By Cam Huffman
Summers County and Wyoming East come into Week 4 of the high school football season as even as two teams can get.
The Bobcats (3-0) have been in three tight battles under first-year head coach Nate Tanner, but, despite some difficult situations, they’ve found a way to win them all.
In the opener, quarterback T.J. Smith scored on a fourth-quarter touchdown run to down PikeView 18-12. Summers County fans saved a few fingernails in Week 2 as the Bobcats won 28-14 over James Monroe, but last week’s game was the closest of them all, as Isaiah Brown found the end zone from 20 yards out with 1:30 left to play to lift his team to a 27-20 win on the road at Grafton.
“These kids have been through a lot the past three or four years, and when we put them in competitive situations, they just find a way to win,” said Tanner. “I think it’s sort of a blessing, because it’s important to be battle tested.”
The Bobcats’ 3-0 start was enough for a No. 4 ranking when the WVSSAC Class AA rankings were released this week.
Wyoming East (3-0) has had a little easier path to perfection, besides a thrilling opener that included a stop on a 2-point conversion on the road to lift the Warriors to a 27-26 win over Mingo Central.
The rivalry game with county foe Westside in Week 2 wasn’t close, with the Warriors winning 35-6 at home, and last week they cruised past Sherman for a 46-6 victory.
That résumé put Wyoming East in the Class AA rankings at No.4 — in a tie with Summers County.
Something will have to give tonight when Wyoming East travels to Hinton for a 7:30 p.m., meeting against the Bobcats.
“It’s a huge game for us and a huge game for them,” said Warrior head coach Gary Poindexter. “It will be a big atmosphere.”
Poindexter believes his team will be prepared, largely because it has already won in a hostile environment with its backs against the wall at Mingo Central.
It also doesn’t hurt that he has Coty Bishop, who has rushed for more than 200 yards and four touchdowns, in his backfield, and Aaron Griffith, who has thrown for 379 yards and seven touchdowns at quarterback, either.
“We play together as a team and really play hard,” said Poindexter. “We have good depth, and we’ve had guys step up in the backfield to replace Jacob Summe (last year’s leading rusher, who has been out with an injury.”
Summers County, though, has some big weapons of its own. Brown is already up to 321 rushing yards this year on 44 carries, and Smith is capable of going the distance on any play.
“They have three or four big weapons,” said Poindexter. “We have to play fundamental defense against their speed. We can’t give up big plays. They’re going to get a few, but we can’t give up too many.”
What Tanner is looking to see from his Summers County team is a complete game. Penalties and mistakes have hurt the Bobcats during the first few weeks, perhaps keeping games closer than they should have been.
“We really haven’t played up to our potential,” said Tanner. “We can’t make those mistakes in a game like this.”
In an effort to relate to his players, Tanner has compared the season to a video game. The Bobcats are now on the second level, and in order to “beat the game” they have to clear this next test.
“Our kids are extremely excited,” he said. “I think they understand the implications. This is what sports are all about.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.