Even for a program that played in back-to-back Class AAA championship games in 2014-15, Capital turned a corner last season.
When the Cougars made their third straight season-opening trek to Paintsville to face Kentucky power Johnson Central — and finally came back with a victory — it was quite an accomplishment for coach Jon Carpenter’s squad.
Johnson Central, after all, has played in the last four 4A title games in Kentucky, winning the 2016 state championship, and has gone 51-8 in the process. A victory over the Golden Eagles is no small achievement for any team.
Another first in the series comes Friday when, for the initial time, the Cougars get to host Johnson Central in their season opener at University of Charleston Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m., and it marks the first time Capital plays a team outside West Virginia on its home turf. A 1989 consolidation of Charleston and Stonewall Jackson, Capital had never played a team from outside the state until its first trip to Johnson Central in 2016.
The Golden Eagles come into Friday’s game having already played a regular-season contest — they whipped Lafayette 49-12 last week as the prep season began across Kentucky. Johnson Central ran for 306 yards in that game and got rushing touchdowns from five different players, two of them from Bryce Tackett. Cody Rice had a score on both offense and defense.
“It’s hard to play them in Week 1,’’ Carpenter said. “They’re dialed in. And it’s so far away, and you don’t know nothing about them. It’s kind of crazy. There’s so much new about them.’’
Ryley Preece returns for a fourth season as the Golden Eagles’ starting quarterback. Last year, he threw for 1,039 yards and seven TDs and ran for 852 yards and 19 scores. Devin Johnson, also a top-notch linebacker, led JC in rushing last season (1,218 yards, 14 TDs). Andrew Clifton (6-foot-2, 300 pounds) is considered the team’s best lineman.
Capital rallied from an early 14-0 deficit last year to beat Johnson Central 28-21, scoring on a 17-yard run by senior fullback Kalai Clark with 1:29 left. The Cougars made life miserable for Preece in that game, as he completed just 5 of 14 passes for 106 yards. He was intercepted twice and sacked four times.
“It was neat for our kids,’’ Carpenter said. “Do you like to see them dig deep? Well, yeah, but I can’t get much past them.’’
Carpenter, however, voiced his displeasure following last year’s game because of what he felt was his team’s inadequate preseason preparation, caused by delays in getting the new turf installed at UC Stadium. This year, Carpenter said the situation is even worse.
A June tornado that hit Charleston caused damage to the turf and goal posts at UC Stadium, forcing the football teams at Capital and UC to find other places to work out in August. Carpenter said his team only had two days of live contact prior to last Friday’s scrimmage at UC Stadium. He was also worried about sections of the turf that he felt weren’t fully anchored following repair work.
“I put them out there unprepared last year,’’ Carpenter said of the 2018 opener. “Thank God nothing happened. And I feel bad knowing that I’m the one responsible for teaching them how to tackle, how to block and how to get in shape. All those things fall on the head coach.’’
Capital spent much of the preseason working out at DuPont Middle School’s field.
As Capital’s home opener, Friday’s game also serves as the annual Jack D. Woolwine Jr. Memorial Game in honor of its past coach who died of pancreatic cancer in 2012. A college scholarship of $1,000 established in Woolwine’s honor is awarded to a senior football team member and proceeds from the 50-50 drawing will be dedicated to the scholarship fund.