St. Albans hasn’t played in many high-profile games the last 10 years, but the Red Dragons have themselves one on Friday when they host unbeaten University (5-0), which is tied for first in the Class AAA playoff ratings.
The Red Dragons, off to a 3-2 start, have already matched their best season since 2008, when they had four victories. They got there by winning two straight close games, 37-34 against Ripley and 21-17 last week at Riverside, putting them 11th in the AAA playoff ratings.
“We’ve learned not to give in,’’ said SA coach Scott Tinsley. “We almost lost a 20-0 lead against Ripley, then last week we were down 17-0 at halftime, but battled back to win. So the kids have figured out it’s OK to keep playing hard no matter what the score is.’’
The Hawks present a dilemma to defend, owing chiefly to wide receiver-safety Amir Richardson (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), who has been offered by both West Virginia and Marshall. Richardson has caught seven touchdown passes so far. Combined with the running of Trevor Barnhart (403 yards, seven TDs) and quarterback Clay Bailey (363 yards, two TDs), it puts opponents in a bind.
“You have to defend [Richardson] first,’’ Tinsley said. “Any time you leave him single-covered, he goes up and wins all the jump balls. But if you try to double him, it leaves you a little short in the box trying to stop their run game. And if you have to deal with a real good running back in Barnhart and a running quarterback? That’s why we’re burning the midnight oil.’’
As far as his own offense, Tinsley agrees that it’s evolving behind quarterback R.T. Alexander, running backs Reggie Jackson and Jake Taylor and a corps of productive receivers.
“It’s strange the way our schedule has unfolded this year,’’ Tinsley said. “We started off with two teams [Parkersburg and Nitro] that were total zone teams — played all zone [on defense]. Then we ran into a three-game stretch with Spring Valley, Ripley and Riverside that played straight man coverage the whole time. Because of that, different people will shine because of the way the other teams are playing. We’ll be going back to more of a zone-type team this week.’’
Taylor, who was leading the team in rushing when he suffered a broken thumb two weeks ago and was sidelined, has been fitted with a brace and Tinsley hopes to get him for a few carries Friday. Another key injury is kicker Sam Burford, who has two field goals and 11 extra points. He twisted a knee last week on a kickoff and his availability is uncertain for Friday.
Woodrow Wilson (1-4) at George Washington (2-3): It’s a game the Patriots desperately need as they try to chase down a Class AAA playoff spot following a 1-3 start. GW downed the Flying Eagles 41-6 last season as Grant Wells threw for 266 yards and four touchdowns and Woodrow managed only 158 total yards.
Riverside (2-3) at Liberty Raleigh (0-4): The Warriors are in a three-way for 17th in the AAA ratings with Ripley and idle South Charleston. Riverside won this game 36-14 last year as three players broke the century mark in rushing — Mark Scites (132 yards, three TDs), Caden Easterling (113, one TD) and Gage Lanham (107, one TD).
Chapmanville (3-2) at Herbert Hoover (1-4): These teams have played the last 10 years, with the Tigers winning six of those meetings. However, the Huskies eked out 13-12 decision last year, holding Dylan Smith without a TD — something that’s happened only twice over the last 23 games for Chapmanville.
Sissonville (4-1) at Poca (2-3): The Indians put 48 points on the board in last year’s win against Poca, but their offense has been a little less explosive this year, averaging half that. Pass-happy Sissonville QB Will Hackney has completed 94 passes, which is more than all but one Cardinal team (Mingo Central) has attempted so far this year.
Logan (1-4) at Nitro (1-4): These teams haven’t played since Nitro won 32-22 in 2014. Their only common opponent this year is Poca, which Logan lost to and Nitro beat. Nitro, however, has scored just three touchdowns in four games since its opening 32-13 victory against the Dots.
Buffalo (1-3) at Tug Valley (4-1): The Bison have won the last two meetings with the Panthers, 35-12 last year and 19-0 in 2015. However, Tug has given Sherman (4-1) and Phelps, Kentucky (3-1) their lone losses this season behind Jonathan Blankenship’s 10 touchdowns — four rushing, four receiving and two punt returns.
Huntington (5-0) at Ripley (2-3): A tough part of the schedule begins for the host Vikings as they try to snap a three-game losing streak — consecutive matchups with the AAA No. 1 Highlanders, SC and Spring Valley. Jadon Hayes has tallied 15 of Huntington’s 21 touchdowns, including 11 rushing scores.
Wayne (3-1) at Scott (2-2): The Pioneers have outscored opponents 96-29 in the second half so far this season, and 56-6 in the fourth quarter. Carson McComas has scored 11 of the Skyhawks’ 18 TDs and owns 63 percent of the team’s rushing yardage through four games (732 of 1,164).
Meadow Bridge (0-4) at Valley (0-5): Both teams have played killer schedules so far. If the season ended now, all four of the Wildcats’ opponents would be in the Class A playoffs with a combined record of 17-3. The Greyhounds’ five foes are 22-3 and all are either inside or close to the top 16 and a postseason berth in AA or A.
Ritchie County (2-3) at Ravenswood (2-2): The host Red Devils will be short-handed for their Hall of Fame Game, as quarterback Stephen Dawson (knee) and top rusher Jayden Rhodes (rib) are out with injuries. Ravenswood won its game against the Rebels last year 44-8, gaining 309 yards on the ground.