Capital isn’t used to this position. To be honest, neither is Riverside. So it’s a matter of who gets more comfortable in their situation Friday when the teams lock up at 7:30 p.m. at University of Charleston Stadium.
With two weeks left in the regular season, the Cougars (4-4) and Warriors (4-4) are in new territory, though they’re right on top of each other in the AAA playoff ratings — Capital currently stands 11th and Riverside 12th. The top 16 in each class advance to the postseason, and the top eight get the choice of home field in the opening round.
The Cougars have qualified for the playoffs each of the last seven seasons and hosted all seven of those first-round games at UC Stadium. In fact, when skipping over the 2011 season in which Capital failed to reach the postseason, all 11 of the Cougars’ first-round playoff games from 2007-18 were at the site known formerly as Laidley Field. So for Capital to be three spots outside the final home-field berth this late in the season is news.
As for Riverside? Well, the Warriors haven’t played a postseason game anywhere since 2007, so for them to even be inside the top 16 with two games remaining is also quite different.
Riverside coach Alex Daugherty hopes his team responds better to the big-game atmosphere Friday than it did last week in a 42-6 home loss to George Washington.
“We talked last week about it having been a while since we played games that meant something later in the year,’’ Daugherty said. “Last week, it meant a lot to us and we came out really flat. We were coming off an emotional win against South Charleston the previous Friday. We used motivation last week and we weren’t ready. I didn’t get them ready as a coach.
“Whether you want to believe it or not as a coach, there might have been a little complacency set in after beating South Charleston, and we came out not as sharp as before. That proved we’ve got to come out every week, and we can’t take weeks off. Hopefully, this week’s preparation and practice will show a different team.’’
From Capital’s perspective, there’s been a bit more adversity than most recent seasons. The Cougars have competed in the AAA playoff semifinals six straight times, but they were usually located a lot higher in the playoff bracket when they did that.
“I think they’re learning,’’ said Cougars coach Jon Carpenter. “Mr. [Clinton] Giles [Capital’s former principal] used to say that sometimes bad things happen to good people. I think it’s been a terrible start to the year with things out of our control, and there were some ups and downs, but we can’t cry about it. We’ve got to get better. We’re close to being where we want, but we’ve got to get better. If we do that, it’s a skill that will serve them well in life.’’
Capital has won its last seven meetings with Riverside, including a 41-0 verdict last season in which the Warriors were held to 94 total yards.
“They have a lot of good athletes we’re going to have to contain,’’ Daugherty said. “We’re going to have to do what we do as a football team — go out and execute and win each play as an individual, because you’re only as good as your worst player. It’s going to take all 11 on the field to win.’’
Capital tried something different in last week’s victory against Woodrow Wilson, putting Chance Knox — its most experienced receiver and Division I recruit — into the backfield. It worked well, as Knox scored three touchdowns in a 35-7 win, carrying 10 times for 89 yards and one touchdown and catching six passes for 60 yards and two more scores.
“We probably should have been doing it all along,’’ Carpenter said. “We were running some wing-T plays out of that, and putting our own spin on it. I know a lot of the old school Capital people were excited to see us run that wing-T stuff, and it has been exciting.’’