Cabell Midland’s return to a grind-it-out, downhill rushing attack from a spread offense instituted to begin the season remains a work in progress.
But the Knights’ defense sure seems to be back in a big way.
A week after shutting out Capital in the first half before fading a bit late, Midland flexed its muscle again defensively and this time made it stick, holding host Riverside to 52 total yards in a 17-0 win, spoiling homecoming for the Warriors.
Conditions were less than ideal on Riverside’s grass field after heavy rains pounded the Kanawha Valley all week. Friday night’s contest was also marred by penalties as the Knights were flagged 21 times for 195 yards and Riverside 10 times for 105 yards.
Those things limited the explosiveness of Midland’s attack, but the run-heavy Knights were effective and downright punishing.
The Knights snapped the ball 64 times offensively on Friday compared to just 40 offensive plays for Riverside. Among Midland’s plays were just two passes, both of which went incomplete.
Meanwhile the Warriors (1-4) could not find a way to sustain drives, running just 12 plays in the second half as the Knights kept the chains moving. Riverside had three second-half first downs, all by penalty.
“They did a great job,” Midland coach Luke Salmons said. “We played great defense and the offense did a lot better this game. We’re getting better and that’s what you want. The defense did a great, great job.”
The Knights (3-3) had their highlights offensively, spearheaded mostly by star running back Ivan Vaughn, who went for 153 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Vaughn’s touchdown runs of 10 yards and 1 yard in the second quarter were the only scores as Midland carried a 14-0 advantage into the break.
During that first half, Riverside drove no farther than the Midland 28-yard line, with that drive being stopped by an interception thrown by quarterback Javante’ Elzy. The Knights outgained the Warriors 214-60 over those opening two quarters.
Cameron Grobe added a 29-yard field goal in the third quarter to account for the rest of the scoring.
The Knights, long known for their wing-T misdirection offense, attempted to install the spread this year. Despite early wins over Parkersburg and St. Albans, lopsided losses to Spring Valley and Hurricane (35-7 and 40-10) caused Salmons to rethink his strategy.
Though Midland fell a week ago 20-7 to Capital, the Knights showed vast improvement, carrying a 7-0 lead into the halftime locker room of that game before the Cougars rallied in the second half.
Salmons admitted the sloppy conditions made necessary cuts difficult on Friday, but he has been pleased with the progression so far.
“We were limited on some things but our kids did a good job,” Salmons said. “It’s been easy but it’s been tough, because there’s a lot of detail. We spend usually June, July and August working on it. It’s not something you just do. It looks simple but execution and details — we’re going to get better each week.
“We’ll come together. We’re going to get there.”
Vaughn was supported by plenty of contributions from his fellow backs with younger brother Isaiah Vaughn adding 70 yards on 13 carries and Carlito Carter racking up 78 yards on just three rushes. Jakob Caudill added 78 yards on 10 carries, all in the second half.
Caden Easterling ground out 39 tough yards on 18 rushes to lead the Warriors, with Elzy completing 4 of 10 passes for 17 yards and an interception.
For first-year Riverside coach Alex Daugherty, there were good things to take away, in particular a defense that still fought despite being on the field the vast majority of the game.
But in Midland, he saw a team that came with a physical presence he’d like to see his team reach moving forward.
“They’re big and they’re physical, we knew that,” Daugherty said. “We told our kids we had to match or increase that physicality and we didn’t do that tonight. This is my first year here and we’ve got to buy into offseason workouts and conditioning, we’ve got to get better. That and self-inflicted wounds. I think we faced four third-and-26s tonight and there’s no good call on third-and-26.”