If the Greenbrier East Spartans want to sneak in the back door to the state football playoffs, they have no choice but to beat the Lincoln County Panthers this Friday, November 6, when they hit the road for their regular season finale.
The Spartans sit at 5-4 on the season and losers of three in a row, but a late season victory would solidify a winning record and a solid chance in the round of 16.
Defensive breakdowns have plagued East the last four games. They have allowed 42, 46, 60 and 56 points over that span and have gone just 1-3, spiraling a once positive outlook into a slightly negative one.
But the Spartans are talented, still resilient and are preparing for a Panthers team who have also been up-and-down this year. Lincoln County averages 23.1 points per game.
Lincoln County (4-4) has had some nice wins over Roane County, Wayne, Chapmanville and Mount View. However, they have a few losses where they have been run off the field in blowout fashion. Doddridge County (31-0), Princeton (54-14) and Independence (62-8) won handily and were never challenged by the Panthers.
However, at this point of the season, the Spartans and Panthers would be considered pretty even as their one common opponent, Princeton, beat both by almost the exact same score. In sports, sometimes that means something and other times it does not. But with that being the barrier, it would suggest this contest may be a dog fight until the final whistle.
One advantage the Spartans may have is that the Panthers just played a game three nights ago when they beat Mount View 43-20, so fatigue could play a large factor.
If the Spartans can stop Isaiah Smith, Lincoln County’s running back and best player, they will come out on top. But if they let Smith run wild and free all night, it could come down to a final possession type of contest.
In their loss against Ripley, Smith ran for 116 yards on 21 carries. In the victory over Wayne, he went for 159 and two scores and also caught a 45-yard touchdown pass. He had two more touchdowns against Chapmanville.
Quarterback Gabe Bates will not wow anyone like Princeton’s Grant Cochran, but he is very efficient. He does not throw it a lot, but makes it count when he does. He likes to throw to Smith out of the backfield and to Nolan Shimp the most.
Colby Piner became the 15th player in Spartan history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season last week at Princeton, and the Spartans will lean on him again to provide some spark to an offense that is typically powerful, but stalled a little in the Tigers loss. For the year, Piner has rushed for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has also caught 26 passes for 453 yards and four more TD’s.
Quentin Wilson will get his share of carries as well, and if he has a huge night to the tune of 205 yards, he will be the 16th player in Spartan history with 1,000 yards in a season. Quarterback Monquelle Davis struggled last week, but should bounce back Friday. The dual-threat sophomore has thrown for 770 yards on the year and rushed for 682. He has totaled 19 touchdowns.
East’s defense must tackle well in this one and play their assignments. Their first priority will be to contain Smith and limit his explosive runs.
This is a game the Spartans know they need to win to have any hope of returning to the state playoffs. They can also secure another winning season with a victory. With so many positives on the line, look for East to rebound from the heartbreak of the last three weeks and return to the winning side of the win/loss column.