Last week’s state department of education COVID metrics map update was not kind to the West Virginia high school football teams needing to see improvement in order to play their first round playoff games.
This week, Class AA No. 16 Elkins finds itself in that position after Randolph County was listed in orange on Saturday’s map. If, and at this point that feels like a serious “if”, but if the Tigers get the chance to play in this weekend’s state quarterfinals it will be a confident bunch set for a rematch against Big 10 Conference rival No. 8 Robert C. Byrd.
Elkins got to this stage of the postseason on the strength of a dominant fourth quarter performance in a 42-27 upset win at No. 1 Sissonville — the first playoff win ever for the Tigers. In that game, the Tigers were led by an option running attack with the trio of Rodney Vandevender, Trevor Smith and Dante Ramirez but it was big plays on defense and special teams to force fumbles last in the fourth quarter that kept Sissonville from coming back and propelled the Tigers into the quarterfinals. Ramirez, a senior transfer from Virginia in his first and only season with Elkins, returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown after Sissonville took a 27-26 lead to put the Tigers back ahead for good before the turnovers sealed with victory.
Elkins head coach Evan Hott said the addition of Ramirez to the roster has certainly been a good one for the Tigers.
“The first day he was at practice he was getting on guys like he had been there all four years,” Hott said. “He’s a tremendous competitor and the skill set he brings is phenomenal. Dante’s a great kid and I love him to death.”
The Tigers’ three losses this season all came to playoff teams — RCB, North Marion and Fairmont Senior — but are riding a bit of a positive wave with wins in five of their last six games heading into the state quarterfinals.
“These last couple of weeks we really hit our stride and came together,” Hott, a second-generation Tiger coach, said after the win at Sissonville. “We’ve been playing together as a team.
“[Winning in the playoffs] is special. I took over this position from my father. He had three chances at the playoffs, and to get this win — it’s special for the Hotts for sure.”
This week, Elkins sees a familiar foe in No. 8 RCB. The Eagles opened the season with a resounding 35-12 win at home against the Tigers and are led by a pair of Class AA’s top players in running back Jeremiah King and quarterback Xavier Lopez.
“We know what [King] is,” Hott said. “He’s in a class by himself. He’s a freak of nature.”
So when Elkins makes the trip to Clarksburg this week it won’t be a new experience for the senior-laden Tigers. In fact, Elkins knows quite a bit about going on the road in 2020. Wimer Stadium in Elkins was deemed unsuitable for play prior to this season so the Tigers have played every game on the road, even “home” games like the one against Fairmont Senior played at fellow Randolph County school Tygarts Valley.
“In the Big 10 there is no off week,” Hott said. “It just seems like its a gauntlet every week. I talked about it on the radio the other night, but in my four years [as Elkins head coach] we’re the only team that has scheduled Bridgeport, Byrd, North Marion and [Fairmont] Senior. We play teams like that all the time our boys know what competition is.”
Let’s take a look around the state at the rest of the Class AA quarterfinal matchups:
- No. 10 North Marion (6-3) at No. 2 Bluefield (6-1) – Friday, Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m.: The Huskies picked up a forfeit win last week from Keyser, avoiding a clash with a strong Golden Tornado team, and are faced with another tall task this week against the mighty Beavers. Quarterback Carson Deeb and the Bluefield offense have been among the state’s best this season, but it has been the Beavers’ defense stepping up of late as well with just one touchdown allowed in the last eight quarters — including last week’s 47-6 win against Clay County in which the only points Bluefield allowed came on bad snap returned by the Panthers for a touchdown.
- No. 14 Independence (5-2) at No. 6 Fairmont Senior (8-2) – Friday, Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m.: Indy was another one of the three Class AA schools to advance via forfeit last week. After starting off as one of the hottest teams in the state, the Patriots cooled off and fell back to the pack in Class AA — still, Indy has one of the state’s top running backs in Atticus Goodson. Fairmont Senior opened the postseason with a lopsided win against Braxton County last week at East-West Stadium thanks in large part to another outstanding performance by Polar Bear quarterback Gage Michael.
- No. 13 Herbert Hoover (6-2) at No. 5 Oak Glen (7-1) – Saturday, Nov. 21, 4 p.m.: Hoover went on the road and upset No. 4 Liberty Raleigh at Woodrow Wilson’s Van Meter Stadium but the Huskies have another tough task at hand this week in the Northern Panhandle. Hoover has been helped a lot this season by the addition of Mingo Central transfer Devin Hatfield but will face the challenge of slowing down Oak Glen’s Hunter Patterson — one of the best (and most underrated) players in the state.