completing just 39.7 percent of their attempts (58 of 146) with nine intercepted.
Ashland (Ky.) and Princeton didn't complete a single pass on GW and Parkersburg was 1 of 10. SC's Kentre Grier, who could turn out to be an all-state quarterback, threw for 200 yards but had his only game of the season where he was under 50 percent (14 of 32).
Yes, GW has allowed 942 yards in the air, but remember that many teams are forced to throw once they get so far behind.
Hurricane coach Jeremy Taylor, whose team has played GW five times over the last three seasons with another top-notch QB (Austin Hensley), understands what makes the Patriots' pass D click.
"People have to understand about GW - their defense is good,'' Taylor said. "They're well-coached and they do a great job with those guys. It's a combination of great athletes and great coaches.
"What GW has is that they lock up [man-to-man] and dare you to throw against them. They have about four, five kids who can play. They can run with everybody that we have. That's the thing about them.
"In this conference, you've got 15 teams and there's about four coaching staffs that you look at them and say, 'Man, these guys know what they're doing.' GW is always one of them. Whether they're 2-8 or 8-2 or 10-0, they're always prepared.''
Capital coach Jon Carpenter has said it all along this season - sometimes the only thing that can get in the way of his team's success is the players themselves.
Winning nine of 10 games, including victories against four Class AAA playoff teams, and getting the No. 3 seed in AAA has proven that the Cougars have the talent to get to the Super Six.
Now it's a question of how well they can stick together, believe in each other and the coaching staff and not pointing fingers during the times when things don't work out.
"We've got to go do it again,'' Carpenter said recently. "That's the key when the weather turns cold - how bad do you want to keep playing, how good do we want to be?
"Getting all of them to buy into this team concept - there's the dilemma. Good things can happen to them. I wish it came down to offense or defense, but it comes down to how well we can stay together.''
Capital's youthful squad fell in the opening round of the playoffs last year to a veteran Musselman team at Laidley Field.
Huntington coach Billy Seals likes to kid around sometimes about his team's passing game.
The Highlanders don't throw it often, and have improved with their air game in the second half of the season, but the numbers are still underwhelming.
Huntington has completed just 25 of 88 passes (28 percent) for 504 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. In four games, the Highlanders have gained 20 yards or less in the air.
That puts even more emphasis on their rushing attack, which has delivered most of the time to spark a 10-0 season that earned the Highlanders the No. 1 seed for the AAA playoffs.
Huntington has relied on the trio of fullback Paden Christian and halfbacks Charles Crawford and Nick Tubbs, each of whom stands around 800 yards for the season.
"Crawford and Tubbs are our speed guys,'' Seals said, "and both are three-year starters.
"Paden Christian started as a freshman halfway through the season, and he's a workhorse. He's a physical runner who runs hard every time he touches the ball and he gets four, five yards an opportunity.
"Those three guys really spearhead what we have on offense. We had to replace four three-year starters on the offensive line, but we've been getting better on the offensive line each and every week. We've seen those guys coming together nicely.''
South Charleston isn't afraid to make changes - even drastic ones - if they help improve the team's overall strength.
Donnie Mays, the Black Eagles' first-year coach and former offensive coordinator, knows that people recall a couple of high-profile quarterback switches SC made in recent years, but said the approach works at any position.
"If you look at our track record since I've been offensive coordinator,'' Mays said, "we had Tyler Harris [then a sophomore] starting late in the season when we went on our run in 2008. Last year, Kentre Grier started halfway into the season. We also did that other places.
"Just because a kid's been named the starter at a position, if he's not putting out what we feel is necessary, we'll give other guys a shot. A lot of the success we've had is based on that. If you're not playing up to par, we want to make sure the guy behind you knows it could be his spot, too.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.