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GW hangs on in opener

Chip Ellis
GW's Draven Riffe is stopped by SC's Kevin Forrest (left) and an unidentified player as SC's Troy Moss (4) trails the play.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- By halftime, it looked like George Washington had way more than enough to mow down rival South Charleston. As it turned out, the Patriots had just barely enough.

Draven Riffe burst out of the blocks with a 28-carry, 262-yard, three-touchdown performance as GW held on for a 34-27 opening victory in front of a near-capacity crowd Thursday at Steve Edwards Sr. Field in South Hills.

After churning out 356 rushing yards in the first half to grab a 34-14 lead, GW turned the ball over four times in the second half, two of which SC returned for touchdowns to make a potential blowout keenly interesting.

"We did have to hold on,'' said Patriots coach Steve Edwards Jr. "It shows good character on our team. They had plenty of opportunities to lose their composure and fold up camp. Better teams have done that before. But to these kids' credit, they stuck together, they held together, they believed in the process and believed in what was going on and believed in each other.''

The Black Eagles shaved their deficit back to one TD on a 25-yard fumble return by Kevin Forrest in the third quarter and a 92-yard interception runback by Marquel Hampton on the first play of the fourth quarter.

They got two offensive possessions after that - the first ending in a three-and-out from their 25 and the second picking up two first downs and reaching the GW 27.

On fourth-and-2 from the 27 with 28 seconds remaining, quarterback Kentre Grier dropped to throw but found no receivers open and darted up the middle. GW linemea Jack Skidmore stopped his progress until defensive help arrived and Grier was held to no gain.

GW, which won its fourth straight in this season-opening rivalry, finished with 525 yards on the ground and produced three 100-yard backs - Riffe, Jacob Jackson (nine carries, 131 yards, two TDs) and fullback Mason Blake (13 carries, 115 yards).

All three snapped off several tackle-breaking runs in the first half, with GW getting carries of 62, 40, 30, 69 and 43 yards. The first 20 plays the Patriots ran were rushing plays.

Riffe, a senior in his first season with the Patriots after playing two years ago at Scott, did most of his damage in the first half with 13 totes for 191 yards and three scores. He also intercepted a pair of passes while playing in GW's secondary.

"It was easy for the backs,'' Riffe said, "in the sense of our line. Our line is the key to that. It was all of them. Our big guys were our key. They're the reason we won tonight.''

It looked like GW was going to do the same pound-on-the-ground routine in the second half, taking the kickoff and moving 61 yards to the SC 19, buoyed by a 22-yard gain by Riffe. But a Jon Alexander fourth-down pass fell incomplete and the Black Eagles got second life.

Even though their offense didn't score any more points, their defense changed the complexion of the game, getting some stops and forcing four second-half turnovers on GW's first six possessions, turning two into TDs.

"We challenged them at halftime and they responded,'' said Donnie Mays, the Black Eagles' first-year coach. "Like I told them, we're not into moral victories. We're too good of a program to buy into that. I appreciate the effort the kids gave. They had a lot of fun in the second half.

"We got too excited at the beginning of this game, and we let our emotions kind of carry into it, and we made a lot of terrible mistakes. We had some things in the passing game we worked on - our kids were running wrong routes, just a lot of confusion. It didn't help the fact that [GW's players] knew what we do offensively by our actual numbers that we call, when we call our plays in the no-huddle.''

Grier finished 14 of 32 for 201 yards, including a 7-yard scoring toss to running back A.D. Cunningham and also hit the end zone himself on a 3-yard run. Forrest caught five passes for 93 yards.

Alexander, a two-time 1,000-yard passer at SC who started the first five games for the Black Eagles last year, was hardly a factor, going 1 of 3 passing for 7 yards with one interception and running six times for minus-2 yards with a lost fumble. Riffe and Zach Malone each also lost a fumble for the Patriots in the second half.

"We had some trouble holding onto the football,'' Edwards said. "Sometimes you try to outsmart yourself, but those things happen.

"We really hustled tonight. The line on both sides of the ball did a fantastic job. We held their running game in check and I thought we forced them into the passing game. When you can hit big plays like they do, sometimes you have to be focused because it can be scary. They were perfect a few times.''

GW's ground game was practically perfect itself in the first half, with Riffe scoring on runs of 62, 1 and 1 yard and Jackson on carries of 69 and 19 yards.

"In the first half, they were more physical than we were,'' Mays said. "We weren't physical and we didn't want to wrap up. We challenged them at halftime and made changes with some personnel, and we got simpler offensively and defensively. I think we played a better half, even though we didn't put any points on the board in the second half. We had a couple turnovers and little mistakes.''

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

 


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