In its final year of existence, the Mountain State Athletic Conference Grid-o-rama has been full of drama.
The 15th MSAC Grid endured bouts of uncertainty Friday morning and afternoon, but its first round of preseason scrimmages went off as scheduled Friday night, as league powers Capital, Huntington and Spring Valley tangled under cool and cloudy skies at University of Charleston Stadium.
The three teams probably played their backups more than their starters, which makes the scores less important than the repetitions the players received in the two-quarter workouts with no live kicking. Spring Valley opened the day by topping Huntington 17-7, Capital beat Huntington 34-0 and, in the final matchup, Spring Valley and Capital tied 7-all.
Earlier this summer, the league announced it was discontinuing the Grid-o-rama after this year because most of its coaches weren’t in favor of the format.
And for a long time Friday, there was legitimate concern whether the MSAC teams could hold those final scrimmages.
First, UC Stadium workers scrambled with last-minute details to get the field ready. Sections of the artificial turf and goal posts needed attention following damage from the tornado that touched down in Charleston in June. Added to that was the continuing work being done on replacing the all-weather track that circles the football field.
In fact, hours before Spring Valley and Huntington began their 6 p.m. scrimmage, end zone turf sections were being glued down. That effort was delayed by overnight drenching rains that hit downtown Charleston and didn’t let up until about noon.
But that wasn’t the only snag. Capital coach Jon Carpenter informed MSAC commissioner Jim Hamric late Thursday that he was pulling his team out of its scrimmages because he felt his players hadn’t gotten in enough live contact during practice this month at their home base, UC Stadium, due to all the construction being done there. The Cougars were forced to hold many of their workouts at DuPont Middle School.
On Friday afternoon, Hamric acknowledged Capital’s absence and said that Huntington and Spring Valley would hold a two-hour scrimmage instead of taking turns working out against Capital for an hour each.
Then shortly after 4 p.m., Carpenter relented and decided to go ahead and scrimmage under the original schedule. Hamric acknowledged that the topic of a possible league-imposed fine did come up in his discussions with Capital school officials.
Capital unveiled new starting quarterback Evan Landers to the home fans, and the sophomore didn’t disappoint, completing 11 of 19 passes across two scrimmages for 242 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
Landers played just three series against Spring Valley after going 6 of 11 for 134 yards and two TDs versus Huntington — both scores going to speedy K.J. Taylor, who turned short tosses into gains of 43 and 54 yards. Chance Knox led Capital’s receiving corps on the day with five catches for 104 yards, including a 70-yard TD on the first play against Spring Valley.
Carpenter was pleased with the performance of Landers, who takes over for three-year starter Kerry Martin Jr., now playing defensive back at WVU.
“I think it’s funny,’’ Carpenter said of Landers. “He really don’t care what you tell him. He just wants to play. Kind of reminds you of Brett Favre. He’s a tough kid, and I think he’s going to be pretty good.’’
Capital got its other touchdowns against Spring Valley on a 3-yard run by Shawn James following a 63-yard pickup by Tay Calloway to put the ball at the 1, a 37-yard interception return by Kerion Martin on the Highlanders’ first offensive snap and a 6-yard run by backup QB Jake Walker.
Senior linebacker Logan Spurlock, Capital’s top tackler last season, is also expected to be worked into the mix at quarterback this season. Spurlock was glad Carpenter decided to change his mind and let the Cougars scrimmage Friday.
“Definitely happy to come out,’’ Spurlock said. “We need experience to get to work on our plays, to work on our defense, everything. It felt good to come out and play again.’’
Spring Valley got its TD against Capital on a 35-yard burst by reserve running back Robert McEntee.
Late-arriving Spring Valley fans might not have caught a glimpse of their starting lineups Friday. Coach Brad Dingess was true to his word and played almost no starters against Capital. Due to the three-team setup and because the Timberwolves had to wait an hour between their scrimmages, they declined to use first-stringers versus Capital after those players had already cooled down. Starting QB Nate Ellis was on the field for just three series and 12 plays against Huntington.
The Wolves got TDs against the Highlanders on a 43-yard run by David Livingston and a 19-yard pass from Zane Brumfield to Tyrus Baumgardner. Zane Porter booted a 48-yard field goal.
Huntington scored on the next-to-last play against Spring Valley as backup QB Dakota Dingess hit Noah Waynick with a 36-yard pass. That was set up by a 40-yard fumble return by Dylan Shepherd.
Highlanders coach Billy Seals opted to sit five offensive starters, including quarterback Ta’ Blackwell and running back Diallo Mitchell. Then No. 2 QB Ke’Shawn Williams was injured while being sacked on his team’s ninth play, leaving Seals to end the scrimmage with his No. 3 and No. 4 quarterbacks.
That slowed down Huntington’s attack, as it gained just 28 yards on 20 plays with a lost fumble against Spring Valley, and picked up only 12 yards on 19 plays with two interceptions against Capital.
The two-day Grid-o-rama concludes Saturday with the league’s other eight teams competing.
St. Albans and Woodrow Wilson meet at 10 a.m., followed by George Washington and Cabell Midland at noon, Riverside and Parkersburg at 2 p.m., and Hurricane against South Charleston at 4.
Admission is $7 for adults and $6 for students.