CHARMCO (WVDN) – Playoff football in Charmco is the stuff of legends. In 1982, current assistant Kelly Vaughan was the quarterback and nose tackle for a Greenbrier West team looking for the first-ever postseason win in school history. Vaughan and his teammates trudged their way through the sloppy Cavalier Field surface, recovered three fumbles, and laid a goose egg on the Northfork Blue Demons. The 26-0 win was marked by great performances and a muddy field. Billy Brown opened the scoring with a 62-yard run and Herbert Mitchell followed it up with a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown. Brown added a 1-yard score in the third quarter and Terry Montgomery capped the scoring with a 2-yard run in the fourth.
In 2006, another current assistant coach paved the way for an equally legendary effort. Isac Osborne and the rest of the offensive line opened holes in the Notre Dame defense, giving Trent Walker the opportunity to set West playoff-records of 238 yards and four touchdowns. The Cavaliers carried the ball 65 times and attempted only two passes. The result was another playoff shutout, 30-0 Greenbrier West.
With the remnants of Hurricane Nicole barreling toward West Virginia all week, several WVSSAC playoff games moved up to Thursday night or back to Saturday, trying to avoid the brunt of her wrath. The Cavaliers’ visiting opponent, South Harrison, chose to stay the course and play at the traditional date and time of Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Coming into the game, the Hawks had won six of seven games including a week eleven victory over previously undefeated Tucker County. That vaulted South Harrison from a bubble team to a nine seed. Predominantly a running team, the Hawks hoped to ride the legs of Noah Burnside and Aiden Moreno to the first playoff win for second-year head coach Brett Hathaway.
With the field merely soggy at kickoff, the Cavaliers felt it would be important to score first. South Harrison’s offense was built to sustain long, time-consuming drives. Greenbrier West got what appeared to be the first break of the game when Burnside fumbled on the second play from scrimmage. Dalton Heath recovered for West at the Hawk 26-yard line. Penalties, however, marred the Cavaliers’ opportunity to cash in on the South Harrison mistake and West had to punt the ball back to the Hawks.
Isaac Agee’s 35-yard punt pinned the Hawks inside their own ten-yard line, and the Cavalier defense stifled the Hawk’s attack. The three-and-out possession was just what West needed.
Starting at the 50-yard line, Nickell couldn’t find room to run on first or second down. Turns out, he’d find plenty of room on third down. Tucker Lilly dropped a screen pass to Nickell behind the Hawk defensive linemen, and the Cavalier tailback turned on the jets for a 51-yard touchdown, bursting through two well-positioned blocks from Agee and Kadin Parker. Nickell improvised on the two-point conversion, taking a lateral toss from Lilly and rolling right before sending a chest pass into the arms of Ethan Holliday. The Cavaliers led 8-0 with 6:42 left in the opening quarter.
On the ensuing possession, South Harrison was forced to operate in deteriorating field conditions. Possibly sensing things would not improve, Hathaway made the decision to go for it on fourth and four from the West 26-yard line. The Cavalier defense rose to the occasion. Ethan Hamons drove into 6’10”, 310-pound right tackle Lucas Given and drove him into the backfield, forcing him into the path of Burnside and knocking him off-course. Hamons’ teammates swarmed Burnside, forcing the Hawks to turn the ball over on downs.
Armed with a short field, the Cavaliers made quick work of the drive. Holliday and Vandall worked the ball to the 10-yard line in three plays, setting up Nickell. Stuffed at the 10 on a second down handoff, Nickell took a direct snap on third down and burst over the left side. Nickell momentarily lost the football, but calmly picked it up and broke a tackle on his way to a 10-yard touchdown. The conversion pass failed, but West had an increasingly daunting lead of 14-0 with 2:56 to go in the first quarter.
South Harrison’s woes continued on their next possession. Now working from the muddiest spot on the field, Hawk head coach Hathaway again elected to keep the ball on fourth down. Again, West’s defense turned South Harrison away. It would only get worse for the Hawks from there.
The Cavaliers took over at the Hawk 30-yard line, and Nickell slopped through the mud for a five-yard gain. From there, West found green grass as the teams flipped to start the second quarter. After a bizarre second down play that saw Nickell complete a deflected pass to himself for a loss, he gained two yards and set the Cavaliers up with a fourth and six. Burnside lined up offsides on fourth down, giving West a much more manageable one yard to go. Cole Vandall burst up the middle for a first down and more, driving the ball to the 11-yard line. On the next play, Vandall ran up the gut again and into the arms of Hawk defensive lineman Solomon Kessler. Vandall shrugged Kessler off with his right arm, and bounced outside to the left. Getting a block from Trent Parker, Vandall swept to the outside. Once on the edge, Kadin Parker sealed the outside, and Vandall coasted into the end zone. The PAT failed but West held a 20-0 lead with 11:13 remaining in the half.
The two teams would swap possessions before the Hawks got the ball back at the West 46-yard line with little more than six minutes left in the half. Desperate to get something positive going, South Harrison embarked on a 12-play drive to the doorstep of the Cavalier goal line. West had not allowed an opponent to score on its home field all season, and South Harrison’s penetration to the Cavalier three-yard line was the deepest of any opponent all season. On fourth and goal, Burnside took a handoff over the right side and trudged toward the end zone. The mass of bodies was too much for Burnside to overcome, and the West defense had a goal line stand with :05 remaining in the half. It was a huge, emotional win for Greenbrier West and quite possibly took the wind from South Harrison’s sails.
With momentum on their side, West got the ball first. Mixing runs from Vandall, Heath, and Nickell, the Cavaliers moved to their own 41-yard line before a low snap set them back at their own 30. Needing 20 yards, Lilly lofted a pass on the left side to Nickell. Nickell carried the ball to the South Harrison 36-yard line for a gain of 34 yards. On the ninth play, Nickell saved the Cavalier drive when he tracked down a high snap, retreated then fired out of bounds near the Cavalier sideline. Vandall got a finger on the ball, but more importantly, saved valuable field position. West went back to the run with a Heath carry to the six-yard line. Nickell finished off the drive, following Heath and Vandall into the end zone. Lilly finished the scoring drive when he rolled right and two-handed a wet ball into Holliday’s arms for the conversion and a 28-0 lead. The 11-play scoring drive took 4:40 off the third quarter clock.
Employing a bend-but-not-break strategy, West played solid defense while South Harrison chewed up the clock on short gains. The Hawks would turn the ball over on downs at the Cavalier 29-yard line.
The Cavaliers would eventually punt the ball back after the fourth quarter commenced, but South Harrison could do nothing with the ball. The Hawks were turned away for a fourth time on a fourth down-play, giving the Cavaliers the ball at South Harrison’s 29-yard line.
West would use six plays to get into the end zone. Nickell chopped in from the four-yard line for his third touchdown of the night. Hayden Ridgeway closed out the scoring with his extra point, making it 35-0 with 4:22 remaining in the game. South Harrison would run the clock out from that point, giving the Cavaliers the opening round victory.
The win was special for the players but also marked a milestone for Cavalier head coach Toby Harris. The victory was Harris’ 100th win at Greenbrier West. Three West head coaches have hit the 100-win milestone in 55 seasons, with Howard Hylton having 167 wins, Lewis McClung with 116 and now Harris with 100.
Greenbrier West will head to top rated James Monroe Friday night in the Class A quarterfinals. The Mavericks handed the Cavaliers their only loss of the season, a 27-0 shutout at Lindside on October 7.
Dalton Heath was named the Rock 95 McDonald’s Player of the Game. Heath had four rushes for 33 yards, nine tackles and a fumble recovery in the win.
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