By Cam Huffman
If it weren’t for one key fumble, Nicholas County and Greenbrier West might still be battling it out on the turf at Nicholas County Memorial Stadium.
Corey Cox’s 3-yard touchdown run with 3:35 left in the third quarter — which followed a Logan Brown recovery of a Wil Mayes fumble deep in Grizzly territory — accounted for the only score of a classic defensive battle Friday night as Class A power Greenbrier West (1-0) started off the season by stealing a 6-0 win in enemy territory.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we’re not going to give it back,” said Greenbrier West head coach Lewis McClung, whose team lost to eventual state champion Wahama in the second round of the playoffs last year. “That’s as well as I’ve seen of ours play defense in a long time. We kind of thought after our first couple of scrimmages that our defense may have to carry us until our offense comes along.
“We took advantage of one of their turnovers. I’m not sure if we would have scored if not for that. It could have been 0-0.”
Offense was at a premium for both teams. Nicholas County — which features a talented and experienced offense and won a playoff game for the first time in school history in 2012 — was stuck in neutral on the muggy evening and ended the night with just 10 rushing yards. That stat was skewed heavily by the 10 sacks that Greenbrier West got on Grizzly quarterback Tyler Sagraves, who was running for his life most of the evening.
Through the air, Sagraves, in his third season as a starter, struggled to find his mark early, but he eventually got in a groove and ended the night with 146 passing yards on 13 completions. He did, however, toss a pair of costly interceptions.
The Grizzlies actually had more chances to score than Greenbrier West.
Early in the third quarter, an Andrew Woods interception of a Malik Boatwright pass gave the home team the ball 28 yards from the end zone, but on a fourth-and-4 from the 21-yard line Sagraves took a sack, ending the Grizzly threat.
After Cox’s score — which came after Mayes lined up at quarterback in a wildcat formation but couldn’t handle a high snap, giving the Cavaliers the ball just three yards from the goal line — broke the stalemate, Nicholas County immediately responded by driving 56 yards down to the West 8-yard line, where it faced a third-and-4.
Again, West put heat on the Grizzly quarterback, and again a drive ended when Sagraves went to the turf on a sack.
The final opportunity came inside of three minutes to play in the game when Nicholas County appeared to be in position for a dramatic victory when it drove to the 9-yard line, where it looked at a first-and-goal.
An illegal motion penalty and a pair of sacks had the Grizzlies facing a third-and-goal from the 32, but they picked up a chunk of the yardage on a middle screen and got some help when West was whistled for a pass interference on fourth down.
Sagraves, though, was picked in the end zone by Dustin Yoakum as the home fans moaned in frustration.
One final prayer ended with — what else? — a Greenbrier West sack of Sagraves, and the Cavs were able to take a knee for their first win of the year.
“We had a little adversity and we responded,” said McClung. “That was two quality football teams.”
Nicholas County’s defense was just as impressive as the Cavs, continually giving its offensive mates opportunities to pull out a victory.
The powerful Cavalier ground game was held to just 97 yards, and the passing game was virtually nonexistent. Boatwright, one of the state’s top returning rushers, was held to just 73 yards and 17 carries and only completed one pass.
“We’ve got to get a little better on offense, but Nicholas County is pretty good,” said McClung. “I think they’re definitely a Class AA playoff team and possibly an upper-level playoff team.”
Nicholas County (0-1) will be at Poca for an important Class AA battle on Friday, while Greenbrier West will face another nearby rival on the road when it travels to Richwood.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
GW 0 0 6 0 — 6
NC 0 0 0 0 — 0
GW: Corey Cox 3 run (run failed), 3:35.
RUSHING — GW: Malik Boatwright 17-73, Cox 14-16, Chase McClung 2-5, Jordan Grimmitt 3-7, Dustin Yoakum 1-(-2), Jordan Tincher 1-(-2). Totals 38-97. NC: Wil Mayes 13-35, Tyler Sagraves 19-(-42), Andrew Woods 2-17. Totals 34-10.
PASSING — GW: Malik Boatwright 1-6-22-0-2. NC: Tyler Sagraves 13-26-146-0-2. Wil Mayes 0-1-0-0
RECEIVING — GW: Chase Harless 1-22. NC: Jared Price 4-56, Jacob Hopkins 1-2, Josh Gregory 2-29, Wade Leggett 2-7, Andrew Woods 1-12, Matt Dodrill 1-4, Wil Mayes 2-36.
TURNOVERS — GW: Cody Loudermilk (INT), Logan Brown (FR), Dustin Yoakum (INT). NC: Hunter Coleman (FR), Andrew Woods (INT).