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High stakes for Black Eagles

By | Gazette-Mail High School Huddle
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Chris Dorst
South Charleston quarterback Kentre Grier looks to pass during Friday night's game at Riverside.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fresh off a victory that locked up its first playoff spot since 2010, this is what it comes down to for South Charleston.

Win on Friday at No. 1 Huntington and probably secure a spot in the top eight of the playoff ratings and get a home game in the first round at its brand-spanking-new on-campus football facility.

Or lose to the unbeaten Highlanders (8-0) and hit the road for the opening round of the postseason.

"Huntington is a measuring stick to see where we stand,'' said SC coach Donnie Mays following Friday's tougher-than-expected 48-19 victory at Riverside.

"They're the No. 1 team in the state. We're going to go in there just like it's a playoff game for us. That's our goal, to go in there - a faceless opponent again - and worry about what we do. But at the same time, there's a little bit higher stakes this week.''

The last time the programs met was 2010, a 44-7 SC victory.

The Black Eagles began last weekend 11th in the playoff listings, but in the next set of ratings will vault past No. 8 Oak Hill, which fell to Bluefield 51-15.

SC can also pick up ground simply because other teams ahead of it are due to play before the regular season ends - No. 7 University and No. 9 Morgantown tangle this week, and No. 4 Capital meets No. 5 George Washington on Nov. 8.

Of course, a win over Huntington would be worth oodles of bonus points for whoever can pull it off.

"We'll approach it like we approach every week,'' said senior running back A.D. Cunningham. "We go to practice and we practice hard, and we come out and we play hard. We try to knock one more team off.''

Cunningham turned in a career-best rushing performance at Riverside, gaining 222 yards on 19 carries and scoring a pair of touchdowns.

They needed those yards because the passing game was bogged down on the slick surface. Kentre Grier, who had thrown for 200-plus yards in 10 of his previous 13 career starts, managed 182 while completing 8 of 15 attempts, both season lows. But he did throw for three touchdowns.

Senior linebacker Jay Richardson also stood out, racking up four quarterback sacks for minus-23 yards, making one other tackle for loss and two for no gain. He also recovered a fumble at the Riverside 27.

Riverside certainly knows a thing or two about tough opponents, having now played seven teams this season currently holding winning records - five of them ranked in the top 12 - and also scrimmaged Huntington in the preseason.

So how does SC stack up among those contenders?

"South Charleston is a good football team,'' said Steven Freeman, Riverside's first-year coach. "It's apparent with their scores that their athletes can keep them in any game.

"But when it comes right down to it - and we've played the best teams, every week we're playing a tough team - I think South Charleston played down tonight. The field was sloppy and it was muddy, and I think that had something to do with it, with how they played. They're so explosive, so they can hang in there with anybody. Our conference is great because any week any team can beat any team.''


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