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Huntington rallies, ousts GW

Chip Ellis
Huntington's Charles Crawford high-steps his way past George Washington defenders for a big gain in the first quarter. Crawford later scored the go-ahead touchdown.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - George Washington seemed to have Huntington right where it wanted Friday night - 66 yards from the end zone and a little more than five minutes left.

The Patriots had bottled up the No. 1 Highlanders most of the night with a collapsing defense, but this time, on this drive, Huntington got it done.

Charles Crawford leaped into the end zone to score on a 9-yard run with 40 seconds left in the game, giving the unbeaten Highlanders a 17-13 victory in the Class AAA quarterfinals at soggy Bob Sang Stadium.

"It worked,'' a smiling Crawford said moments after the game. "It took a lot of courage. My coach depended on me, and I got it done for them. It was a big play.''

The win sends Huntington (12-0) into the semifinals for the first time in the history of the consolidated school, where it will take on No. 5 Wheeling Park next weekend. The date and kickoff time will be decided Sunday.

George Washington (9-3), the No. 8 seed, took a 13-7 lead into the fourth quarter, riding a staunch defense that stacked 10 players into the tackle box near the line of scrimmage in order to slow down Huntington's run-oriented attack.

It worked much of the night, but when the Highlanders took over following a punt at their own 34 with 5:36 left in the game and trailing 13-10, they finally pieced together a drive.

Twelve plays later, Crawford took a toss to the right on third-and-goal from the 9, followed a convoy of blockers to the sideline and dived into the end zone from about the 2 to score the winning touchdown and rescue the state's top-ranked team from elimination.

"We ran it into the boundary,'' said Huntington coach Billy Seals. "Most teams are going to adjust to the field and [look for] the quick pitch to the field, but we ran it to the boundary and Charlie stuck it up in there. It was a great win by our football team. We showed a lot of guts tonight.''

GW appeared to frustrate the Highlanders at several points in the game, holding them to a net of 203 offensive yards. Unfortunately for the Patriots, 50-plus of those yards came in the waning moments as Huntington inexorably marched downfield.

One of the game's biggest plays came when the Highlanders lined up for a first down play at the GW 41 on their winning drive. Crawford took a pitch to the sideline for a 9-yard gain, and a 15-yard penalty was tacked on for a late hit out of bounds, giving the Highlanders a first down at the 17.

GW seemed to recover nicely from that, as Zach Malone tackled Nick Tubbs for a 4-yard loss on second-and-goal from the 5, but what followed was Crawford's winning score.

"They had a lot of good things go well for them, that's all I'm going to say about that,'' said GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. "They did what they had to do when they had to do it. That's what good teams do, and that's how undefeated teams get it done.''

GW also had two touchdowns called back by penalties.

"I really feel bad for my bunch,'' Edwards said. "I'm heartbroken for those guys. They played good enough to win tonight. They just came up a little bit short to a good football team. I feel awful for them, I really do.

"A lot of good things happened for [Huntington] to keep them in the game. It's not so much what we didn't do, but good things happened for them. They took care of business a little longer than we did.''

The Patriots trailed 7-0 after a Crawford 34-yard TD run in the first quarter, but rallied for a 13-7 lead by the third period.

Malone, subbing for starting tailback Draven Riffe, who hadn't completely shaken off the effects of his latest ankle injury, scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter to tie the game 7-all at halftime. Malone finished as GW's top runner with 65 yards on 16 carries. Riffe had 28 yards on 11 attempts.

GW took the third-quarter kickoff and put together a 12-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in a 16-yard Jon Alexander to Austin Giacomo TD pass. The big play on the drive was a 26-yard connection from Alexander to Luther Toney.

The extra point kick failed, but the Patriots had a 13-7 lead with 5:36 left in the third.

Not only did Huntington have just six first downs at that point, but it had thrown two interceptions and didn't have much spark on offense.

Crawford said that on the sideline, the Highlanders refused to accept their fate.

"Our coach, our teammates, we're family,'' he said. "We held each other up. It's all we could do - hold each other up. We came together as one and made it happen.''

A 60-yard punt pinned GW inside its own 15 late in the third quarter and led to a 33-yard Zack Stevens field goal to start the fourth quarter, shaving the deficit to 13-10.

GW could have struck a real blow if it had run off another lengthy drive at that juncture, but its next two possessions resulted in three-and-outs, giving the Highlanders the chance they needed.

"We felt like we needed our defense to make a great stop out there,'' Seals said, "and we knew our offense would come through. They've come through in clutch situations before.

"We gave a couple different formations in the second half that we kind of hurt South Charleston with a couple of weeks ago, and we went back to it again. They zoned in on Nick Tubbs tonight and were going to make Paden [Christian] and Charlie beat them - and you know what? Those kids did it.''

The gamebreaking Tubbs, who entered the game with nearly 1,800 all-purpose yards and 17 TDs, was held in check all night. His first four carries all resulted in lost yardage, and he finished with 10 carries for 6 yards.

Christian led Huntington with 80 yards on 21 attempts and Crawford added 78 yards on nine carries.

Alexander hit on 9 of 15 passes for 106 yards for GW. He also had several nice scrambles in the first half, but ended up taking two sacks in the second half.

After Crawford's late score, GW got only one first down at its own 43 before Huntington's Brandon Morrison picked off an Alexander pass with five seconds to go.

GW nearly took the lead as the first half ended after setting up shop at the Huntington 46 following its second interception of the game.

Alexander ran four times for 29 yards and completed 3 of 3 passes for 23 yards to place the ball at the Highlanders 3 with a first down and 17 seconds left.

However, a motion penalty moved the ball back to the 8 and Alexander's cross-field scramble that resulted in a TD pass to Jackson was negated by a lineman being illegally downfield.

Reed Deer then missed a 30-yard field goal try as the half ended in a 7-all tie.

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

 


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