CHARMCO – The 2023 Class A football playoffs begin this Friday night in Charmco with an intriguing matchup between the Wirt County Tigers and Greenbrier West. The Cavaliers ran roughshod through the regular season, going undefeated for the eighth time in school history. Longtime Cavalier Kelly Vaughan took over as head coach after 30 seasons as a Greenbrier West assistant. Vaughan is off to the best start a Cavalier head football coach has ever had at 10-0, and now gets his shot at navigating the playoff waters with a team that has plenty of weapons at its disposal. Vaughan, a celebrated quarterback and noseguard in the early 80’s for three playoff qualifiers, knows that a playoff run in Charmco is something special.
Jason Hickman is the head coach at Wirt County, leading his Tigers back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2020 season. Hickman is a 14-year veteran at the school, coaching the Tigers from 2007-15 and again from 2019 to the present. Ironically, it was a Greenbrier West assistant coach, Isac Osborne, that guided Wirt from 2016-2018 before coming home to Charmco in 2019. Hickman has compiled a 76-69 record while at Wirt County, qualifying for the playoffs six times overall. Wirt comes in with a 6-4 record, winners of four straight games. The Tigers got off to a 2-0 start before running a gauntlet of Class A powers that all reside in the Little Kanawha Conference. Wirt suffered four consecutive defeats to the likes of Williamstown, St. Marys, Tyler Consolidated, and Wahama. All four teams qualified for the Class A playoff field.
West is a multi-faceted football team that can hurt a defense in a lot of ways. Credit offensive coordinator Isac Osborne for scheming a successful attack that utilizes all of the weapons at his disposal. The Cavaliers are on pace to break the school’s single season scoring record of 529 set in 2010 over 13 games. The Cavaliers are averaging 48.5 points-per-game, buoyed by two straight 63-point performances to close out the regular season. If not for missing over half of the Pocahontas County game due to a lightning stoppage, the current squad would’ve likely surpassed the ten-game record of 493 points set in 2020.
Quarterback Cole Vandall has had a stellar 2023 campaign, setting school records in every major passing category. For the season, Vandall is 79-127 for 1,447 yards and 24 touchdowns. One major area of improvement this season has been interceptions. Vandall has thrown only two all season, the last coming on September 29 against Shady Spring.
To throw the ball effectively, you must have receivers that can make plays. The Cavaliers have ten pass catchers that have tallied a reception this season. Tucker Lilly is a precise route runner and leads West with 26 grabs for 431 yards and 8 scores. Colton Dunbar is a big target that can run well and stretch a defense. Dunbar has 16 catches for 276 yards and 6 touchdowns. Ethan Holliday is Greenbrier West’s do-it-all athlete. Holliday has 13 receptions for 287 yards and 4 scores. Jake Pate is far from a one-dimensional running back, pulling down 10 passes for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns. Isaac Agee is another big play waiting to happen, and he’s pulled down 6 catches for 144 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Greenbrier West has always been synonymous with running the football, and 2023 is no different. West has a 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield. The difference comes in the way he totes the rock. Pate possesses uncanny balance and is a low, powerful runner that is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Pate has 105 carries for 1,025 yards and 19 touchdowns. Isaac Agee has impressive numbers in a more limited role, carrying 44 times for 400 yards and 6 touchdowns. Holliday has 164 yards and two touchdowns, while Vandall has two scores to his credit as weel. Fullback Moses Gray has three touchdown runs, and at least seven other backs have scored a rushing touchdown this season. Assistant coach Owen Schmitt has imparted his knowledge to these backs and brings a level of accountability to every aspect of his coaching duties.
To tie up the loose ends on offense, we must look at the Cavalier offensive line. Protecting the pocket for a 1,000-yard passer and opening running lanes for a 1,000-yard rusher, the group is led by senior tackle Jacob Whitt. Their execution has simply been terrific. Seniors Trent Parker, Daron Vaughan, and Jacob Nutter have all been effective blockers that open a myriad of possibilities for Osborne’s offense. Underclassmen Peyton Ford and Logan Berry man the middle and do a lot of the dirty work for offensive line coach Steve Price. Price led the Van Bulldogs as head coach from 2009-16 and again in 2018 and ‘19. Price has been masterful in fitting the pieces together and getting the line to gel as a unit.
The Cavalier special teams are an integral part of Greenbrier West’s success this season. Hayden Ridgeway tied the school record for PATs in a season, going 58-62 (94%). Ridgeway has hit 21 in a row dating back to the Sherman win on October 20. Ridgeway also has a field goal to his credit this season. Holliday and Pate have been electric in the return game. Pate tied a school record for the longest kickoff return for a touchdown (95 yards) last Friday in the win over Moorefield. Holliday is averaging over 28 yards per return in both kickoff and punt returns. Agee is as dynamic a punter as you’ll find in Class A, but he’s only had 5 opportunities to punt all season.
Coach Hickman’s offense has some extremely talented individuals to keep an eye on this Friday night. Senior running back Chase Lowe is a 5’10, 190 lb. tailback that has rushed for a school single season record 1,607 yards and 18 touchdowns. Lowe also holds the Wirt record for touchdowns in a game (6). Lowe has tallied 3,237 yards and 45 touchdowns over his career and needs only 54 yards to become the school’s all-time leading rusher. Lowe had his best performance of the season last Friday in Wirt’s 37-6 win over Webster County, rushing for 286 yards and 4 touchdowns. Chase’s twin brother, Channing, is generally used as an H-back and does a lot of the blocking for his brother. Channing is a capable runner, though, and has tallied 93 carries for 606 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Under center, Hickman will rely on 6’1 sophomore Tyler Smith. Smith has completed 63-132 passes for 1,077yards, 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Smith relies on a trio of junior wideouts with his favorite target being Brody Ewing. Ewing hauled in 27 passes for 393 yards and 4 touchdowns. Junior Isaiah Sampson has 16 catches for 323 yards and 5 touchdowns, and Porter Goodwin has 9 receptions for 206 yards. Smith also handles the punting duties for the Tigers, with 13 punts that averaged 34.3 yards per kick.
The Greenbrier West defense has lived up to the program’s tradition again this season. Under the leadership of Jared Robertson, Kelly Vaughan, and Mark Agee, Greenbrier West has produced the most shutouts over a two-year span in the history of the program with 13. The Cavaliers shut out five of their opponents this season, and the varsity unit allowed only 37 of the 57 points allowed defensively. That’s a paltry 3.7 points per game average. West’s defensive unit has allowed only 524 yards on the ground and another 605 through the air. What the Cavaliers have done well is create turnovers. The stingy unit has produced 9 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries.
For the second consecutive season, Ethan Holliday is the Cavaliers’ leading tackler with 75. A Class A first-team All-State defender last season, Holliday has almost doubled his 2022 output with a team-leading 21 tackles for loss. Holliday has grabbed two interceptions and a fumble recovery, and you can always count on his presence around the football. Add a pick six to Holliday’s resume for good measure.
Linebacker play has been excellent, and the unit has featured two juniors that have a high ceiling when it comes to potential growth. Brandon Poticher has gathered up 73 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and leads the team with 4 sacks. Poticher has also forced two fumbles. C.W. Sturgell has 60 tackles including four tackles for loss. Sturgell also gets credit for a safety back in the landslide win over Buffalo.
The cornerbacks have been quietly effective for the better part of the season. Marcus Adkins mans one side of the defense and has 31 tackles, a forced fumble, a sack, 3 tackles for loss, and 3 passes defensed. Evan Vandall has almost identical numbers on the other side, 28 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 tackles for loss, and 3 passes defensed.
The backside of the secondary has featured both Agee and Pate. Agee has 41 tackles, 2 interceptions which includes 82-yard and 30-yard pick-sixes, and 5 passes defensed. Pate has 43 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 6 passes defensed. Pate has a pick-six as well as a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
In the trenches, West has a rotation of linemen that have created havoc for the opposition. Whitt has 29 stops and 9 tackles for loss. Jacob Nutter has tallied 26 tackles as well as recovering 2 fumbles. Daron Vaughan, Peyton Ford, Ethan Hamons, and Cameron White have all logged minutes defensively. They’ll be crucial in controlling Wirt County’s run game.
Trent Parker has developed into a playmaking defensive end with 37 tackles and 4 tackles for loss. Colton Dunbar has also emerged as a stopper as the season has progressed, logging 30 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss. Cole Vandall is the third man in the end rotation, and the senior has 27 tackles and 8 tackles for loss.
When Wirt County is on defense, look for guys like senior Chase Parsons to get a mention. Parsons has registered some big-time numbers this year, including 19 tackles in Friday’s win over Webster County. Parsons has two 18-tackle games this season, a 17-tackle performance against Wahama, and 16 stops against Calhoun County.
Brody Ewing is another Tiger that has put up impressive numbers. Ewing notched 14 tackles against South Harrison, 9 vs Williamstown, 13 in a loss to Wahama, 12 at Calhoun County, and pulled down an interception at Gilmer County. Chase Lowe has multiple games with double-digit tackles. Isaiah Sampson collected interceptions vs Wahama, Calhoun, and Webster County. Others to watch will be Channing Lowe, Kolton Toler, and Holden Siers.
The bottom line is this. Greenbrier West has been on a mission this season to play four meaningful postseason games. The regular season was a great tune up, but the time is now for the Cavaliers to prove their regular season was no fluke. This has been a team of purpose and great chemistry all season. Coach Vaughan and his staff have a team that is capable of winning a state championship. First things first, though, as these Cavaliers have taken each week to focus on the task at hand. Wirt County will be the first measuring stick.
Kickoff is at 7:30 P.M. Tickets are only available digitally. You can type this URL into your computer’s address bar for a direct link to Greenbrier West/Wirt County digital tickets. https://gofan.co/event/1217661?schoolId=WV940 Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students plus fees.
Gates will not open until 5:30. Fans are urged to carpool due to limited parking on campus. Fans parking on Cavalier Drive from the Tastee Freeze property to the school should respect property owners along that route while also parking off the main drive so visiting busses and emergency vehicles have a clear path to the stadium.
Radio coverage begins at 7 P.M. on Rock 95. A live stream of the game produced by the Greenbrier Valley Channel can be found locally on Optimum channel 5, Facebook, YouTube or Roku.
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