CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Washington knows exactly what it's getting when it lines up against crosstown rival Capital tonight in one of the top MSAC games of the year.
The Cougars, on the other hand, aren't quite sure what they'll be seeing when the Patriots have the ball.
It's more strategy by design than deception, however, when No. 3 Capital (8-1) and No. 5 GW (8-1) tangle at 7:30 at Steve Edwards Sr. Field in South Hills. Each team has already locked up a first-round home game in the playoffs, but tonight's winner will most likely get dibs on a potential quarterfinal home date as well.
Capital's game plan is somewhat easy to gauge, since it's the same one that enabled the Cougars to ring up a 35-13 victory over GW last year.
That's sending gamebreaking backs like Kashuan Haley and James Richmond around the edges and occasionally flashing someone like freshman Silas Nazario up the middle of the defense or having quarterback Tyrhee Pratt stretch the field with deep passes.
A year ago, both Haley and Richmond ran for 129 yards in Capital's win against GW, with Richmond scoring two touchdowns and Haley one. Pratt also threw for a TD.
"We don't do very much on offense, anyway,'' said Capital coach Jon Carpenter. "There's not a whole lot of blocking schemes, and obviously we're going to try to do the same thing, try to get these guys greased up a little bit.
"Obviously, we're going to have to throw the ball a little bit better than last year [Pratt was 5 of 14 for 86 yards]. We're just going to have to do what we've been doing the last couple of weeks and hopefully, that will work.''
GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. said even if his team knows what's coming, that doesn't make it any easier to stop.
"Right now, they pose big problems not only for us, but everybody,'' Edwards said. "They've got Richmond, Haley, Nazario, Pratt, Pratt's brother [Cliff] at receiver - Jiminy Christmas!
"You look up front on defense how good they play - they're really a quality ballclub. They're tough to prepare for because they have so many good, quality athletes. They put matchup problems all over the place. It's what they do week in and week out. It's a heck of a challenge for our kids; it's a heck of a challenge for our coaches.''
Capital's challenge, meanwhile, will be figuring out GW's exact plan of attack.
For the first time in a month, the Patriots should have all their weapons on hand, including senior running back Draven Riffe. Through six games, Riffe was the second-leading rusher in the state with 1, 379 yards and 18 TDs. But he's missed the last three weeks with a nagging ankle injury, allowing fellow senior Jacob Jackson to flourish.
In Riffe's absence, Jackson left a receiving spot and took over the workhorse duties, piling up 958 yards and 11 TDs on 102 carries, putting him just behind Riffe in the Mountain State Athletic Conference rushing leaders with a season total of 1,219 yards.
Their running styles are somewhat different - Jackson with a bit more wiggle to bounce plays outside and Riffe with powerful blasts between the tackles. With both backs available tonight, Edwards isn't tipping his hand as to how they'll be used - by alternating series or riding the hot hand, etc.
"No, we haven't decided, really,'' Edwards said Wednesday. "They're both going to play. With them both being healthy and playing, it makes us a better ballclub. That's the way we're looking at it.
"We'll just go into it like we always go - see how things are going and game planning to the point of whatever and whoever it falls [upon]. I don't think there's a certain number of carries or who's doing what. Whoever's carrying it, we've got a good, quality running back behind a good, quality line.''
Edwards did say that when Jackson lines up at his old receiving spot, it should make GW more dangerous.
"It takes some pressure off [Austin] Giacomo at the receiving spot,'' Edwards said, "because when Jackson's at receiver, now we've got two quality receivers and a quality tailback. It helps us all the way around.
"You never really know until game time. Both [Riffe and Jackson] run well and both are good teammates. Whatever happens with them makes us better offensively.''
Capital's Carpenter also lauded Jackson for his selfless role in GW's attack.
"It says a lot for that kid to move over and let the other kid come back in,'' Carpenter said. "That's unselfish of him.
"We don't know who's going to play [but] it doesn't matter which one you face - both are great backs. You get behind that big line and it doesn't matter. You've got to tackle them the same.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.