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Quite an opening act

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You'd be hard-pressed to find an opening game anywhere across West Virginia this weekend that measures up to the one in South Hills tonight.

When South Charleston stops in for a visit with next-door neighbor George Washington at 7:30, you can almost gauge the impact on the Richter scale.

  • The teams have developed a pretty nice rivalry, meeting every year since 1999, usually early in the season, with GW leading the series 8-6 over that stretch, having won the last three games.
  • The two have also become major players in Class AAA in recent years, with the Patriots going 55-10 over the last five seasons and the Black Eagles 49-12. And let's not forget, each had made a pair of appearances in the state title game since 2008.
  • Adding a bit more intrigue to tonight's showdown is the fact that the quarterback who suited up for SC in last year's opener against GW - Jon Alexander - will take snaps tonight for the Patriots. He left SC at midseason last year, played a bit at Hargrave Military Academy (Va.), then transferred back to the Kanawha Valley.
  • It should all make for a pretty interesting evening at Steve Edwards Sr. Field.

    "This is definitely an important game,'' said Donnie Mays, SC's first-year coach. "I tell our kids every week, 'This is the most important game you'll ever play, because it's the one that's happening right now.' It just happens to be a rival.

    "I don't think we need to spend a lot of time getting the kids pumped up to play against George Washington because they get after each other. It's a long-standing rivalry and both teams have had some success. I just hope Thursday night we get the better of this one.''

    GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. acknowledged that the Patriots-Eagles rivalry sets the tone for the season, but also realizes there are at least nine more games left.

    "It is just one ballgame,'' Edwards said. "I think all of us try to give the impression to the kids that every game in football is important. We don't have the luxury of basketball and baseball where they play each other twice and have 15, 16 officiated practices.

    "We don't all get in the tournament. You have to earn your way into the tournament. It just puts on a little bit more added pressure. All the coaches put pressure on ourselves. We want to do a good job and do the kids justice so they can go out and give their best effort.''

    The Patriots got an infusion of talent in the offseason as Alexander enrolled and was joined by former Scott all-stater Draven Riffe. Alexander threw for 1,002 yards in five starts at SC last year, and Riffe ran for 1,323 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011. Riffe attended Van last year, but an injury prevented him from playing.

    GW also returns a versatile back in Jacob Jackson, who gained 340 yards rushing with four TDs last year and caught 11 passes for 249 yards and three scores.

    South Charleston also sports a lot of firepower in returnees like quarterback Kentre Grier, running back A.D. Cunningham and receivers Kevin Forrest and Marquel Hampton.

    Grier threw for 1,549 yards and 17 TDs after subbing for Alexander, with his top targets being Forrest (43 catches, 1,054 yards, 10 TDs) and Hampton (40 catches, 602 yards, eight TDs). Cunningham, the team's feature back, suffered a shoulder injury in the fifth game and managed just 241 yards and three TDs. He averaged 7.8 yards per carry and also caught six passes.

    Mays expects so much out of his offense that he bemoans any missed opportunities.

    "Offensively, we've been OK,'' he said of SC's preseason scrimmages. "The thing I liked about our scrimmages is that we were completing passes and making moves in the open field. I don't like the fact that we had two bad snaps and didn't convert three possessions against Cabell Midland. I expect to move the football every possession and get points on the board, whether it's three or six. I'm disappointed we didn't score on all our possessions. It's just me being selfish and wanting to score every time. I think the kids feel the same way.''

    Edwards knows the ball will be in the air a lot tonight when SC has possession, but is also wary of Cunningham.

    "I think they're gonna do what you're gonna let them do,'' Edwards said. "They've got a nice running back who does a great job. You just can't hit him. You have to wrap him up. He's a threat to go all the way any time they screen him or get him in open space or send him out as a receiver.

    "And they've got three deadly targets. I just named four people we have to account for, and we've got to find four guys on the other side of the ball to match them athletically and talent-wise. It's a scary deal. It's a challenge for all of us. It goes back to us needing 11 guys to do the best we can.''

    Neither coach thought any starters would miss the game with injuries.

    GW is encouraging its fans to wear burgundy-colored clothing tonight as part of the school's "Burgandy Blitz'' promotion.

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

     


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