By Steve Keenan
For The Register-Herald
PATH TO POSTSEASON
At one point, the Greyhounds were No. 2 in the single-A rankings, but they eventually settled into the No. 9 spot following a 28-20 loss to Class AA Summers County to end the regular season.
“We knew going in we should be pretty strong up front,” said 34th-year coach Benny Hopkins. “Several linemen were coming back and we hoped they could carry us, which they did for a while.
“Then, some of the backs got some good experience.”
Several injuries, including those to quarterback Raeshawn Breckenridge and lineman Brad Higginbotham, hampered the progress during the season. “In Class A, when two people get hurt, that’s four spots, because they play both ways,” said Hopkins. Breckenridge returned the lineup a couple of weeks ago, while Higginbotham has been cleared to play but had yet to be involved in contact drills early this week. “You go into these games needing everybody you’ve got.”
In addition to the Summers loss, Valley’s other defeat was a 37-14 road setback to Parkersburg Catholic. The ‘Hounds beat two playoff-bound teams (Clay County in Class AA and Meadow Bridge in Class A).
The Cee Bees came into this season with a good level of confidence following a 9-1 regular season and a playoff appearance in 2011. They initiated 2012 with a 65-0 pasting of Paden City, then got a “huge” 21-7 victory over Bishop Donahue, which was a “measuring stick” to their readiness, according to 18th-year coach Ryan Wilson.
After playing a pair of out-of-state foes, the Cee Bees got into the meat of their Mason Dixon Conference slate and continued to win. “The kids kept getting better.” A 42-15 win over Notre Dame on Oct. 26 hiked the record to 9-0, then the only blemish occurred with a 40-2 defeat at the hands of No. 5 Madonna last week. “We didn’t play great football, but a lot of that had to do with Madonna,” said Wilson. “I’ll take 9-1 any time.”
WHAT’S ON THE LINE
Lining up against Valley, Clay-Battelle continues a strong recent playoff tradition that has yielded at least one postseason game in seven of the last nine years.
The Cee Bees claimed the “first and only” playoff victory in 2006, when they defeated Tug Valley 28-8 in the opening round before falling to Mount Hope 29-12 in the quarterfinals.
If they can get by the Greyhounds, they will face either No. 1 Tucker County or No. 16 Moorefield in the second round. Moorefield defeated Clay-Battelle 42-13 in the 2011 first round.
“(Seven appearances in nine years) says something about our program,” said Wilson. “It’s a special time. You’re participating in the state playoff atmosphere; this is for the hard work you did. There are just 16 teams in single-A still playing.”
Like their foe, the Greyhounds have just one career playoff triumph, but that happened more recently — 2011’s 22-6 first-round decision over Meadow Bridge. Hopkins would like to see continued postseason improvement.
The team has done what is necessary to get better and put itself in a good position heading into the postseason, feels Hopkins, whose squad features many players who were contributors to the 2011 squad that posted the victory over Meadow Bridge before losing to perennial power Williamstown 45-8 in the second round.
“We were expecting a good year,” Hopkins said of 2012. “We didn’t know how many games we were going to win.
“After we lost to Williamstown last year, we told the players they needed to do the right things (to improve), and they’ve done it. This crew of seniors had three of four years making the playoffs. You always want to get better.
“It was a good year.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tristan Haught, QB — The 6-foot-2, 170 pound junior runs the show for the Cee Bees. “A lot of it goes off how he does,” said Wilson. “He has a good arm and we have good receivers.” Haught has completed 61 of 114 passes for 1,221 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Statton Shriver, LB — The three-year starter, spearheads the defense. “He’s one of our emotional leaders. He needs to have a good game for us.”
KEYS TO THE GAME
“We have to tackle well on defense, and we need to neutralize the trenches,” Wilson stressed. “We play pretty good pass defense; our kids get to the ball. We’ve gotta get some three-and-outs. Madonna was able to put some drives together.
“Offensively, we just have to execute” and cut down on penalties and turnovers.
Like most coaches, Hopkins says a mistake-free outing is one of the main keys.
“We can’t have a bunch of turnovers,” he said. “If you lay the ball on the rug, you’re not going to beat teams (in the playoffs).”
“And, defensively we have to do a better job of tackling and covering in the secondary.”
Play in the trenches, however, will be the main focus for the Greyhounds. “We’ve always said our strength should be up front,” Hopkins noted. “If they come through, we’ll be all right.”
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Wilson and the Blacksville community (about 20 miles west of Morgantown) are excited about this weekend’s playoff opener. The coach admits he doesn’t know a lot about Valley. “We’re just excited and looking forward to it,” he said. “We’ve never played Valley-Fayette, and we don’t know much about (the Greyhounds). It’s two small schools who just want to play some football. It’s going to be an exciting week for the boys.”
Hopkins is happy to be facing the Cee Bees Saturday, and he knows his players are, too.
“Oh, yeah, I’m excited,” he said. “That (getting to the playoffs) is what you play your first 10 games for.”
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