CHARMCO, W.Va. — Toby Harris was first a head coach in 1967.
It didn’t go so well.
Fresh out of college, Harris directed Greenbrier High School, located in Ronceverte, to an 0-10 record.
A lot of water and a lot of football has passed under the bridge since.
Saturday at 4 p.m., Harris — now 76 years young — will lead Greenbrier West into the Group A state quarterfinals and a match-up with Ritchie County at Cavalier Field.
Harris, who was the first head coach at Greenbrier West after consoldiation in 1968, began his second stint as the Cavalier boss in 2019.
And it was a hot summer day in July that year when the ol’ ball coach knew he might have something special.
“I can remember pulling in Kroger down in Rainelle and getting out of the truck,” said Harris after a cold snowy practice Tuesday afternoon. “It was hot, probably 90-some degrees. And over there on that road beside Kroger, there was a little gym over there. Those kids were over in that gym working out and running wind sprints. There wasn’t a coach over there, they were on their own.
“They were doing things that some kids might not want to do with a coach standing over them,” he continued. “They had that attitude. When I saw them doing that, I knew they were going to be a pretty good group of kids to work with and it’s turned out that way.”
A year ago, those kids had a 9-1 regular season and won a playoff game before being eliminated in the quarterfinals by Williamstown, 34-22, on Cavalier Field.
This fall, it was an 8-0 regular season cut short by COVID-19 and a first round blowout victory over Madonna, 58-0 last Saturday.
“We went eight straight weeks playing,” said Harris. “We have a great AD (athletic director) — Jared Robertson. He was on top of that thing. When we had a game scheduled, he already had a list of teams that we could contact in case we lost that game (due to COVID). We lost three games in a row, we couldn’t play our regular opponent. The minute we found out those teams weren’t going to be able to play, he was on the phone. And he picked us up three different opponents that we didn’t even have under contract.
“Then we had an unfortunate deal where one of our ninth grade kids tested positive and we missed our last two games,” he added. “We went about three weeks without playing and we didn’t know how we were going to play last Saturday because of that. We had practiced, but it wasn’t the same.”
The Cavaliers didn’t miss a beat.
West rolled up 425 yards of offense, including a 134-yard rushing effort from the big man — Cole McClung.
Kaiden Pack threw three touchdown passes and seven different West players found paydirt, while the defense pitched a shutout.
The only downside to the Cavaliers victory was an injury to leading rusher Noah Brown.
Brown left the game in the second quarter with a leg injury.
Harris said Brown was “questionable” this week.
“He’s on crutches and although nothing’s broken, he has a long road to get back to full strength,” said Harris.
This Saturday in Charmco, the competition will get tougher when the Rebels come to town, said Harris.
“They (Ritchie County) run the ball a lot more than that team last week,” he said. “But, they run a lot of play-action passes. You’ve got to keep your head up. They run counters, reverses, play-action stuff. You get all kinds of fakes and then you lose those receivers.”
Rick Vaught is in his third year at Ritchie County, turning around a program that won just two of their last 36 game before his arrival.
Last season, the Rebels lost a second round home game to Wheeling Central Catholic, who went on to win a third straight state championship.
They come into Saturday’s game with a seven-game win streak and a 9-2 record, including a tough 16-7 first round playoff win over Wirt County.
Graden McKinney scored the game winner on a 72-yard run with 7:57 left in the game.
Ritchie County’s only two regular season losses came on back-to-back weeks by a combined nine points — 34-26 to St. Mary’s and 9-8 to Doddridge County.
Sophomore quarterback Ethan Haught, a second-year starter, has thrown for 1,352 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Rebels. Junior Gus Morrison has accounted for 1,706 yards of total offense (1,015 rushing, 391 receiving and 300 in return yardage).
“They’re pretty good,” said Harris. “They’re a lot better than most teams we’ve faced this year. They’re well-coached and they have good athletes. They’re a lot like us in that last year they had success and a lot of kids are back. They’re playing really good football right now, so we’re looking at a tough game.”