LINDSIDE – As the semifinals rolled around on the football calendar, how fitting was it that Greenbrier West and James Monroe were meeting on the weekend dubbed Rivalry Week? The two schools have developed into fierce rivals on the fields, courts, and diamonds of western Greenbrier and Monroe counties. Lately, the battle has even spilled over into Charleston. Postseason meetings are becoming more and more frequent, meaning the rivalry is not only healthy, but also beneficial to both schools. Pushing each other to get better means that these two titans of Class A sports will be major players in statewide competitions.
Greenbrier West enjoyed a remarkable 2022 season. The Cavaliers opened their season with five consecutive shutouts on their way to a 6-0 start. A trip to Lindside changed all that. Not only did West suffer their first defeat of the season, but the Cavaliers were also shut out for the first time in 42 games. As fate would have it, the two teams would collide again only six weeks later in the Class A quarterfinals. The stakes were a little higher this time around, but the result was not. The Mavericks rolled to a win that propelled them to a state championship appearance. The Cavaliers were left with a 10-2 season, a season ended by James Monroe.
Fast forward to 2023. For a second straight season, the two teams met in week seven with undefeated records. This time, the outcome was different. Greenbrier West stormed back from an 8-0 deficit in only two plays to tie things up at 8 apiece seconds before halftime on their way to a 25-8 win. It was a seminal moment in Cavalier football history. Not only was it West’s first win over James Monroe since the 2000 season, but it was also the program’s first-ever win over a #1 rated opponent. The win helped catapult the Cavaliers to an undefeated season. The Mavericks stayed the course, winning out to close the regular season 8-1. By virtue of two late season wins over Class AA opponents and a new metric in the WVSSAC ratings systems that awards team’s strength of schedule points in a loss, James Monroe vaulted over the rest of the Class A playoff field and into the number one seed.
Greenbrier West crushed Wirt County in the opening round of the playoffs then won an instant classic over a feisty Wahama squad in the quarterfinals. James Monroe dispatched a game Sherman squad and followed that up with a shutout of Cameron. For the second time in two seasons, the Coalfield Conference rivals would meet in the playoffs. To add even more juice to the matchup, the two would meet in the semifinals with a trip to Wheeling on the line.
Greenbrier west won the toss and elected to receive. It was apparent right out of the gate that Ethan Holliday would have a major impact on the game. Holliday returned the opening kickoff 36 yards, then caught a seven-yard pass on the Cavaliers’ first play. The West drive would end three plays later when Maverick sophomore Ryan Mann picked off a pass intended for Holliday at the James Monroe 20-yard line, but West’s intent on getting their captain the football was evident.
Greenbrier West forced the first three-and out of the night and regained possession at the fifty-yard line following a Maverick punt. Cole Vandall zipped a pass into the left flat to Holliday, and the senior ran over Mann for a six-yard gain. Two plays later, Holliday scooted around the right end on an option for a gain of 24 yards. Once again, a promising Cavalier drive would fizzle when Vandall was sacked on a fourth down pass attempt by Jacob Hall.
The Cavalier defense stifled The Maverick offense and forced another three-and-out possession. Another punt to Holliday resulted in a West first down at the James Monroe 47-yard line. The Cavaliers had driven to the Maverick 20-yard line twice but came away empty handed each time. This time, the Cavaliers would go backwards. A bubble route to Isaac Agee resulted in a loss of three. On second down, Agee ranged from the left wing to the rights side and took a handoff from Holliday. Brock Parker slipped through the right side of the line and slung Agee to the ground. As he was spinning toward the ground, Agee lost the football. Chaz Boggs scooped the loose ball up on a short hop and had a clear lane to the goal line. Agee instinctively hooked Boggs’ ankle and tripped him up, preventing a Maverick scoop and score.
James Monroe scratched out a first down as the first quarter ended, but their success was short-lived. A direct snap to Cooper Ridgeway was high, left, and too hot to handle. Ridgeway knocked the ball down like a third baseman taking a hot hopper, but Trent Parker swooped in and covered the loose ball before Ridgeway could recover.
West wasted no time with their newfound possession. Vandall zipped a ball up the left hash that Agee went down and collected as he slid feet first to the Cavalier forty-yard line. Then, motioning left to right, Agee caught a bubble pass from Vandall in the right flat. Displaying uncanny speed and elusiveness, Agee turned up the field and inside the edge blocks of Roy Loudermilk and Moses Gray. Once clear of their blocks, Agee shifted to the right sideline where Colton Dunbar sealed Boggs to the inside. Agee weaved inside to avoid Layton Dowdy and turned on the jets. A sharp stiff-arm to the chest of Jacob Hall cleared Agee to outrun two additional Maverick defenders for a 60-yard touchdown. The Cavalier Crazies erupted. Hayden Ridgeway sent the extra point to the foot of “Boot Hill” for a 7-0 West lead with 10:27 remaining in the first half.
Greenbrier West head coach Kelly Vaughan has remained faithful to an aggressive approach all season, and the semifinals were no place to get conservative. Feeling confident in his defense’s ability to get stops, Vaughan opted to try an onside kick. Ridgeway’s kick came off sharply to the right side but never caught any turf which would’ve given the ball the bounce necessary to recover it. Marcus Adkins gave a hard dive for the ball but couldn’t reach it before it careened out of bounds. Although the Cavaliers didn’t recover the kick, Vaughan’s gamble proved to be right. James Monroe rolled Dowdy to the right on first down, but the junior quarterback had nobody open and dumped the ball on the West sideline. Ridgeway was flattened behind the line by Jacob Whitt and Holliday on second down. C.W. Sturgell chased Dowdy to the Maverick sideline on third down and lowered the boom at the 38-ayrd line, dislodging the football as he buried the signal-caller. The Mavericks were forced to punt, but middle pressure from Brandon Poticher forced a quick, short punt to the West 48.
The first half would wind down with West and James Monroe trading three-and-out possessions. The Mavericks did create a turnover with a midfield strip-sack, but that drive ended with a turnover on downs. The teams went into the break with West holding a 7-0 lead and James Monroe was set to receive the second half kickoff.
The second half began much like the first half ended. James Monroe turned the ball over on downs, and the Cavalier offense spun its wheels and punted after a three-and-out possession. The Mavericks converted a first down on a long pass from Dowdy to Mann, but the drive fizzled, and James Monroe punted.
Things were about to heat up. A low snap doomed West’s first play with a loss of two yards. The Cavaliers spread the field and Vandall dropped back, Looking right and then to the middle. West was trying to set up a screen pass, but Brock Parker sniffed it out. Parker slipped around the block of Logan Berry and snatched Vandall’s pass before it reached Agee. Parker burst into the left corner of the endzone for a pick-six. Peyton Gardinier launched the extra point, and the game was suddenly tied 7-7 with 6:23 to play in the third quarter.
In years past, panic might have crept into the hearts of Cavaliers. Maybe it did for many of the fans. Despite the fortuitous score for the Mavericks, West never wavered from the plan. A late hit on the kickoff return started the next Greenbrier West possession at the James Monroe West promptly moved into scoring position, with most of the damage being done by Dunbar and Vandall. The duo would try to hook up on a second and goal, but Vandall was hit as he rolled right to throw and Boggs picked the short throw off at the three-yard line, ending yet another Cavalier scoring threat.
With the season on the line and time waning, Ethan Holliday assumed control to the delight of the Cavalier crowd and the chagrin of the Maverick faithful. On third and three from the James Monroe 35-yard line, Dowdy took a shotgun snap and got pressure up the middle from the West linebackers. Throwing off his back foot, Dowdy tried to connect with Ryan Mann. Holliday played the ball perfectly, stepped in front of Mann, tipped the ball to himself, and returned it to James Monroe’s 22-yard line.
A jet sweep by Agee, a short run by Holliday, and an incomplete pass from Vandall to Agee set up a pivotal fourth and eight at the Maverick 20-yard line. Holliday lined up in the shotgun with all of the backfield lined up to his right. At the snap, Holliday started right and redirected to his left. Dunbar released off the left side of the line into the Maverick secondary. Holliday lofted a pass into the Lindside sky that settled in the arms of Dunbar at the ten-yard line.
With a fresh set of downs, Agee carried up the gut and gained three yards, mostly on second effort. Time expired in the third quarter with the teams knotted up at 7 but the Cavaliers were knocking on the door. It took them exactly one play into the final quarter to score. Holliday followed Vandall and Agee behind Whitt and Trent Parker into the endzone for a seven-yard touchdown. Ridgeway padded the lead with an extra point for a 14-7 advantage with 11:54 left in the contest.
The Mavericks tried their best to muster some offensive consistency. Aided by a personal foul and a Brock Parker run, James Monroe moved the ball into West territory at the 41-yard line. A mad scramble on a screen pass to Boggs ended up costing the Mavericks four yards. Boggs ran a sweep to the right on second down and got pummeled into the West sideline by Evan Vandall. Colton Dunbar applied the pressure to Dowdy on third down, slamming the Maverick signal caller to the ground back at the fifty-yard line and dislodging the football out of bounds.
Set to punt, the Mavericks were about to have some unexpected adversity. Wilson Boggess took the long snap and stepped forward to boot it away. Boggess missed the ball on the drop and barely booted it forward on the rebound. Jacob Nutter scooped up the loose ball at the 47-yard line and rumbled forward to the James Monroe 42-yard line.
With a short field and time on their side, the Cavaliers looked to Holliday for some offensive stability. Holliday carried over the left side for a gain of eight yards, breaking two tackles before being knocked to the ground by Boggs. Holliday ran the same play again for a gain of twenty yards. A third straight carry to the left netted three more yards. Flipping the formation to the right, Holliday cruised into the endzone, running through three Mavericks at the goal line for a 14-yard score. A rare miss of an extra point made the score 20-7 Greenbrier West with 6:55 to go in the fourth quarter.
The Maverick attack was beginning to hit desperation mode. Dowdy scrambled to his left for a gain of five, then completed a tipped pass across the middle to Boggs that moved James Monroe into Cavalier territory at the 45-yard line. From that point, the drive began to fall apart. Dowdy threw incomplete on first down under heavy pressure from Jacob Nutter. Dowdy was forced off his spot by Moses Gray on second down, and the senior linebacker tracked him down for a minimal gain. A high snap doomed third down as Dunbar covered Dowdy up back at the maverick 43-yard line. Gray finished Dowdy off on fourth down with a sack all the way back at the James Monroe 32-yard line.
The Cavaliers and their fans were starting to feel the weight of the moment. Victory was within reach. Seven straight carries from Holliday would ice the cake. Holliday skirted around the left end into the corner of the endzone for a six-yard touchdown with only 0:48 remaining. Ridgeway capped the scoring as the West sideline celebrated.
The irony of the win was felt by many. Greenbrier West had delivered the Mavericks the only two losses they suffered all season. James Monroe finished the season 10-2 and their season was ended by the Cavaliers. The exact same scenario had played out only one season before with Greenbrier West on the short end of the stick. Revenge was served.
Greenbrier West advances to the Class A state championship game on Saturday night to face the defending state champs, Williamstown. The #3 Yellowjackets defeated #2 Tucker County earlier Friday evening, 45-8. It will be the third meeting between the schools, with all three coming in the postseason and all since the 2019 season. This is Greenbrier West’s third appearance in a state championship game and first since the 2013 season. The Cavaliers lost to #1 Spencer in the 1991 Class AA title game at Laidley Field in Charleston. West dropped the Class A championship game in 2013 to #1 Madonna.
With his three-touchdown performance, Ethan Holliday moved into third place on Greenbrier West’s all-time playoff scoring list. Holliday has scored 54 points in four career playoff games. Holliday also registered his first career 100-yard rushing game at Greenbrier West in Friday night’s win. Holliday was credited with 110 yards on 17 carries, unofficially. It is the 20th time a Cavalier has rushed for over 100 yards in 46 playoff games all-time.
Hayden Ridgeway’s third extra point tied him with Cameron McQuain for the most PATs in Greenbrier West history. Ridgeway and McQuain each have 111 extra points in their careers. Ridgeway needs two more extra points to pass Bradden Isaacs for the most career playoff PATs in Greenbrier West history.
Vandall tied Kaiden Pack for the most career playoff touchdown passes with 5. Vandall also surpassed 500 postseason passing yards in his career.
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