By Stephen Smoot
Pendleton County has seen a roller coaster of a season so far, taking on five teams this year who will likely make the state playoffs. Last Friday, the Wildcats challenged the East Hardy Cougars, deceptively ranked at 15 by the West Virginia State Scholastic Athletics Commission.
The team fought hard, despite losing two key players to injury. James Vincell, who creates big plays as both starting quarterback and linebacker, could not participate. Neither could Dillon Smith, leading rusher, second team quarterback, and one of the top tacklers on the defense. Against a fully loaded 15th ranked Cougar squad, the game was a tall order for a team already missing key weapons.
In the first quarter, under clear and cool dusky skies, East Hardy received first. From the 34, they worked to establish the run, opening with a 26-yard gain off a pitch to the right. Over the next three plays, they registered strong gains running alternately to the right and left side before taking a 10-yard run for their first score.
Seeking to salt away the game quickly, the Cougars tapped an onside kick with 9:30 left in the opening quarter. After recovering, they found a much more stout Wildcat defense. Lucas Redman dropped the back behind the line of scrimmage. Two plays later, the defense broke up a pass on fourth down and gave the offense the ball for the first time.
With Vincell and Dillon Smith unavailable, Josiah Kimble took over as the team’s third starting quarterback this season. Coach Zac Smith wasted little time in putting his passing skills to the test. Kimble threw on his second play from scrimmage, completing a 17-yard pass to Isaiah Lockard. Two plays later, Chase Owens drove forward for a five-yard gain to the East Hardy 40. A loss on the next play and an incomplete pass turned the ball over on downs.
From their own 44, East Hardy executed a nine-play, nearly three and a half minute drive featuring a 25-yard pass to the Wildcat 18, then a well-executed screen pass two plays later for their second touchdown. An interception run back for a touchdown by the Cougars put the score at 21-0 in the early minutes of the second quarter.
The Wildcats continued to claw at the Cougars. The Pendleton County offense started next at their own 17 and tried to rely on workhorse Owens to grind out yardage. The first two plays of the drive saw Owens picking up four, then 13 yards. The drive stalled at the Wildcat 40 and a solid Gabriel Harvey punt put the Cougars at their own 23.
Pendleton County’s defense bottled up East Hardy with a fourth and 25 at their own eight-yard line and expecting great field position. Then came one of those penalties born of effort combined with frustration, a roughing the punter personal foul that set East Hardy up with a first down at their own 23. On the next play, they scored on a 77-yard run, with 6:44 left in the second quarter.
In the second half, both teams got opportunities for their future stars to earn playing time and experience. East Hardy would score three more touchdowns in the second half and end scoring at 63-0.
The score did not reflect some of the strong individual performances by the Wildcats. Terry Harvey Jr. came up with several big plays to stop big gains or slow drives. Harvey had 10 tackles, a sack, and shared a sack with Bradey Bowers. Justus Kuykendall also had a strong 10 tackle night. Bowers also turned in a strong defensive performance with seven tackles.
On offense, the running backs worked hard to grind out yards. Owens had 11 carries for 44 yards, giving him a solid 4.4 yards per carry. Bowers and Kam Redman also averaged four-yards per carry in a total of eight attempts. These totals look strong in light of the limits under which the offense had to labor due to injuries.
Friday, Pendleton County hosts the usually formidable, but currently struggling, Yellow Jackets of Moorefield. Moorefield lost decisively this year to East Hardy, Tucker County, and to rival Petersburg. They eked out one win over Pocahontas County and won handily over Southern. In their last outing, Moorefield lost to AA power Keyser 55-19.
Passing – Kimble 3-8/18 yards 2 INT, Tucker Smith 1-2 (-2 yards)
Rushing – Owens 11-44 yards, Bowers 2-8, Redman 2-8, Kimble 4 – (-6)
Receiving – Lockard 1-17, Owens 2-1, Corbin Dove 1 (-2)
Tackles: Harvey Jr. 10, Kuykendall 10, Bowers 7, Owens 6, Redman 5, Lockard 2, Jasper Tingler 2, Blake Harris 2, Connor Armentrout 2, Kimble 1, Adam Ruddle 1, Gabe Harvey 1, Alex Reyes 1
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