CHARCMO – When you look at the list of legitimate title contenders in Class A football in 2023, the Coalfield Conference has two of the best. James Monroe, the 2022 Class A runner-up, currently sits atop the WVSSAC Class A ratings in a tie with 2022 state champion Williamstown. The Mavericks have gotten off to a hot start, going 4-0 while beating the likes of perennial powers Wheeling Central and 2022 Virginia Class 1 quarterfinalist Narrows. Greenbrier West, a state quarterfinalist in 2022, sits in a tie for 5th place. The Cavaliers are off to an equally impressive 5-0 start, shutting out their last three opponents by a combined 162-0.
These two rivals met twice in 2022, and the Mavericks earned bragging rights with a pair of victories. Ninth rated James Monroe tripped up the fifth rated Cavaliers in week 6-0 with a 27-0 win. The two teams remained on a collision course following that game and their paths intersected again in the Class A quarterfinals. The Mavericks notched 28 first half points and never looked back in a 48-13 win that helped catapult them to an eventual state championship appearance. Neither team has forgotten those results, but neither team is banking on the same result in 2023.
What’s at stake? For the winner, it’s pretty simple. A motherlode of points awaits the victorious squad and those could translate into homefield advantage when the playoffs roll around in November. The winner will also be considered one of the favorites to win the state championship. The loser will be forced to fight back and possibly win out to get two home playoff games. Two is not a guarantee as the Cavaliers can attest. In 2022, the week six loss forced Greenbrier West to travel back to Lindside for the quarterfinal round.
There will be familiar faces on both sides of the ball when these two meet. Cole Vandall has had a career year at quarterback for West, throwing for over 500 yards and 11 touchdowns. Improved play from the quarterback position will go a long way toward success for the Cavaliers. Ethan Holliday has been a clutch performer on both sides of the ball. Holliday has 6 catches for 134 yards and two scores in ‘23, and he tallied a 76-yard touchdown catch in the playoff game last season against the Mavs. Holliday is the Cavaliers’ leading tackler with 37 stops, 10 tackles for loss, and he led Greenbrier West with 28 tackles in the two games last season. Tucker Lilly has done an admirable job in the receiving department hauling in 12 catches, four for scores.
For James Monroe, their success rides on the legs of Cooper Ridgeway. Ridgeway has ground out 653 yards and an area-best 12 rushing touchdowns. Ridgeway accounted for four touchdowns in the Mavericks two wins last season, including three in the playoff triumph. James Monroe is not a one-trick pony, though, so the West defense will have to account for other playmakers as well. Junior quarterback Layton Dowdy tossed four touchdown passes against the Cavaliers in ‘22, with three of those coming in the Mavericks’ playoff win. Chaz Boggs had two receptions for a whopping 151 yards in the first meeting between the school’s last season. Boggs has four touchdown receptions this season, and has three more on the ground, giving the Mavericks some scoring punch in the absence of All State receiver Eli Allen.
As in most games, the battle in the trenches often dictates the rest of the action. West relies on veteran leadership from senior Jacob Whitt. Whitt leads a group that also includes seniors Trent Parker and Jacob Nutter, junior Peyton Ford, and sophomore Logan Berry. The line has paved the way for Greenbrier West to rush for over 1,200 yards and 19 touchdowns. Seniors Ethan Hamons and Cameron White could see spot duty as well as juniors Brandon Poticher and C.W. Sturgell. Depth is a strength of the Cavalier roster this season.
James Monroe has a capable offensive line of its own. The anchor of the unit is junior Brady Baker at 6’2” and 284 lbs. The rest of the Maverick offensive line is senior-laden. Jacob Hall handles the snapping duties and weighs in at 231 lbs. Jackson Phipps usually lines up as the opposite tackle to Baker with Ashton Evans and Justin Feamster filling the guard slots. James Monroe averages 6’1”, 225.4 lbs. across the line, a formidable group.
Everything from last season has not remained constant between the two teams. Greenbrier West’s rushing attack is by committee this season. Senior Jake Pate has 412 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns. Senior Moses Gray and junior Isaac Agee both have three rushing scores to their credit, with five other ballcarriers notching at least one rushing touchdown. That group includes Holliday and Vandall. Colton Dunbar has added a big, strong, matchup problem for opposing secondaries.
James Monroe’s passing attack is still in capable hands with the 2022 Class A first team quarterback Dowdy and Boggs, but the big play capability of Allen will certainly be missed. Allen was a deciding factor in a lot of 50/50 balls on both sides of the ball. Ridgeway is the Mavericks’ second-leading receiver with nine catches, so it will be interesting to see who fills the void beyond both he and Boggs.
Greenbrier West has picked up where it left off in 2022 with a stifling defense. The Cavaliers have shut out their last three opponents and have only allowed 21 points all season. Offenses have found the West defense to be less than hospitable, with 13 takeaways and miniscule 32 yards rushing allowed. No typo, that’s the total for the entire half of the season. Incredible. The defensive unit will be challenged by the Mavericks, though. James Monroe rolled up 336 rushing yards in their win over Summers County. The duo of Ridgeway and Boggs put up incredible numbers. Boggs tallied 234 yards and two touchdowns while Ridgeway rolled up 196 yards and three touchdowns. Look for Brandon Poticher and C.W. Sturgell to be heavily involved in stopping the running game and applying pressure on Dowdy.
If special teams are the decisive factor in the game, the Cavaliers truly have a unit that can impact a game. Hayden Ridgeway has nailed 29 of 32 point-after attempts. Although unsuccessful in his only field goal attempt, Ridgeway can hit a three-pointer if needed. Isaac Agee continues to display a strong leg in the punting department, albeit in limited opportunities. Agee is averaging 34 yards per kick on only three attempts. The return game is the wild card for Greenbrier West. The Cavaliers have a plethora of big-play returners. Holliday, Pate, Agee, and Marcus Adkins all have the speed and elusiveness to score on a return.
Junior Peyton Gardinier, a Maverick soccer player by trade, has assumed the kicking duties for the Mavericks with the graduation departure of 2nd team all-stater Owen Jackson. Boggs and Ridgeway are the deep men on both the kick return and punt return units for James Monroe. It goes without saying both a capable of big plays in the return game.
Games like these don’t pop up on the schedule every week, but when they live up to the hype, they’re memorable. Last Friday, second rated Williamstown slipped by number four St. Marys with a late touchdown. This week, we get the second straight top-five showdown in Class A. There are other heavyweight matchups on the horizon, but the winner of this game might just vault themselves into the top spot for the remainder of the season.
Kickoff is at 7 P.M. Local radio coverage begins at 6:30 on Rock 95.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.