When Alex Daugherty took over as coach at Riverside a little over a year ago, there was one school in his conference that he intended to use as a blueprint for his fledgling program — Cabell Midland.
And now those two teams meet in the opening round of the Class AAA playoffs on Saturday, as Riverside (4-6) visits unbeaten Midland (10-0) for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff in Ona.
The Warriors, making their first trip to the postseason since 2007, come in as the No. 15 seed, while the Knights are seeded second behind three-time defending champion Martinsburg.
“They’re a great football team,’’ Daugherty said of the Knights. “I’ve talked to a lot of people about them, and I told them how we would like to imitate what they’ve done within their program. They’re a hard-nosed, tough football team and they work hard every play — every single play.’’
Midland has known nothing but success since Luke Salmons took over in 2011. The Knights have made the playoffs in all nine of his seasons, reaching the quarterfinals six times over the previous eight seasons, making the semifinals once (2015) and playing in the AAA title game against Martinsburg in 2012.
Midland has posted three 10-0 regular seasons under Salmons and this year marks his third Mountain State Athletic Conference championship, matching the ones captured in 2012 and 2015. The Knights have gone 80-27 since Salmons came in.
“One thing Midland does a great job with,’’ Daugherty said, “is that they play harder than anybody we’ve seen all year. That’s a huge testament to what they do. They believe in their system and they run it well. It’s a huge task for us, and we preach to our kids that we have to be ready. Hopefully, they’ll be up for it.’’
The teams have already met once this season, with Midland taking a 45-8 home victory on Oct. 4. In that game, the Knights ran for 418 yards and held the Warriors to 85 yards on 28 carries. Jakob Caudill led Midland’s ground game with 144 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries.
Caudill is the Knights’ top rusher on the season with 1,434 yards and 12 touchdowns, and elusive quarterback J.J. Roberts is also over the 1,000-yard mark (1,104 yards, 17 TDs). Midland has been able to maintain its ground dominance despite losing three players who were expected to be a big part of the offense.
Isaiah Vaughn, Chandler Schmidt and Jaydyn Johnson all suffered ankle injuries during the first three weeks of the season and haven’t carried since. Making what Midland’s done in their absence more impressive is the fact the Knights seldom pass, relying almost exclusively on the ground game.
Three times this season, Midland did not attempt a single pass in a game. Four other times, there was only one pass thrown. Roberts for the season is 9 of 15 for 227 yards and four TDs.
Riverside also prefers to run behind the likes of tailback Caden Easterling (1,438 yards, 10 TDs), fullback Charlie Pierson (407 yards, five TDs), quarterback Javante Elzy (285 yards, six TDs) and reserve tailback Griffin Key (208 yards, three TDs). Elzy, though, has attempted 70 passes, completing 30 for 620 yards and five TDs.