Huntington made a name for itself in southern West Virginia with the way it played defense this season. A few hours north, though, University was doing a lot of the same things.
The Hawks bring their brand of denying defense to Laidley Field today to face No. 3 Capital (10-1) in the Class AAA playoff quarterfinals. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.
University (10-1), the No. 6 seed, earned kudos for shutting down crosstown rival Morgantown in back-to-back games - 14-3 to end the regular season and 9-3 in the first round of the playoffs last week. But the Hawks have pretty much done that all year.
They also held two other AAA playoff teams - Wheeling Park (17 points) and Lewis County (7) to season lows in scoring - and led Logan 42-6 in the fourth quarter before the Wildcats posted a pair of late TDs.
The Hawks allow just 11.2 points per game, second best in AAA behind Huntington (9.1).
"They run to the ball,'' said Capital coach Jon Carpenter. "They don't beat theirself by getting out of position. They just play like their hair's on fire. When you watch them play, it's impressive. All 11 of them are where they're supposed to be, and in a hurry.''
University coach John Kelley said his defensive unit relies on its resiliency.
"We don't have a superstar big tackle like Capital has,'' Kelley said, referring to Cougars senior James Walton, a top candidate for postseason honors. "Our team defense carries us.
"They run to the ball and are really good tacklers. We've been fortunate not to give up big plays. We bend, but we haven't given up big, huge plays. That's part of it. The second part is that they really like to play defense, if that makes sense.''
The Hawks' defense will be tested today by Capital's crew of game-breakers, led by junior running back Kashuan Haley, who has been on a recent tear.
Haley (1,411 yards, 18 touchdowns) has broken off eight scoring runs of at least 31 yards this season and added punt returns of 69 and 64 yards for TDs.
Since Capital's lone loss, 24-10 at Huntington on Oct. 4, Haley has averaged a shade under 160 yards per game on the ground in six starts, tallying 13 of his 18 TDs. That includes four games against playoff teams, with 236 yards and three touchdowns against Cabell Midland and 268 yards and two scores last week versus Hurricane.
"We can't simulate anything those guys do in practice,'' Kelley said, "because we don't have those kinds of athletes.''