The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 15, 2013

Cavaliers hoping to build reputation across state

Before the season started, Greenbrier West head coach Lewis McClung was straightforward about his team’s goals.

The Cavaliers have established themselves as a powerhouse in the southern part of the state. But McClung wants the program to have that kind of reputation on a state level. What better way to make that happen than to finish the regular season as one of the top two teams in the state ratings?

Early, it looked like the Cavs were on their way to doing just that. They were the co-No. 1 team in the first Class A ratings of the year after outscoring opponents 107-7 in their first three games.

A win over a weak Buffalo team the following week did nothing to help West’s case, however. In fact, the Cavs tumbled four spots to fifth in the ratings.

A week later, a loss to Class AA No. 3 Summers County sent West down on an eight-spot free fall, all the way to 13th. In one week, West went from one of the top-rated teams in the state to barely in the running for a playoff spot.

In hindsight, it could have been a detrimental time. Instead, the Cavs persevered and went about business as usual. They won their last six games to get back into the top eight — completing another nine-win season — and will be at home tonight to open the playoffs against Notre Dame. Kickoff from Charmco will be 7:30 p.m.

No. 7 West isn’t one of the top two, so tonight’s game, win or lose, will likely be the team’s last at home this season. But that doesn’t put a damper on things in McClung’s eyes.

“I wouldn’t say it’s disappointing,” said McClung, now in his 12th season as West’s coach. “We dropped one there at Summers County, but our kids handled it well. How well you fight back says a lot about your team.”

As usual, the Cavs’ play on the field said plenty.

A mix of its patented offense and a relentless defense has West at 9-1. The Cavs are averaging 363.2 yards of offense and are holding opponents to 186.4, and have outscored teams by an average of 39.4-10.3.

The defense has been ridiculous at times. West has 36 quarterback sacks and 94 tackles for loss, and has forced 28 turnovers (19 fumbles, nine interceptions).

End Marquis Frazier has 18 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and five fumble recoveries. Mike Goddard has three of the nine interceptions, and Logan Brown has eight sacks and 21 tackles for loss.

“Defensively, we have played as well as we have since I have been here,” McClung said.

Meanwhile, senior quarterback Malik Boatwright has led an offense that averages 310.1 rush yards per game. Boatwright has posted another 1,000-yard season, rushing for 1,096 yards and 14 touchdowns.

He actually has seen his number of carries drop. Senior Corey Cox has only 10 fewer touches than Boatwright, rushing 132 times for 759 yards and 16 touchdowns.

“That is a testament to being able to develop other guys,” McClung said. “Malik isn’t a big kid and we didn’t want to saddle him with having to carry the ball 25 or 30 times. Corey has done a good job, and we also wanted to establish our fullback and tailback. That has paid dividends.”

Dustin Yoakum has emerged as a nice target for Boatwright in the passing game. The junior has 18 receptions for 248 yards and four of Boatwright’s seven touchdown passes.

Boatwright has completed 43 of 68 passes for 521 yards and has been intercepted five times.

One thing that has slowed West down has been turnovers. The Cavs have given the ball away 24 times this season. In the team’s recent history, the turnovers have proven costly in big games. They had three in the third quarter alone in the 27-20 loss at Summers County this season.

Turnovers have cost West dearly in its last two playoff losses.

“We tend to shoot ourselves in the foot with turnovers and stupid penalties,” said McClung, whose teams have missed the playoffs just three times since he took over 12 years ago. “The last four losses we had were directly related to us turning the ball over. But we don’t want to harp on it too much.”

No. 10 Notre Dame (7-3) is led by junior running back Santino Cava (5-foot-7, 195 pounds). Cava has run for 1,546 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Senior quarterback T.J. McKinsey has completed 78 of 137 passes for 1,323 yards with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. His favorite target has been junior Spencer Harlow (28 receptions, 426 yards). Wakem Simon (16-306) has five TD catches and also has run for five scores.

The teams last met in 2006, when West blanked the Fighting Irish 30-0 in the state quarterfinals. That was the farthest Notre Dame had advanced since 2000.

Head coach Sam Alvaro is 67-56 during his career at Notre Dame.

— E-mail: gfauber

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