BUFFALO — Two weeks ago, Poca played a game of necessity against Cabell Midland. The setting was the same Friday night, only this time instead of playing the role of underdogs, the Dots were the overlords.
Ethan Payne carried 22 times for 208 yards and three touchdowns, including a 95-yard burst early in the fourth quarter, as Class AA contender Poca earned a 42-7 victory over Putnam County rival Buffalo.
The Dots (3-1) entered the game as the No. 16 team in the Class AA playoff ratings, while the Bison (3-1) were tied for eighth in Class A.
Even though these programs had met most every season since 2000, they were joined in the scheduling process only last week in large part due to COVID-19 restrictions that put Putnam County in the gold zone on the risk factor map, meaning they could play only schools from other gold counties.
To avoid a long trip across the state and to simply try and get in another game, they decided to play each other, much like Poca opting to take on Class AAA power Midland two weeks ago in a 62-20 loss. The fourth game played for each team made them eligible to qualify for the playoffs. The Secondary School Activities Commission earlier this week decided on a four-game minimum for the postseason.
“It’s been really weird,’’ Dots coach Seth Ramsey said of 2020 scheduling. “Not so much this game, because we’ve played this for a long time. This is a rivalry game and there are a lot of people on both sides of the bleachers who have played in this game. A lot of them have good memories of this game. The biggest thing is getting in the rhythm of playing and getting a game, which hopefully going forward is something we can fix our schedule out.’’
Poca led 21-0 at halftime, but one of those touchdowns came on a second-quarter gift. Buffalo couldn’t make the connection on an attempted hand-off from its own 20 and the ball fell to the ground, from where Dots linebacker A.J. Dunbar scooped it up and ran 11 yards for a score.
The Dots certainly dominated the line of scrimmage, outgaining Buffalo on the ground 218-29, but botched plays continued to hurt the Bison in the second half, too.
They put together a 16-play drive to the Poca 5 in the fourth quarter only to throw an interception at the 1. On their next series, they reached the Dots 34 but a bad snap sailed over the head of quarterback Jackson England and T.D. May picked up the ball for Poca and returned it 46 yards to the Buffalo 7. Payne scored two plays later and it was 42-0.
“We knew coming in we had a dogfight,’’ Ramsey said, “and we knew we had to stay with it and grind it out. That’s a good Class A football team. We’ve got to keep playing and get better.
“We did a lot of things wrong, but a lot of that was because of what they were doing. We did a lot of things right, too, and we’ve got to stay with it and do the little things better and get things going to where we need to be. I think we’re heading in that direction.’’
It certainly helped to have Payne running the ball. Last year’s Kennedy Award winner as the top player in West Virginia, Payne scored on runs of 2, 95 and 2 yards. His long burst made it 35-0 and prompted a running clock for the final 10:09 of the game.
“It felt good. I think that was the first long one of the year,’’ Payne said. “The O-line did a good job on that play, and I got space to run.’’
Quarterback Jay Cook was also able to probe the Buffalo secondary on some deep passes, especially to junior wideout Toby Payne, who caught three passes for 72 yards, including touchdown receptions of 34 and 27 yards. On the former, he fought back through a defensive back at the goal line to snag an underthrown ball for the score.
Buffalo, which was held to one first down and 11 net yards in the first half, had a couple of promising drives in the second half, but didn’t reach the end zone until Chase Lovejoy returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown with 2:01 left in the game.
England completed 9 of 14 passes for 76 yards for the Bison, four of them to Austin Kile for 51 yards. Buffalo managed only 29 yards on 32 rushing plays.
“I’m proud of the way we played,’’ said Bison coach Brian Batman. “I think my kids answered the bell for four quarter and that’s a very physical football team, one of the best teams in double-A, so I’m proud of the way we played.
“I’m very disappointed in the loss. To me, there’s no such thing as a good loss. The kids are disappointed they didn’t play a little bit better. We’ve got to cut out some mistakes. I think this is a great game to find those mistakes and fix those mistakes and get ready for the playoffs, assuming we make it.’’