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At this time of year when people give thanks, Poca’s players and coaches are just a little more appreciative than most for their blessings.

After three straight years of bad luck in the postseason, the Dots find themselves with another chance to advance Friday when they host Fairmont Senior in the Class AA playoff semifinals at O.O. White Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

“I think it’s something to be real thankful for,’’ said senior lineman Gabe Keech. “We get the chance to make a run for it and bring something back to the community. It’s a real good chance for us guys to see how far we can make it.’’

Poca’s program, which won a then-state-record three consecutive Class AA titles between 2001-03, has made a resurgence in recent years, going 33-6 over the past four seasons and picking up four playoff berths. However, those postseason ventures brought more angst than satisfaction.

2018: Poca ends an eight-year playoff absence by earning the No. 5 seed and a home game with No. 12 Weir. But standout running back Ethan Payne, who captured the Kennedy Award as the state’s top player the following year, hasn’t fully recovered from a hip avulsion fracture suffered a month earlier and is limited to 30 yards on 11 carries in a 41-14 first-round loss.

2019: The Dots are seeded third, but their playoff run ends in the quarterfinals with a 25-20 home loss to Oak Glen. The game was tied 13-all at halftime as Payne galloped for 150 yards, but a torrential rain then hit and the field turned into a sea of mud for the second half. Payne slogged for just 30 yards on 10 second-half carries.

2020: Probably the cruelest twist of fate: Poca gets the No. 9 seed and a date at Robert C. Byrd in the first round, but Putnam County’s COVID-19 numbers prevent the Dots from playing in the game, and RCB advances. It marks the end of Ethan Payne’s prep career.

So three seasons that appeared hopeful came to early conclusions. But all that misfortune has been flipped on its ear this season as the fifth-seeded Dots have not only won a pair of playoff games to get back to the semifinals for the first time since 2003, but they get to play that contest at home. That came about due to first-round losses by No. 4 seed Lincoln (to Frankfort) and top seed Herbert Hoover (to Fairmont Senior).

Seeing as how the Dots are 7-0 at home this season, it’s a welcome turn of events — at Thanksgiving or any other time.

“We definitely have a lot to be thankful for,’’ said Poca coach Seth Ramsey. “The good Lord’s been good to us. These seniors have really kind of gotten over the hump and gotten into that semifinal.

“We’ve still got a bunch of goals laid out in front of us that we can control and we can reach. We’re thankful to still be playing, and thankful to still be in the tournament. I’m personally really thankful to this senior class for what they’ve meant to the program and meant to me.’’

Even senior running back Malakai Woodard-Jones, a transfer from Winfield and the team’s top rusher, has reason to be grateful for the way things have turned out for the Dots.

The Generals competed in just one playoff game in Woodard-Jones’ three seasons, a 63-34 first-round loss to — you guessed it — Fairmont Senior in 2019. So he also gets a do-over.

“I’m very thankful,’’ Woodard-Jones said. “I’m surrounded by a great team and a great offensive line and a great defense. Great all-around players who help me get better every day.’’

After scaling euphoric heights and hitting discouraging snags the past four years, the Dots are glad to get one more opportunity.

“We’re very thankful for it,’’ said senior Toby Payne, Poca’s All-State defensive player and Ethan’s younger brother. “Last year, we didn’t even get to play our playoff game. So we’re super thankful to get to the third round this year.’’

Rick Ryan covers prep sports. He can be reached at 304-348-5175 or Follow @RickRyanWV on Twitter.

Preps Sports Reporter