In recent years, Putnam County rivals Hurricane and Winfield haven’t been shy about putting the ball in the air.
The Redskins, in fact, have produced at least an 1,100-yard passer nine straight seasons. Over the past two years, the Generals have averaged 1,900 passing yards and 22 touchdown tosses.
But there could be a changing of the guard Friday night when the two teams tangle at Generals Stadium, as both squads — for obvious reasons — appear to be favoring their running games. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Hurricane figures to ride All-State running back Christian Hill, who last year rushed for 1,659 yards and 14 touchdowns as his team advanced to the Class AAA playoff quarterfinals. The Redskins do return their starting quarterback, Nathan Roy, but they lost all three of their top receivers, leaving a lot of inexperience on the flanks.
Winfield, meanwhile, saw just about all of its skill-position players graduate from a Class AA quarterfinal team, including four-year starting quarterback Andrew Huff, leaving only wingback Nick Vance, who takes over at QB. Vance was leading the Generals in rushing with 567 yards and five TDs when he went down with a season-ending knee injury in the fifth game. Sophomore John Covert (6-foot-1, 215 pounds), last year’s lead blocker, will also get his share of carries.
Another reason for Winfield’s emphasis on the ground game is the return of three starters from last year’s offensive line, led by senior Jacob Huff (6-0, 240), who is called “our strongest kid ever’’ by seventh-year Generals coach Craig Snyder.
“He just missed bench-pressing 400 pounds,’’ Snyder said, “and he squats over 500. He makes us so much better. If he were 6-4, the colleges would be drooling all over him. He can make it tough on Hurricane.’’
This past summer, Hurricane coach Jeremy Taylor got an up-close look at the strength of the Generals’ linemen.
“We did a weight-lifting competition with them over the summer,’’ Taylor said, “a countywide lift-a-thon, and they had some horses in there. I’d have liked to have a few of them. They look like they’re a lot bigger than we are. They’ve molded themselves into a lot of that single-wing stuff, and if you look at their numbers, they’re pretty good.’’
Hurricane has won seven straight in the series, including 31-15 last year as Hill carried 24 times for 132 yards and one touchdown.
“Winfield knows we’re going to run the ball — it’s no secret,’’ Taylor said. “But hey, it’s the first game of the season, everybody’s undefeated and everybody’s got a chance.’’
Hurricane linebacker J.T. Cooper continues a tradition Friday, marking the 140th straight Redskins game in which one of his family’s six brothers has played. The state’s longest such streak is believed to be held by the Gongola family in Benwood (Marshall County). One or more of the 12 Gongola brothers played in every Union High game for 23 consecutive years (1943-65), well over 200 games. Union consolidated into John Marshall in 1968.
Woodrow Wilson at Riverside: The Warriors play their first game under 23-year-old coach Alex Daugherty, a former Riverside assistant. The all-time series between the programs is tied 7-7, with the Warriors taking the last two meetings, including 45-7 last year as Caden Easterling ran for 130 yards and two TDs.
St. Albans at Cabell Midland: Another head-coaching debut, this time for the Red Dragons’ Nick Watts, 29. St. Albans lost this matchup last year 60-26 as the Knights ran for more than 500 yards, led by all-state tailback Ivan Vaughn (18 carries, 238 yards, four TDs).
Nitro at Poca: The Wildcats have won the last five meetings in this series, including 32-13 last year as they ran for 303 yards. The Dots, however, return nine starters on offense and eight on defense, giving them hope of making the Class AA playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Scott at Herbert Hoover: The Skyhawks opened last season with a 42-14 win versus Hoover as Connor White ran for 121 yards and a TD. The teams have met the past seven years, with Scott winning four times. It’s also the sixth straight season they’ve opened against each other.
Sissonville at Chapmanville: The Indians downed the Tigers 25-16 last season as Will Hackney threw for 291 yards and three TDs, two going to Mayson Miller and one to Chance Jones, who had four catches for 100 yards. Chase Berry threw for 187 yards and two TDs for the Tigers.
Buffalo at Greenbrier West: These Class A squads have met each of the last six years, with the Bison taking four of the six, including 22-16 last season as both teams finished 2-8. The Cavaliers haven’t made it to the postseason since 2014, but won their final two games in 2017.
Ripley at Parkersburg South: Two teams that came close to the Class AAA playoffs last season and harbor hopes for qualifying this year. The Vikings won 28-12 last season as R.J. Evans ran 16 times for 137 yards and one touchdown, part of a 258-yard ground effort for his team.
Wayne at Spring Valley: These Wayne County schools lock up for the first time in 19 years. The Timberwolves won each of the first two meetings after their consolidated school opened, beating the Pioneers 24-6 in 1998 and 27-6 in 1999. Spring Valley’s first six games this year are against 2017 playoff teams.
Point Pleasant at Mingo Central: This matchup was one of the state’s most entertaining games of the entire 2017 season, with the Miners winning 36-34 on Jeremy Dillon’s 35-yard Hail Mary pass to Dawson Elia on the final play, breaking the Big Blacks’ 43-game regular-season win streak.
Oak Hill at Valley: The Greyhounds begin what might be their final season of varsity football, as they’re expected to merge into Oak Hill next fall. The Red Devils won this game last year 34-12 as Khori Bass carried 25 times for 260 yards and two TDs.
Sherman at Magnolia: These two Class A schools, located 150 miles apart, play for the first time since 1930 and for just the second time overall. The Tide won 14-12 in that first meeting 88 years ago as part of a 10-1 season.