ONA — Earlier in the week, George Washington coach Steve Edwards Jr. said that all of the pressure was on No. 2 Cabell Midland as the No. 7 Patriots came calling Friday night for a Class AAA quarterfinal game.
If it wasn’t already, the pressure fell heavily on the Knights after GW got off to a hot start and hung around to keep the affair a one-score contest deep into the fourth quarter.
Yet all season long, when things got tough, Midland quarterback J.J. Roberts had an answer.
On a night when the Knights (12-0) made some uncharacteristic mistakes, Roberts and the team’s ground attack guided Midland through as it survived for a 28-18 win to advance to next week’s semifinals.
The Knights will host No. 3 Spring Valley next weekend. A time and day will be set on Sunday.
Twice in the second half, Roberts and the Knights took over deep in their own territory, clinging to a lead of less than a touchdown. Drives of 17 and 11 plays covering a combined 157 yards were both capped by Roberts touchdown runs, as GW’s defense couldn’t come up with a stop when it needed it most.
“Earlier in the game, we hurt ourselves with our mental mistakes,” Roberts said. “We got in the huddle and I just said, ‘We need to keep ourselves together, make a long drive — this is going to be a statement drive for us.’ It was a good team effort.”
Roberts finished with a game-high 187 yards on 18 carries with three touchdowns, part of a Midland rushing attack that rolled up 390 yards. Teammate Jackson Fetty added 123 yards on 13 carries and the other touchdown.
But despite a 390-141 advantage in total yards — Midland did not attempt a pass — the Patriots held on until the bitter end, giving themselves chances to win late.
Midland took a 14-7 lead into the halftime break and, coming out of the half, GW quarterback R.T. Alexander engineered a 16-play, 49-yard drive capped by a 37-yard field goal from Michael Hughes to cut the Knights’ lead to 14-10.
Midland took over at its own 23-yard line on the ensuing drive and converted four third downs in covering 77 yards in 17 plays, with Roberts sprinting in from 15 yards out on a third-and-6 to put the Knights up 21-10 with 9:15 remaining.
Roberts intercepted Alexander on the first play of the next drive, seemingly giving the Knights control for good. But a 15-yard penalty on Midland (the Knights were flagged 12 times for 120 yards) put the next drive in a hole and GW (8-4) bowed up and held. Things got crazier on the ensuing punt attempt, as the snap was fired over the head of Midland’s punter, setting the Patriots up at Midland’s 24-yard line.
One play later, Alexander hit Luke Grimm on an out route and Grimm took care of the rest, galloping through Knights defenders and into the end zone. A 2-point conversion pass from Alexander to Alex Mazelon was completed and suddenly the gap was 21-18 with 7:16 left.
One more time, the Knights offense had to buckle down.
“They did a great job,” Midland coach Luke Salmons. “At halftime I told the kids we’d take over the line of scrimmage and I felt like we did that.
“[GW is] a good team and they did a good job. They’re well-coached and that’s what you expect in round two. You’ve just got to be happy to move on at this point.”
With the Patriots clutching momentum and just a stop away from giving their offense a chance to steal the game, Roberts and company calmly and deliberately traversed 80 yards in 11 plays, with Roberts punching in from 3 yards out with just 1:32 left to complete the scoring.
“The linemen did a great job blocking up front for us to be able to just drive the ball down the field like that,” Roberts said.
The first half was a case of two great plays, two bad ones and a whole bunch of grinding for Cabell Midland in between.
Both negative plays came on fumbles by Jakob Caudill, the first of which came on the Knights’ opening possession and left GW with a short field. The Patriots took advantage, despite two holding penalties, culminating with a tip-drill catch in the back of the end zone for Mazelon on a 19-yard strike from Alexander. That put GW up 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
Midland responded immediately, however, as Fetty took a counter handoff and raced 72 yards to the end zone on the third play of the ensuing drive to tie things up at 7.
Caudill fumbled again on the opening possession of the second quarter, but after Midland held the Patriots to a three-and-out, Roberts struck for the first of three times with a 62-yard touchdown jaunt.
GW drove deep into Midland territory on the next possession, but Alexander was picked off in the end zone inside the final 10 seconds and the teams went to the break with the Knights leading 14-7.
For the most part, the Patriots’ defense was solid in the opening half. Outside of the long touchdown runs for Fetty and Roberts, Midland was held to 92 yards on 27 carries in the first half, an average of just over 3.4 yards per carry.
But over the long haul, the Knights slowly had their way with the Patriots. In the end, when GW had to have it, there wasn’t enough in the tank to come up with one more stop.
“We gave them all they wanted, we just came up a little bit short,” Edwards said. “It’s a fabulous season, it’s a season to remember. These guys have left a really good legacy and they’ll be talked about for years. They’ve re-established our program.”
Alexander completed 11 of 29 passes for 141 yards and with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Patriots managed just 20 yards on 23 carries, with Mazelon leading the charge among pass catchers with three receptions for 71 yards.