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Can Bulldogs slow Switzer again?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For much of the last two seasons, Job 1 against George Washington has been as follows: Don't let Switzer hit a home run.

GW senior running back Ryan Switzer has become immortalized for his long-distance touchdown bursts that can demoralize a defense and flip momentum in favor of the Patriots.

It's certainly on the mind of every defense he faces, and should be a prime factor in Friday's Class AAA playoff semifinal game pitting GW against Martinsburg. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. at Martinsburg's Cobourn Field.

Switzer, the reigning Kennedy Award winner as the state's top player, has broken off 14 TD runs of 50 or more yards this season, tallying at least one in eight of the 11 games he's played.

Martinsburg, however, did pretty well keeping Switzer bottled up in last year's AAA championship game in Wheeling, limiting him to 126 yards on 34 carries - his second-lowest output of that season - as the Bulldogs held on to win their second straight title 35-27.

In that contest, Switzer's longest run was 21 yards and his three scoring runs covered 1, 13 and 18 yards. He snapped off only five carries of 10-plus yards after coming into the game with at least one 50-yard touchdown sprint in 10 of 13 outings.

You'd think that Martinsburg will try to employ the same defensive strategies against Switzer for Friday's meeting with GW, but Bulldogs coach Dave Walker pointed out that circumstances have changed a lot since last year.

"We've got a whole new group of players,'' Walker said. "We've only got one returner back on defense, one regular.

"And the only reason he didn't break a long one against us is that he scored a couple times on a short field. If those plays would have come on a long field, he would have gone the distance. All the years I've been coaching, he's the best I've ever had to prepare for or coach against. He's the real deal. All the attention and coverage he gets is well-deserved. He's a great player.''

Switzer isn't overly concerned about going deep against Martinsburg Friday because he said it's not the most important aspect of the game.

"Especially because last year the big one wasn't really needed to keep us in the game,'' Switzer said. "Our offense chipped away at them, and this one ought to be more of the same if they stack the box.''

If the Bulldogs put extra defenders in the tackle box, as many GW opponents have done in recent weeks, Switzer expects the Patriots to again utilize other options - like running back Jacob Jackson on the flank, fullback Trevon Johnson up the middle or any number of capable receivers.

"You've seen our guys run the ball instead of me running on the outside,'' Switzer said. "You'll see a lot of me in the slot and outside this week if they do that.''

In a couple games this season, Switzer has even lined up as a quarterback in the Wildcat formation and taken shotgun snaps. He's 3 of 3 passing this year for 12 yards with two TDs.

Martinsburg will undoubtedly present GW with one of the toughest defenses it's faced all season. The Bulldogs have allowed just one TD in the postseason, beating Woodrow Wilson 39-0 and Musselman 50-7.

"We have played pretty well on defense in those two games,'' Walker said, "but that being said, we were really familiar with Musselman - having played them a couple weeks earlier. Against Woodrow, we played really well. But we've not seen the challenge we're getting ready to see this Friday.''

In 12 games this year, Martinsburg has permitted just six rushing TDs and opponents are averaging a mere 81.5 yards per game on the ground and 2.4 per rushing attempt.

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


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