With improved run game, Buffalo has designs on home-field advantage
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's been five years since Buffalo last won a game in the state playoffs, not exactly an eternity but certainly too long in the minds of the Bison players.
None of them, after all, have ever experienced a postseason victory.
They know they have a chance to do so this season, but realize it would help to get home-field advantage for at least the first round. Thus, Friday night's 23-21 home victory over Wirt County could do wonders in that respect.
"We've gotten in the last two years, but lost in the first round,'' said senior fullback-defensive back Bubba Legg. "I really want to go farther than that this year.''
Buffalo (5-1) stood 12th in the Class A playoff ratings coming into Friday's game, but losses by three teams ahead of the Bison will enhance their standing and perhaps move them into the top eight - which means home-field preference - when the SSAC releases its updated ratings on Tuesday.
Plenty seems to be going the Bison's way this season, including a key win at Greenbrier West when the Cavaliers were ranked No. 1. That kick-started Buffalo on its current four-game winning streak.
"We've got a lot more speed this year than we've had,'' Legg said. "We're not as quite as big, but we've had quite a few younger players step up. I think we've got a real good season ahead of us. Now we're on a roll.''
Coach Mike Sawyer cites the team's camaraderie as being much improved.
"Team chemistry is big,'' Sawyer said. "We've got some good leaders and they're excited about playing. Sometimes all your kids aren't excited about playing, but we don't have that with this year's kids. They're all excited and look forward to playing and work pretty hard in practice for us. That's a key to playing together.''
Another thing that could work in the Bison's favor is an improved running game, so as to take the pressure off senior quarterback and all-stater Levi Jordan.
Buffalo's top rusher last year, Laythen Good, managed only 419 yards in 11 games and again leads the team with 340 yards through six games. However, the Bison averages a little more than 150 yards as a team and is now getting contributions from Legg and speedy sophomore Jordan Tucker, who has played just two games since returning from a preseason injury.
Legg led Buffalo against Wirt with 81 yards on 10 carries, including a 29-yard touchdown run and a 35-yard burst on a fake punt that set up a third-quarter score.
"We're more of a passing team,'' Legg said, "but once they start shutting down the passing, I think we can try and run the ball and run the clock some. We've got three good running backs this year, and hopefully we can break some school records.''
Jordan, a fourth-year QB who has started the last 31 games, went over the 1,000-yard passing mark for the season in Friday's game and has thrown 14 TDs. But as the weather gets colder, it will be increasingly harder for the Bison to maintain its dependence on Jordan's right arm.
"We went with the running game there at the end [against Wirt] to try and run the clock out,'' Sawyer said. "We had a little bit of trouble up front with them blocking-wise, so we tried to make some changes at halftime and see what we could do different.''
A dependable ground game would make the Bison all that more dangerous, said Wirt County coach Jason Hickman.
"I think they're tough to prepare for because they run the ball well and they throw the ball well,'' Hickman said.
"Usually in single-A football, you don't see very many teams like that. You see a power running team or you see a spread team, but you don't see a team that's versatile. We try to be that way - they are. That Levi Jordan is a good quarterback. They're balanced offensively, so that's a tough prep. And I think that's going to bode well for them as it goes into the playoffs.''
One good thing coming out of the game for Wirt - every team that Buffalo's beaten this season won its next contest.
Parkersburg Catholic beat Pocahontas County, Greenbrier West beat Summers County, and both Gilmer County and Richwood beat Tygarts Valley. Wirt visits Williamstown Friday.
On your honor
A pair of George Washington's players probably picked up support for two of the state's top individual awards with their work in Friday's 42-7 victory over Spring Valley.
Tailback Ryan Switzer ran for 309 yards and five TDs, and linebacker Dustin Crouser helped hold the Timberwolves to a net of 185 total yards.
Switzer won last year's Kennedy Award as the state's best player and Crouser is considered a top candidate for the Huff Award as the top defensive player. One of his main rivals for that honor is Spring Valley linebacker Elijah Wellman.
Perhaps the game's pivotal play came in the second quarter in a scoreless contest when Crouser tackled Wellman for a 6-yard loss on third-and-goal from the GW 3. The Wolves wound up missing a short field goal. Soon after, the floodgates opened for GW.
"I'm proud of our guys because they were on a three-game winning streak and they were a hot team - they're going to be a playoff team," Switzer said. "They've got a great player in Wellman, a Division I player, but we've got a great one too and that's No. 32 [Crouser]."
Many happy returns
Capital sophomore Kashaun Haley is getting to be quite the return specialist.
He now has four long return touchdowns this season following two in Friday's 35-10 home win against Riverside - a 90-yard interception runback and a 92-yard punt return. He also had another 89-yard punt return TD negated by a penalty.
Earlier this season against St. Albans, Haley turned in a pair of 78-yard kickoff returns for scores.
Ryan Pritt contributed to this report. Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.