Capital's Jon Carpenter thinks his team can handle a long road trip.
Capital coach Jon Carpenter said he's not going to overthink his team's overnight trip to Martinsburg for Saturday's Class AAA playoff semifinals.It's a rare two-day excursion for the Cougars, necessary because of the five-hour-plus jaunt to the Eastern Panhandle for the 1:30 p.m. kickoff.Some coaches fret about taking their players on the road, a situation that can spawn a litany of problems with exuberant teenagers not used to the freedom of staying in hotels, etc."Everybody says there's a lot of goofy stuff that can go on,'' Carpenter said, "but they'll police theirselves. We're not worried about them. They know how important it is to sleep, get up and be ready to play.
"That's one of the reasons we take them camping in the summertime, and we've had no trouble at all. That's what makes that [camping] trip so [important]. It gets you ready when you have to travel away from home, and all the excitement that goes with that.''Senior linemen James Walton and Jaisson Dyer, two of the team's leaders, also don't expect any travel travails."I think we're all focused on the game,'' Walton said. "Everybody wants to get this win, so we're not going to do anything stupid the night before.''"We've just got to keep everybody together the night before [we leave],'' Dyer said, "and make sure everyone's here the next morning when we pull off. As a team, we've already talked about it. Everybody knows what their responsibilities are. They know what they're supposed to be doing. Hopefully, everything goes right overnight.''Too close to call?If Saturday's Wheeling Park-Huntington game comes down to the wire, will be it be advantage Highlanders?
The Patriots have played so well down the stretch, storming to six straight wins - all by at least 20 points - that they haven't been extended to the end for a good while. That includes a landmark 42-22 victory over Steubenville (Ohio), a game that really wasn't that close as Park led 42-9 in the fourth quarter.Huntington, meanwhile, has won by a touchdown or less in three of its last four games - 21-17 against South Charleston, 14-6 in the mud at Winfield and 17-13 versus George Washington last week, a victory that came on a TD with 40 seconds left.Park coach Chris Daugherty, of course, would like to continue to play so well that the game isn't close."As a coach, you're not going to worry about that,'' he said, "or apologize for it. I like to think if you execute and play good ball, that's what's going to happen."Sure, Huntington will do everything they can to derail us - what they've been doing for the last month or so. They've gutted out some games, and there's something to be said for that, too. To be able to stay in there and fight through some adversity and play to the very bitter end.
"I think, at this point in the final four, everybody will fight to the end regardless of the score or the situation. You'll get everybody's best shot. We'll get Huntington's and Huntington will get ours. You hope that's enough right now.''
Huntington coach Billy Seals thinks the fantastic finishes have given his team some resolve in close games."No doubt about it,'' Seals said. "When you get into the playoffs, they're tight football games and we've been fortunate to come out in every one of our games with a win. Our kids are battle-tested."You look at our 12 games and we've played seven playoff teams. That good competition we've played only helps us in the playoffs.''Not-so-grand old flagIf Capital wants to knock off three-time defending champ Martinsburg on Saturday, it will likely have to knock off its penchant for doing dumb things at the wrong time - a.k.a., untimely penalties.
A glance at the season stats reveals one great discrepancy between the Cougars and their opponents. Capital has been whistled for 97 penalties this season - more than eight per game - compared to 66 for its 12 opponents.Sometimes they come at the worst time.In a win against Cabell Midland earlier this season, Capital's defensive line jumped offside as the Knights were set to run plays of fourth-and-5, fourth-and-2 and third-and-7. The first two resulted in gift first downs and Midland converted the ensuing third-and-2 on the other.Even in last week's big win against University, the Cougars hurt themselves on the Hawks' opening drive.University was seemingly stopped on a third-and-7, but Capital was cited for a facemask penalty in making the tackle, allowing the drive to continue. A few plays later, the Hawks scored to take a 7-0 lead.Anything you can do . . .Not only is Martinsburg gunning to become the first team to ever capture four straight Class AAA championships, but coach Dave Walker is drawing close in a personal duel with his friend and former college teammate, Alan Fiddler.Fiddler took Moorefield to four straight Class A titles (1996-99) and now his old college roommate at West Virginia State, Walker, has a chance to notch his own four-peat.Currently, Fiddler is coaching at Patrick Henry High School near Roanoke, Va.Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.