By Rick Ryan
Four weeks ago, George Washington couldn’t connect on a trick-play 2-point conversion that would have capped a miraculous comeback at Cabell Midland.
On Friday night, however, the Patriots hit on that same play to salvage a thrilling 21-14 overtime victory against Oak Hill in the opening round of the Class AAA playoffs at drizzly Steve Edwards Sr. Field in South Hills.
Senior running back Jacob Jackson, subbing for an injured-again Draven Riffe, lofted a 3-yard touchdown toss to Austin Giacomo on fourth-and-goal of the Patriots’ OT possession.
Moments later, GW locked up the win when Adam Huffman and Zach Malone combined to take down scrambling Oak Hill quarterback Deonte Scruggs 5 yards short of a first down on fourth-and-10 from the Patriots 20.
“Our kids really fought hard,’’ said GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. “I think the weather played havoc on both of us, but I’ve got to credit my kids. They buckled a little bit, but they didn’t break. We’ve been a little susceptible on defense. We gave up some long runs, but we didn’t give up the touchdowns.
“Sometimes when your offense isn’t moving the ball like you’re used to and you’re getting penalties and you’re getting things called back, it’s not only lip service. Sometimes you’ve got to bail a man out and we did tonight. They really did. To get an overtime win, we’re just real happy.’’
The win sends GW into next week’s quarterfinals against the winner of today’s game pitting No. 1 seed Huntington (10-0) against No. 16 Lewis County (7-3).
Oak Hill (8-3), making its second straight appearance in the Class AAA playoffs after several years in AA, made the game more competitive than many fans expected.
The Red Devils got 100-yard rushing efforts from two backs —- Jarrell Green (10 carries, 176 yards) and Kennedy Award candidate Jalen Jones (28 carries, 112 yards, one TD) — and rolled up 331 yards on the ground.
They never trailed by more than the 14-6 deficit they faced at halftime and tied the game at 14 with 2:44 left in regulation when K.K. Goodman scored on a 7-yard run and tacked on the 2-point conversion.
Still, it was failed opportunities in the red zone that ultimately doomed the Devils.
They were stacked up inches shy of the GW end zone on fourth down to start the second quarter, had a field goal blocked on the final play of the first half after driving to the Patriots’ 13 and got down to the GW 3 late in the third quarter before again losing the ball on downs.
In the fourth quarter, they moved as close as the GW 22 before throwing incomplete on fourth-and-10.
“Nobody give us a shot coming in here,’’ said Oak Hill coach Eddie Souk. “Nobody thought we could play with teams from the (Kanawha) Valley. It’s a shame somebody had to lose the game, and unfortunately it was us.
“If we’d have done what we’re supposed to in the red zone — we got down there three times — well, we had our opportunities. We just fell a little bit short. I give it to GW. They stepped up and made plays when they had to.’’
GW certainly acted as if the Red Devils were dangerous enough to break a long gainer at any time.
Twice in the first half, Edwards went on fourth down in his own half of the field, and neither call worked. GW also tried to pooch two kickoffs to keep them away from return men Jones and Green and two Patriots punts were shanked out of bounds after covering 18 and 22 yards.
“They’re pretty dangerous back there,’’ Edwards said, “but sometimes when we pooch it back there, we don’t want to pooch it that short.
“(On the fourth-down calls), we felt like we needed to score some touchdowns because I thought if we could get one more touchdown, well, I thought three could get us there.’’
Two TD runs by Riffe, covering 7 and 27 yards, put GW into its 14-6 advantage at the break. He finished with 145 yards on 19 carries, but wasn’t available in the closing stages after reinjuring the same ankle that caused him to miss three games in the regular season. That came midway into the third quarter when he broke off what looked like a 75-yard run to the Oak Hill 1, but the play was called back by a holding penalty.
That put Jackson, a starting receiver and Riffe’s backup at tailback, squarely into the spotlight as the game wound down.
Patriots quarterback Jon Alexander flashed some impressive scrambling ability and hit two passes to Giacomo to get GW to the Red Devils 22 in the final minute of regulation, but a first-down pass was tipped by Oak Hill’s Antwon Smith and intercepted by linebacker Joey Re at his own 14 to force overtime.
When GW took its OT possession to the Oak Hill 3, it didn’t hesitate to call the same halfback option pass it used on a 2-point conversion at Cabell Midland on Oct. 18. That time, it was intercepted and prevented GW from tying the game in the final minute of a loss. This time, it worked.
On fourth down from the 3, Jackson took a pitchout from Alexander to the right and looked like he’d made a burst to the corner of the end zone. However, he stopped and floated a pass to Giacomo standing all alone in the end zone.
“That was the same play,’’ Jackson said. “We just worked on it a little bit more. I sold the run a little bit more and we got it in the end zone.’’
Souk knew his defense was in a bad spot when Jackson pulled up to throw.
“Our corner was caught in a quandary there when they ran that halfback pass,’’ Souk said. “If I come up, I’m beat. If I stay back, he’s going to run it in. We had prepared for that, but we just thought it wasn’t going to come at that time. They made a good call.’’
Edwards said Riffe’s injury didn’t appear serious and thought he might be able to play next week.
GW’s coaches and players are simply glad there is a next week
“When it comes to the playoffs,’’ Jackson said, “you have to be prepared for every single team. Every single team’s going to give all they’ve got — 100 percent — and just because it’s Oak Hill, we can’t lay down. We came prepared, they came prepared.’’