No. 1 Midland 'not happy just to be here'
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Cabell Midland's been in the playoff semifinals before. In fact, the Knights have now made it this far four times since 2000.
Only this time, it feels different.
Midland feels like it belongs there, and that could go a long way toward the team's ultimate goal when the Knights (12-0) lock up with Morgantown (10-2) tonight in the Class AAA semis. Kickoff is set for 7:30 in Ona.
The survivor advances to the state championship game at noon on Dec. 1 at Wheeling Island Stadium. The Mohigans last made that trip during a title run in 2005; the Knights, meanwhile, have never played in the state finals.
However, second-year coach Luke Salmons has noticed a difference in his players' attitude this season as his program posted the school's first-ever unbeaten regular season and secured the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
"I don't want to say they expect to be here,'' Salmons said, "but last year, when they made it to the second round, they were happy. So this year, we have a different mindset. They want to keep playing, and they want to win. They're not happy just to be here; they want to win and go to Wheeling.
"They don't talk about getting to the playoffs and going undefeated. Their mindset is they're going to win, and that's important to believe that. They've been pretty even keel since the beginning of the season, and that's the way they've worked as a team. That's why they're here.''
Midland leans on a reliable running game, led by seniors David Gaydosz (1,886 yards, 26 touchdowns) and Lowell Farley (1,471 yards, 19 TDs), the latter the school's all-time rushing leader. Kasey Thomas and Coy Pettit split time at quarterback.
Gaydosz, running behind a dominating line that features 2011 first-team all-stater Josh Baisden, posted back-to-back games of six touchdowns at midseason against Woodrow Wilson and Winfield.
"We've got to contain Gaydosz and Farley and their big plays,'' said Mohigans coach John Bowers. "We can't let them go 75 or 80 yards. We've got to make them snap the ball 12, 15, 16 times.
"Our philosophy is that even a good high school team will make a mistake - holding, jump offside - if they have to play that long. But you can't defend against a big play. We want to line up, tackle them and play again.''
Morgantown also features a ground-heavy attack, led by Shane Commodore, who took over as lead back when Chazzy Thomas went down with an ankle injury toward the end of the regular season.
In two playoff games, Commodore has run 33 times for 396 yards and seven TDs. Quarterback Mark Johnson has been accurate in the postseason, completing 13 of 19 passes for 164 yards and two scores with no interceptions.
"They have different variations of the run game,'' Salmons said, "with the slot, pro and stick-I. They do multiple things at the same time when they want to run off tackle.
"[Johnson] can throw and they've got good receivers, but they're just a good team. If you shut down the run, they can still throw, but they're not going to live and die with that. They want to establish the run game.''
Bowers, however, wonders if his team can sustain drives against a capable defensive front of Midland, which employs a rare two-platoon system at the West Virginia high school level.
"Defensively, their down tackles are as good as anyone we've seen,'' Bowers said. "The defensive ends try to keep you contained and force pressure on you, and the rest of their kids rally to the ball.''