History will be made today in Hinton.
For the first time since becoming a school in 1995, the No. 5 Summers County Bobcats (9-1) will host a playoff football game when they welcome No. 12 Ritchie County (7-3) to Garten Stadium at 1:30 p.m.
“It’s been exciting,” Summers County coach Nate Tanner said. “I can tell the school has a little more spirit than usual. We had a fire and a pep rally at a bank in the middle of town (Thursday). It was a really special night.”
It’s been a season full of magic for the Bobcats. After former coach Josh Houchins, who also serves as the school’s principal, chose to step down from the position to focus on the academics of the school and spend time with his family, 24-year-old Tanner was named head coach, after a lengthy battle with the Summers County Board of Education.
Making the playoffs is something the first-year head coach never doubted. He was part of the coaching staff last year that helped lead the Bobcats to a playoff appearance for the first time in over a decade. This year, he’s hoping for more than a one-night appearance.
“I knew we had the ability to have a really good season. I had high expectations,” Tanner said. “I feel like it’s a blessing to be where we are.”
The Bobcats won their first game of the Tanner era, in an 18-12 battle with PikeView. They then went on the road to beat James Monroe 28-14 and then made the 3-hour drive to Grafton, knocking off the Bearcats 27-20.
On Sept. 20, Summers County defeated Wyoming East, a team with which they shared the No. 4 ranking in Class AA, 17-14. They followed it up a week later with a 27-20 win over Class A No. 5 Greenbrier West. Those were the only losses all year for the Warriors and Cavaliers.
“I think after we beat Greenbrier West was when I knew how good this team was,” Tanner said. “I’ve been here for two seasons. They’re just one of those teams that when you play them it’s a knockdown, drag-out fight to the end. You have to be a certain kind of team to beat them. If you don’t work right, they’re going to kill you.”
Perfection wouldn’t be in the cards for the ’Cats, however, as just a week after knocking out Greenbrier West, Summers lost on the road to Covington, Va., 16-23. But instead of letting the loss get in their heads, they came out a week later and defeated Independence 51-0, in a game that featured 28 first-quarter points for the Bobcats — without their offense ever seeing the field.
That win started a four-game winning streak, including a 39-32 win over Meadow Bridge, a 61-8 victory over Mount View and a 30-8 defeat of Richwood.
Much of the success of the Bobcats can be attributed to a core group of seniors, who, after four years of playing together, have found the chemistry necessary to win.
“I’ve preached this to the kids all year. You only go as far as the seniors will take you,” Tanner said. “Something that’s unique about these kids is they started from the bottom. They went 0-10 as freshmen and now they’re 9-1. They’ve been resilient.”
Isaiah Brown has been the offensive spark for the Bobcats this season. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound running back has racked up 972 yards and 15 touchdowns on 115 carries. He’s also caught 19 passes for 240 yards. He’s just one of the many weapons at Tanner’s disposal.
Jaquan Ayers, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound wrecking ball of a fullback, has 454 yards on 80 carries, while all-purpose player T.J. Smith has carried the ball 135 times for 723 yards, is 22-for-51 with 240 yards passing and has 293 yards receiving.
Smith, who started the year at quarterback, was moved midway through the year, giving way to sophomore sensation Matt Ryan as the signal caller. Ryan has gone 28-of-44 for 542 yards while picking up an additional 122 yards on the ground.
While Brown has been the offensive spark, the trio of Brown, Erik Lindsey and Allen Brown have been the catalyst for a stingy Bobcats defense that is only allowing 15.1 points per game. Brown has been in on 64 tackles, while the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Lindsey has 79.5 tackles, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and three interceptions. He’s also scored two touchdowns on defense.
Brown has held up the defensive line. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder has 39.5 tackles and 4.5 sacks on the season.
If the Bobcats are looking to make it to the second round, they’ll need that defense against Ritchie County and its offensive superpower Alex Lipscomb.
Lipscomb, a dual-threat quarterback, has thrown for ,1503 yards and 15 touchdowns, while rushing for 933 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“We’ve seen every one of their games, and what they try to do offensively is tough,” Tanner added. “They spread it out and give him room to run. With them spreading everyone out, we’re going to have to corral around him and tackle.”
Gates will open at 11:30 a.m. this morning with kickoff scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Fans attending the game are encouraged to carpool, with additional parking being made available at the Hinton Senior Citizens Center, where a shuttle bus will be provided. Additional parking will be available at Bass Lake and across from the school entrance for $5.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.
History will be made today in Hinton.
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