By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
The official start of the West Virginia High School football playoffs may still be a couple of weeks away, but for a pair of area teams, tonight is the defacto opening round.
When Princeton (4-4) and Woodrow Wilson (3-4) take to Hunicutt Field tonight, it will be a must-win situation for both teams.
“Every game we’ve played, we’ve felt like that,” Woodrow coach John H. Lilly said. “We prepare the same for every game. You just have to take them one at a time.”
It’s been a roller coaster season so far for the Flying Eagles, who have picked up victories over Greenbrier East, Riverside and Parkersburg, but have failed to score a point in three of their four losses (Huntington, Cabell Midland and Capital). That’s not to suggest Woodrow hasn’t put on quality performances.
Sophomore quarterback Brent Osborne has had a solid season, taking over for record-setting Andrew Johnson, who is now at Glenville State. Osborne has thrown for 795 yards and 10 touchdowns, while senior athlete Chase Hancock has picked up more than 400 yards rushing and north of 350 yards receiving.
“Osborne is one of the top three quarterbacks we’ll face this year,” Princeton coach Randy Peek said. “And the Hancock kid, we’ve watched him a lot. He’s all over the field. We’ve told our team to look for No. 15. He’s a playmaker.”
Hancock has evolved this season, after missing part of 2012 with an injury.“
He’s our team leader, our go-to guy,” Lilly said. “He’s lived up to every bit of expectations. He’s one of the most athletic players in the state, and he brings a lot to the table.”
If the Flying Eagles have been on a roller coaster, it’s safe to assume Princeton is at the same carnival.
The Tigers picked up their signature win of the season, knocking off Class AA power Bluefield 32-29, and then took Capital the distance, losing 29-28 in overtime.
The loss, however, sent Princeton into a tailspin. The Tigers lost their next three games, before rebounding against St. Albans (47-14) and Riverside (49-10) in the past two weeks.
“The Bluefield game came down to the last play of the game,” Peek explained. “They had the ball on the 1-foot line, and fumbled the snap. We won when no one gave us a chance. And then with Capital we had a chance to win that game. It was two emotional games for us. It took a lot out of us going to Hurricane and Spring Valley.”
Princeton is led by its duo of Jay Palmer and Tahj Sho-Johnson.
While Sho-Johnson (113 carries, 904 yards and 15 touchdowns) has received most of the attention, it’s the development of Palmer that has Lilly impressed.
“What’s made (Princeton) better is Palmer has gotten much better,” Lilly said. “Last year, we felt like we could really focus on Tahj. I’m really impressed with (Palmer’s) development at quarterback. He runs and throws well. They’re well coached. I’m really impressed with Coach (Peek).”
Woodrow and Princeton will kick-off at 7:30 p.m. in Princeton.
— E-mail: jrollins
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.