It’s been a long wait for Independence’s highly touted football team, sitting out the Covid restrictions that have kept it from playing since the opener at Liberty Aug. 27.
Maybe too long.
“It’s been awkward,” coach John H. Lilly said. “I think (the team) has handled it well. But we haven’t seen each other in literally two weeks. We had to have an orientation to introduce everybody."
Obviously, he was speaking in jest. Sort of.
Still, he couldn’t resist going just a little further.
“We found a new guy. No. 3. Goodson. I think we will be OK.”
No. 3 is Atticus Goodson, the Patriots' Kennedy Award running back who had 160 yards and three touchdowns (as well as a PAT and 2-point conversion) in the Patriots' 47-0 win against Liberty in that opener.
The Patriots return hosting Raleigh County rival Shady Spring Friday at 7 p.m.
With the layoff, Independence missed a huge game, and a huge opportunity, when its game with Poca was postponed. It was a meeting between two of the top teams in Class AA, an opportunity at making an early-season statement by one of the teams.
Lilly said there is willingness on both sides to make up the game, but nothing has been worked out yet. Independence is tied for No. 8 (ironically with Poca) in the initial West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission playoff ratings.
So that makes a classic rival, Shady Spring, up next for the Patriots.
Goodson has seen the extremes against the Tigers.
In 2019, the Tigers held Goodson to a career-low 35 yards rushing in Shady Spring’s 34-0 win at Independence. It was the only game of his 19 career varsity games in which he did not score at least one touchdown. In fact, Goodson only had one other game in which he did not rush for over 100, and that was against Nicholas County when he scored on a 74-yard run but was then injured and did not play after that.
Last year, Goodson ran for career-highs when he rushed for 311 yards and six touchdowns in the Patriots' 54-8 victory at Shady Spring.
Obviously, that stat is matter of personnel. It’s still ironic.
“Yes it is, but we had a really good team (in 2019),” Shady coach Vince Culicerto said of a team that had one of the state’s top statistical defenses in the state in 2019. “Last year, we weren’t as good, and we had a lot of injuries that set us back. The tables kind of turned.”
“Two different teams,” Lilly said. “We had a lot of young players (in 2019) and last year they were young and hurt by the injury bug. It flipped between the two years, which happens.”
Lilly said his team is going to be different.
“I think Atticus understands that this is not a one-man team and we do have other weapons and he has totally bought in to what we are doing,” Lilly said. “We have to make sure we get the ball into the hands of our other weapons when people stack the box against us.”
In the opener at Liberty, junior Judah Price had a big game, with 150 yards and two touchdowns on six carries.
The good news is quarterback Logan Phalin will play against Shady Spring. He suffered an arm injury early against Liberty which forced receiver Trey Bowers to move to quarterback. He was 1-for-2 for 45 yards, that completion to Bowers. The Patriots really didn’t need to pass and attempted just five for 73 yards.
Culicerto knows he is going to have to try to figure out a way to slow Goodson.
“When you game plan you obviously game plan to try to stop everybody, but you have to pick the No. 1 thing (the opponent does well) and he is their top option," Culicerto said. "You have to slow him best you can. If he gets going then that is going to open everything else up. We will see."
The Tigers have been able to practice but last week’s homecoming game against Summers was scratched because of an outbreak at Summers. That game will be rescheduled for later in the year.
Shady Spring (1-1) enters with a veteran quarterback in Cam Manns, who, among other things, has thrown for two touchdowns in each of Shady Spring’s first two games. He also has a rushing touchdown.
Against Nicholas County, Manns had a school-record 99-yard touchdown pass to Jake Showalter in a 38-14 loss to Class AA No. 3 Nicholas County.
Manns has completed 14 of 36 passes for 266 yards and has a rushing touchdown.
“They have the capability of the big play, and when you have that you are never out of a game,” Lilly said. “(Manns) is a big guy, and once he gets going, he is a load to bring down. Our defense will have its work cut out for it.”
“It was a matter of taking what (Nicholas County) was giving,” Culicerto said. “Our passing game as been really good for us. We can hit the home run or if teams back up on us we can throw it short.”
He would like to see more production from a run game that had just nine yards on nine tries last Friday.
“We never had the ball,” Culicerto said. “When you don’t get the ball, and when you get behind, you find yourself being a one-dimensional team and that was what hurt us against Nicholas.”
Shady was scheduled to play PikeView next week but that game is off, with Mercer County now in remote learning.
“I was kind of hoping this was all behind us when we started (in July) but obviously it’s not,” Culicerto said. “I was hoping to be done with (rescheduling and trying to find backup plans in case a game falls through after the Summers game was postponed) but here I am, working on it again this week.”
Buckhannon Upshur (1-1) at Greenbrier East (2-1)
The good news for the Spartans is they likely won’t see a back as good as Robert C. Byrd’s Jeremiah King again. King rushed for 331 yards in RCB’s 31-16 victory last week at Spartans Stadium.
Monquelle Davis, the Spartans quarterback, was able to move around in that game and finished with three catches for 20 yards after completing 6 of 17 for 70 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 62 yards.
Ian Cline is the area leader in carries with 83 and he has 320 rushing yards and two touchdowns and three receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
Lincoln County (2-1) at Oak Hill (1-2)
The teams have both played, and lost to, Princeton, Lincoln getting shut out 35-0 in the opener and Oak Hill falling 55-30.
The level-up in competition did not slow Leonard Farrow, the area’s leading rusher and scorer (488 yards and nine TDs), who had 133 yards – his third 100-plus game – and two touchdowns against the Tigers.
Oak Hill is averaging 373.7 yards per game rushing and three players have logged over 100 yards rushing in a game (Omar Lewis and Elijah Jones joining Farrow in that category), but the Red Devils have struggled throwing the ball with three completions in three games for 54 yards.
Meadow Bridge (1-1) at James Monroe (0-1)
James Monroe has only gotten one game in this season. First-year player Eli Allen had a nice game for the Mavs in rushing for 54 yards and throwing for 99. The Class A first-team all-state basketball player also threw his first career touchdown pass to fellow hooper Cam Thomas.
Meadow Bridge needs to find more in its passing game than it did last week in a 33-0 loss to Fayette rival Midland Trail. The Wildcats were limited to just 19 yards through the air, which used to be the norm for Meadow Bridge but off the 161.8 they averaged last fall or even the three touchdown passes they got in Game 1, a 26-14 win against Van.
Webster County (0-2) at Greenbrier West (2-1)
There is little that Ty Nickell hasn’t done this year.
Through three games the former lineman has rushed for 363 yards (second most in the area behind Farrow) and he leads the team in tackles (332) and tackles for a loss (six).
The rushing is a direct result of the play of the offensive line, which despite losses from last season’s playoff team is averaging 206.7 yards rushing.
Cole Vandall has also done a good job replacing Kaiden Pack by throwing for 219 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 136 and two more.
Webster has struggled offensively, rushing for just 204 total yards and the Highlanders have scored just 28 points in going 0-2 to start the season losing to Gilmer (54-14 and Tygarts Valley 43-14).
Summers County (1-1) at Mount View (1-1)
Summers had a Covid-involved postponement last week when it was supposed to face Shady Spring.
Now back at it, the Bobcats will take first-year coach Josh Evans' version of the Wing-T to Welch. It’s been successful, with 599 yards on the ground, but turnovers in the red zone killed Bobcats drives in a 20-8 loss to Greenbrier West two weeks ago.
Andre Merriam-Hershaw has 289 yards and three scores, fifth in the area, and Duke Dodson 174 yards.
Summers and Oak Hill are the only teams in the area with three players with 100 yards rushing in a game (Kalob Black is the other Bobcat). Not surprising, Evans brought the Wing-T from Oak Hill where the Red Devils run it and Evans played in the offense at Fayetteville for legendary coach Frank Spangler and Dave Moneypenny, now the coach at Oak Hill.
Justin Haggerty has 147 yards rushing and a touchdown and has three receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown and TJ Bell has 113 rushing yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Ryan Long has completed 16 of 34 passing for 283 yards and four touchdowns.
Mount View split its first two games, beating River View 40-0 and falling to Tazewell, Va., 22-18.
Wyoming East (1-1) at Herbert Hoover (3-0)
The Warriors, No. 17 in the initial Class AA poll, have a chance to make a statement against Class AA No.4 Herbert Hoover.
Chandler Johnson has been big for the Warriors, the converted receiver leading the way at running back with 224 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Jackson Danielson has 196 yards passing and a touchdown.
The Warriors were off last week when Nicholas couldn’t play due to Covid considerations.
That game will be made up Sept. 24.
Woodrow Wilson’s game at Bluefield was postponed due to the Mercer County Board of Education putting its schools in remote learning.
Westside's game at PikeView was also postponed but has been rescheduled for Oct. 4 at PikeView.