Folks may wonder why Poca, which has again ascended to the ranks of the top contenders in Class AA and the Cardinal Conference, would schedule a replacement game against Buffalo, which is, well, still the only Class A team in the entire Kanawha Valley.
Of course, one of the first reasons is availability, with the Putnam County schools separated by just over 17 miles, and in the days of COVID-19 scheduling, accessibility can’t be overstated. But there’s more to it than that.
Their programs are more than familiar with each other, having met 52 times overall, including every season between 2009-2018, with Poca taking six of those 10 meetings. So it’s not that much of a stretch for the Dots and Bison to hook up, which they’ll do again at 7 p.m. Friday in Buffalo.
Poca (2-1) enters the game 16th in the Class AA playoff ratings, while unbeaten Buffalo (3-0) is tied for eighth in Class A.
“It seems like the options get fewer and fewer each week,’’ said Poca coach Seth Ramsey, whose team sat idle for three weeks because of the county’s high COVID-19 numbers before hosting Class AAA power Cabell Midland two weeks ago, which resulted in a 62-20 setback.
“It was just a situation where both of us essentially called all the same people Saturday night trying to find a game, and Brian [Batman, Buffalo’s coach] told me his position was playing Hurricane, Musselman or whoever and for us, it was nobody. I was waiting to hear back from Elkins, but we didn’t hear back from them, so I told him we’d come down there and play. We’re thankful we got a game.’’
Batman was also eager to play anyone, anywhere just to get in a game because he wasn’t sure what the Secondary School Activities Commission would determine as the minimum number of games played to qualify for the playoffs in this strangest of seasons. Late Thursday, the SSAC decided that number was four games.
“The biggest thing for me,’’ Batman said, “is there’s going to be a minimum put in for the playoffs and I don’t know what that minimum is. If I’m eligible to play, I need to get in a game to meet that number, whatever it is. I’d hate to not schedule a game and miss the playoffs because we didn’t play a game when we could have.
“There are probably some people in my position who wouldn’t play this game, but if we want to get in the playoffs and go far, this game will prepare you better than any other game you play all year.’’
Buffalo will try to defend against a Poca attack that features last year’s Kennedy Award winner in senior running back Ethan Payne (571 yards rushing, seven touchdowns) and fourth-year starting quarterback Jay Cook (491 yards passing, five TDs).
“Obviously, you’re not going to stop Ethan,’’ Batman said. “You hope to maybe limit some of those yards he’s used to getting. But he’s going to get his.’’
The Bison have flashed a dominant defense so far this season. In three games, Buffalo’s defense hasn’t allowed a point; the only two scores for opponents both came on pick-sixes by Ravenswood and Tyler Consolidated.
“I think they can beat a lot of teams in our league,’’ Ramsey said.
For Buffalo, Chase Lovejoy is the top rusher (271 yards, two TDs) and Jackson England has also run for two scores and thrown for 374 yards and five TDs. His top target is David Whittington (10 catches, 157 yards, one TD).
Winfield (0-2) at Huntington (1-4): The Generals and Highlanders met five straight years when they were both members of the MSAC (2011-15), with Huntington winning all five games. Winfield is allowing 50.5 points in losses to Fairmont Senior and Poca, and Huntington was averaging just 12.8 points before last week’s 41-12 victory at Woodrow Wilson.
Oak Hill (2-0) at Spring Valley (2-1): It’s a matchup of top-10 AAA programs, with Oak Hill featuring the running back tandem of Omar Lewis (224 yards, one TD) and Te-amu Shelton (215 yards, five TDs) against the Timberwolves’ Cole Diamond (249 yards, two touchdowns) and Brody Brumfield (219 yards, four TDs).
Chapmanville (1-1) at Wayne (1-3): The Pioneers are playing their third game in eight days and hope to get some mileage out of running back Ethan Bowens (278 yards, three touchdowns), who has also returned two kickoffs for scores. The Tigers are coming off a 43-0 home setback to North Marion on Saturday.
Point Pleasant (2-2) at Man (1-1): The Black Knights vaulted themselves into a tie for 12th in the Class AA playoff ratings with last week’s win against Keyser. Point’s Hunter Bush has thrown for 738 yards and six touchdowns, and Hillbillies’ QB Israel Canterbury owns 227 yards passing with a pair of touchdowns.
Lincoln County (2-2) at Clay County (5-1): The Panthers ride the efforts of running back Isaiah Smith (590 yards, five TDs) and quarterback Gabe Bates (330 yards, two TDs). The Panthers counter with record-setting passer Grant Krajeski (1,363 yards, 16 TDs) and running back Elijah Payton (518 yards, three TDs).
Van (2-1) at Sherman (2-2): Two teams looking to shake off the cobwebs. Van, which has played just once since Sept. 11, is led in rushing by Brady Green (365 yards, five TDs) and Byron Stewart (297 yards, three TDs). The Tide, which also sat out last week, relies on running back C.J. Winnell (471 yards, seven TDs).