CHARMCO – When the WVSSAC released the official playoff pairings on November 5, Class A football fans in southern West Virginia probably salivated at the thought of a Greenbrier West vs James Monroe semi-final. It’s a matchup that has all the juice. The Cavaliers defeated the top-rated Mavericks 25-8 on October 6 in Charmco. It’s the only blemish on the Mavericks’ schedule this season. Ironically in 2022, it was James Monroe that had the upper hand, handing the Cavaliers their only two losses of the season and ending West’s playoff run in the quarterfinals. Can Greenbrier West flip the script in 2023 and hand the Mavericks their only two losses? Can James Monroe avenge the loss? No matter your wish, the action will unfold this Friday night in Lindside.
How did the schools get to this point? In the first meeting between the two, James Monroe scored first when a high snap sailed over West punter Isaac Agee’s head, forcing him into the endzone to retrieve the ball where he was tackled for a safety. Then, with only :31 left in the first half, the Mavericks scored when Layton Dowdy found Chaz Boggs for a 10-yard touchdown pass. Peyton Gardinier missed the PAT for an 8-0 lead. Greenbrier West not only answered, but they did so immediately. Jake Pate got a huge kickoff return to give West great starting position. Two Cole Vandall to Ethan Holliday passes later, the Cavaliers scored to tie the game and shifted momentum in their favor. In the third quarter, Vandall threw scoring tosses to both Colton Dunbar and Tucker Lilly to build a 22-8 lead. Hayden Ridgeway capped the scoring with a 22-yard, fourth quarter field goal.
Greenbrier West went on to win their final four games after defeating the Mavericks, completing an undefeated regular season for the eighth time in school history. Once in the playoffs, the Cavaliers dismantled Wirt County and made the key plays necessary to win a quarterfinal thriller over Wahama. Following their loss to the Cavaliers, James Monroe only dropped to fourth place in the WVSSAC ratings. The Mavericks rebounded from the defeat with back-to-back shutouts of Midland Trail and Liberty before vaulting themselves back into the top slot in Class A with wins over Class AA programs Nicholas County and Bluefield. Due to a new “strength of schedule” component added to the ratings system this season, the Mavericks also benefitted from their loss to the Cavaliers. Popular with some fans while equally unpopular with others, the added points helped James Monroe claim the top seed in the playoff bracket where the Mavericks were able to dispatch both Sherman and Cameron.
Here we are seven weeks later with 12-0 Greenbrier West and 10-1 James Monroe set to meet in the Class A semi-finals. Never has Greenbrier West or James Monroe met the same team four times in a two-season span, but that’s just what they’re about to do. Greenbrier West has met Summers County, Richwood, Independence, and Fayetteville three times over a two-season span. James Monroe has met Richwood, Bluefield (three separate times), and Liberty Raleigh three times over a two-year span. Four meetings are unprecedented for the two schools, but didn’t we all expect it?
The two teams will meet without many surprises. Greenbrier West enters the contest averaging 46.3 points per game. The 2023 squad has broken the school record for the most points scored in a season. Cole Vandall has secured almost every school and playoff record there is to be had in the passing department. Vandall holds the marks for most completions and yards in a regular season, career, and postseason. Vandall also holds the record for the most touchdown passes in a season and a career and needs only one scoring toss to tie Kaiden Pack for the most career playoff touchdown passes.
Vandall’s success translates to success for the receiving corps, or vice versa. Tucker Lilly has 30 receptions with 10 of those going for a touchdown. Colton Dunbar has 20 catches with 6 scores, Ethan Holliday 19 grabs with 5 touchdowns, and Jake Pate 17 catches with 4 going for scores. Not to be outdone, Isaac Agee has 7 receptions with 3 touchdowns and Marcus Adkins has a touchdown reception to his credit. The Cavaliers spread the ball around, as evidenced by the fact that four others have pass receptions.
The Cavaliers haven’t abandoned their signature running game. Pate leads West with 1,178 yards on the ground and a whopping 21 touchdowns. Agee has 6 touchdowns and 411 yards. Vandall, Holliday, and Moses Gray each have 3 rushing touchdowns a piece, and six other Cavalier runners have at least one touchdown to their credit.
James Monroe has leaned on senior running back Cooper Ridgeway for the tough yards in 2023. Ridgeway has tallied 993 yards on 150 carries for 16 touchdowns but has nursed a thigh bruise in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The limited action has seen Ridgeway put up 10 carries for 43 yards in the Mavericks’ two playoff wins. Chaz Boggs runs in a complimentary role to Ridgeway but has very competent numbers with 77 carries for 653 yards and 5 touchdowns. Brock Parker has added 375 yards and 4 touchdowns on 58 carriers. Quarterback Layton Dowdy is James Monroe’s leading rusher in the two playoff wins with 30 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown.
Dowdy has blossomed into a dual threat role and can throw the ball well. Dowdy has passed for 1,086 yards going 87-130. Dowdy has 17 touchdown passes to only 4 interceptions. Dowdy had a career performance in the playoff win over Sherman, tossing 5 touchdown passes. Of note, Chaz Boggs threw a touchdown pass in James Monroe’s win over Cameron,
Dowdy’s two main receiving threats have been Boggs and Ridgeway. Boggs has 12 touchdowns, 29 catches, and 549 yards through the air including a two-touchdown performance against Sherman. Ridgeway has pulled down 28 receptions for 253 yards and 2 scores.
Greenbrier West’s defense has contributed to their unblemished record just as much as the record-setting offense has. The Cavaliers shut out six opponents in twelve contests, including playoff opponent Wirt County. West is allowing 6.6 points-per-game, an average that’s much smaller when you consider what the starting defensive unit has allowed. Holliday has backed up his 2022 Class A First Team All-State selection with an even better ‘23 campaign. Holliday has the team lead in tackles with 106 and tackles for loss with 22, is tied for the team lead in interceptions with 3 and has generally terrorized opposing offenses.
Brandon Poticher has collected 96 tackles and four sacks. Fellow linebacker C.W. Sturgell has 71 stops, 5 tackles for loss, and a safety under his belt. Isaac Agee has 58 tackles from the safety position, 6 tackles for loss and six passes defensed. The defensive line rotation has been a big reason the West defensive unit is as stout as it is. Jacob Whitt and Trent Parker have helped lead a group that also includes Daron Vaughan and Jacob Nutter, Ethan Hamons and Cameron White, and ends Cole Vandall and Colton Dunbar. Marcus Adkins had a fumble recovery in the win over Wahama, and Evan Vandall has anchored the opposite side.
The Maverick defense has held its own in 2023. In addition to the shutouts over Midland Trail and Liberty, James Monroe blanked the Cameron Dragons in the quarterfinal round. The Mavericks are allowing 14.2 points per game. The Mavericks forced Cameron into four turnovers with Wilson Boggess capturing two interceptions. Boggess’ second pick went for a 70-yard touchdown to wrap up the victory for the Mavericks.
Hayden Ridgeway and Agee continue to provide an excellent kicking game for Greenbrier West. Ridgeway keeps adding to his regular season PAT record and is now only four made extra points away from the career record in Charmco. With five made attempts, he’d become West’s all-time leading postseason kicker. Agee continues to boom punt after punt, well, when he gets the opportunity. Agee is averaging 37.5 yards per kick with 10 punts on the season.
Peyton Gardinier has a big leg that has pinned several teams at their 20-yard line after a touchback. Gardinier hit a 22-yard field goal to give the Mavericks a 10-point lead against Cameron.
The stakes have never been higher on the gridiron for these two teams. The winner heads to the Super Six at Wheeling Island Stadium on Saturday, December 2. The Mavericks appeared in the Class A title game last season, falling to Williamstown. Greenbrier West last advanced to Wheeling following the 2013 season. In either scenario, the Coalfield Conference is guaranteed to have a representative in the Class A title game for a second consecutive season. Greenbrier West is 2-5 all time in the semi-final round. James Monroe is 2-6 all time in semi-final contests.
Kickoff is at 7:30 P.M. Local radio coverage can be found on Rock 95 beginning at 7 P.M. A livestream of the contest can be found on various Greenbrier Valley Channel platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Roku. The game will NOT be shown live on Optimum channel 5.
Digital tickets can be purchased at www.gofan.com. Adult tickets are $8 and student tickets are $5. A $1.40 fee per ticket is added by GoFan.com.
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