GW's comeback falls just short
ONA, W.Va. - Trick or treat may still be a couple of weeks away, but surprises were popping up all over Knights Stadium on Friday.
George Washington lined up without Draven Riffe, the second-leading Class AAA rusher in the state, sidelined with an ankle injury. Cabell Midland showed up with its leading rusher, tailback Kasey Thomas, taking snaps the entire game at quarterback.
But the biggest surprise is that the short-handed Patriots shrugged off a 28-point deficit midway through the third quarter and took the Knights to the wire before falling 49-40 in a game of crazy momentum swings.
Midland (6-2) didn't wrap it up for sure until Alex Childers broke off a 52-yard touchdown run with 1:34 left in the game. Just 14 seconds before that, GW had whittled its game-long deficit down to 42-40, but failed on a gadget 2-point conversion play that would have tied it.
"It was a team win,'' said Knights coach Luke Salmons. "We gave up some big plays, but made some key stops when we had to. They're a good team.''
Midland produced three 100-yard rushers in Dontae Hendricks (129 yards, three TDs), Teran Barnitz (112 yards, one TD) and Thomas (100 yards, TD pass), who took over under center for Coy Pettit.
But the Knights, who enjoyed a 14-0 lead just one minute, 49 seconds into the game and stretched it as high as 35-7 in the first half and 42-14 in the second half, wound up hanging on as GW stormed downfield for three straight touchdowns in the latter stages.
"Overall, a win's a win,'' Thomas said, "but we started getting down on ourselves, and it showed.''
George Washington (6-1), ranked No. 2 in AAA, took a while to get its offense cranked up in the absence of Riffe (1,379 yards, 18 TDs), whose rushing pace puts him ahead of former Patriots tailback Ryan Switzer, a two-time Kennedy Award winner.
The Patriots got three touchdowns from Riffe's replacement, senior Jacob Jackson, who ran for 250 yards on 32 carries, with 21 totes coming in the second-half rally. Austin Giacomo also turned in three scores for GW - a 23-yard run off a reverse and TD catches of 31 and 19 yards from Jon Alexander.
Jackson's 6-yard TD run with 1:48 remaining in the game lowered the lead to 42-40 and GW called a timeout to set up a potential tying 2-point play. Alexander pitched the ball to Jackson heading right and Jackson pulled up and floated the ball to Giacomo in the end zone, but Midland's Adam Stratton intercepted the ball to end the threat.
Midland recovered the ensuing onside kick and Childers zipped down the left sideline from his own 48 to the end zone, allowing Knights fans to finally breathe a sigh of relief.
"I don't know if they adjusted or what,'' Salmons said. "That's just how it went. We came out strong, then they came back. It's just a good high school football game.''
GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. wasn't downbeat following the game, as his players nearly made up the 28-point deficit in a stirring comeback despite allowing 410 rushing yards, a pick-six and eight quarterback sacks.
"That's the name of the game,'' Edwards said. "That's why they coach them and why we coach ours. We made a game of it. The kids did a good job.
"We gave up a few early points and made it real tough on ourselves, but I'm really proud of the effort we gave tonight. We did a nice job of hanging in there. We had our chances, but we kept giving them things too many times, too often. They're too good a team to give things to.''
Alexander hit on 6 of 16 passes for 173 yards, including the two TDs to Giacomo. Thomas attempted only one pass, but completed it for a 30-yard touchdown to a wide-open Childers standing in the end zone.
Also for Midland, Justin Leggett intercepted an Alexander pass in the flat and returned it 26 yards for a TD in the first quarter and also blocked a Reed Deer 25-yard field goal try.
The Knights led 35-14 at halftime, fueled by TD bursts of 67 yards by Hendricks and 72 yards by Barnitz and a 64-yard gallop by Thomas to the GW 1-yard line, which set up the game's first score.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.