By Cam Huffman
Oak Hill found its way into the WVSSAC football playoffs in 2012, its first year back as a Class AAA member. This year, it’s hoping to do some damage.
The 16th-seed Red Devils lost to No. 1 Cabell Midland 52-20 to open last year’s playoffs, so one of the goals this season was to play a more manageable first-round game, possibly at home.
Oak Hill (8-2) wasn’t able to start the postseason on its own field, but it did finish No. 9 in Class AAA and head coach Eddie Souk is confident his team can compete when it travels to face No. 8 George Washington (8-2) tonight at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re happy with where we are,” said Souk. “I think everybody’s goal across the state is to make the playoffs. We’re happy we’re in and that we’re playing close to home.”
The Red Devils started the season as hot as anybody in the state, winning on the road at Elkins and Musselman the first two weeks to jump-start a 5-0 record. A showdown at Point Pleasant ended in disappointment, as Oak Hill lost for the first time, 49-15, and after a win against Lewis County it lost another marquee game against Class AA power Bluefield, falling 51-15.
For much of that middle stretch, Kennedy Award candidate Jalen Jones was banged up with an ankle injury and wasn’t at 100 percent. He returned to form in the final two regular season games, running over and around Woodrow Wilson and Greenbrier East to build momentum heading into the playoffs.
“The thing about Jalen’s injury is that he wasn’t really able to cut,” said Souk of his star back, who finished the regular season with 1,535 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. “That’s the nature of his game. He makes people miss, and he couldn’t do that.
“We could have set him out, but Jalen said he could be just as valuable as a decoy and wanted to play. We got through it, and I think it helped us build some depth.”
Souk said Jones should be close to 100 percent tonight, and he’ll have some help in the backfield, including Jarrell Green, who has rushed for 737 yards and six touchdowns, and K.K. Goodman, who has 644 yards and 14 touchdowns on 122 carries.
“We have some other kids playing well,” said Souk. “We have five backs that can run the ball, and that’s what you need in triple-A.”
If GW is able to stop the run, Souk has a plan for that as well. He said quarterback Deonte Scruggs and receivers Goodman and Joey Re have been working hard on the passing game.
The challenge won’t be easy. Postseason football is nothing new for the Patriots, who have been to the Class AAA playoffs seven straight years and played in the championship game in 2008 and 2011.
Like the Red Devils, GW bases its offense on its ground game. Draven Riffe is the leading back, rushing for 1,522 yards and 19 touchdowns, despite missing three games with an ankle injury. He returned to the lineup just in time for the end of the regular season. In his absence, Jacob Jackson shined, rushing for 958 yards and 11 scores in just three games. For the season, he’s up to 1,221 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“They’re the same type of team that we are,” said Souk. “They like to run the football. They’re a disciplined team on both sides of the ball, and that’s the mark of a good team.”
Souk said stopping the Patriot running game is obviously the key to success, but it’s not as if they’re not capable of throwing the pigskin when necessary. Jon Alexander, who transferred from South Charleston to GW for his senior season, has completed 45 of 86 passes for 904 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also ran for a pair of touchdowns.
Austin Giacoma is the top receiver, catching 17 passes for 422 yards and seven touchdowns, while Jackson is also part of the passing game. Three of his 10 receptions have ended in the end zone.
The Patriots, who averaged more than 43 points per game, lost only to Cabell Midland and Capital. They played a difficult schedule and should be playoff ready.
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.