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Indians' turnaround nearly complete

Lawrence Pierce
Running back Trent Stowers (7) has recovered from an ankle injury suffered earlier in the season and has Sissonville on the verge of making the Class AA playoffs.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When last season ended, Sissonville didn't sit around bemoaning its 2-8 record. The Indians got to work on making it better.

Now with one game left in the regular season, everything they worked for is just four quarters away.

If Sissonville beats Braxton County Friday night to conclude the regular season, it's in the Class AA playoffs for the first time since 2007. If not, then it's a 5-5 season and an agonizing miss.

"What better opportunity do we want?'' asked second-year coach Eddie Smolder. "It's easy. It's simple. If we beat Braxton, we're in the playoffs and if we don't, we're not. It's right in front of us.

"Our kids set a goal back in December when we got in the weight room after the season. We set a goal to make it to the playoffs in Year 2. There were a lot of doubters out there. People questioned that, but our kids kept believing and working hard and believing in the system. They did the right things. Now it's all possible, and they can't wait for Friday.''

The Indians (5-4) enter the game as the No. 16 team in the SSAC AA ratings - the final playoff spot - and the Eagles (5-4) are three notches ahead. The winner is definitely in the postseason, and the loser most likely out - though 11 different teams come into the final week at 6-3 or 5-4, meaning a glut of schools could be sitting at 6-4 at the end of it all.

The importance of the game - and the condition of Sissonville's Joe Sawyer Field - prompted the game to be moved to Laidley Field for a 7:30 p.m. Friday kickoff.

"With the weather,'' Smolder said, "we'd have mud from end zone to end zone - not conducive to either team.''

Sissonville hopes that lead running back Trent Stowers keeps his return to form after he battled an ankle injury at midseason. Stowers ran for 259 yards and five touchdowns in last week's 53-24 win over Poca and also caught a TD pass. For the season, he's gained 1,069 yards on the ground and tallied 17 total TDs.

"He hurt his ankle pretty bad against Scott in Week 4,'' Smolder said, "and didn't play the next week against Wayne. He hasn't been 100 percent the last two, three weeks, but we're glad he's healed up. He kept working and continued to be a leader.

"He played in a couple of our losses after [the injury] and never was 100 percent, and when you're big and athletic and play running back and linebacker, having a sprained ankle limits what you can do. He taped it up, sucked it up and gave us what he had even though he wasn't 100 percent. The other kids see that mentality and play harder for him. He's a good inspiration. That's the nature of the beast with football - you're not always going to feel great.''

Quarterback Austin Crawford has given the Indians a decent passing game this season, hitting on 71 of 126 attempts for 967 yards and 11 TDs.

The Eagles also have a go-to player in their QB, Jacob Yanero.

Yanero leads the team in rushing (1,143 yards, 12 TDs) and has thrown for 465 yards and five more scores.

"Obviously, he's a good player,'' Smolder said, "but he's not their only player. You go into your most important game of the year, and there's a lot more to it than that. We've got a game plan we're going to put in place and execute it to the best of our ability.

"It doesn't matter what they do, or what they've got. We've got to do what we can do with what we've got.''

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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