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PREP FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Mon County teams ready to play their first games, Preston heads to a neutral field for Week 5 showdown

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Friday night games for Morgantown, University, Trinity Christian and Clay-Battelle are “full speed ahead” as UHS coach John Kelley put it, noting Monongalia County’s COVID-19 numbers. 

“It’s a little past [noon] on Thursday, so I still have my fingers crossed that they don’t yank the rug from under us like the other time but it looks like we’re full speed ahead and depending on what all these teacher unions are up to we’ll at least get one game in,” Kelley said. “And that’s pretty exciting for the kids.” 

Currently resting at 2.45 cases, the lowest of the last seven days, Mon County teams are ready to take the field for the first time this season. While all but UHS are behind their opponents by four games, the preparations have been the same in terms of conditioning. 

“The single greatest issue is that we weren’t able to have any live contact or face-to-face contact with each other for three weeks exactly, and this week starting Monday we were allowed,” Kelley said. “So we had to go back to the beginning with all the live contact drills, tackling drills, what have you, and we tried to go some scrimmage but the issue with that is, how much do you want to bang on each other knowing you have a game on Friday?”

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of what’s in store for this week, it’s important to note that games can only be admitted by parents, grandparents and siblings and tickets must be purchased in advance. So, without further ado, here’s what you need to know about this week’s slate.

Morgantown hosts Musselman 

The biggest game of the week will take place at Pony Lewis Field, pitting the visiting Musselman Applemen (3-1) against the Mohigans, new coach Sean Biser and the newly-implemented Wing-T. 

“We’re excited to get back out there and play, and have that opportunity to see where we are,” Biser said. “It’s hard to practice and not have a game. This will be a good jumping-off point for us to see where we are and to go from there.” 

No. 6 Musselman is coming off a solid 42-21 comeback win over Class AA Fairmont Senior, making this a tall task for Morgantown who only has a scrimmage under its belt. Even with this knowledge, Biser’s mindset is the same as always: Worry about ourselves and play the best game they can play.

“Obviously a huge advantage for Musselman having four games under their belt, we can run all we want and do whatever we want but nothing gets you in shape for a game like playing a game,” Biser said. “But at the same time, my mindset is not to be concerned. We have to go out and hopefully, our kids will play the best we can prepare them.” 

Thankfully, practices have been good for the Mohigans. Knowing a game is on the horizon is a morale boost for the team who just a week ago was trying to maintain focus under the orange designation. Still, the team has been cautious knowing that if they underwork or work too hard they won’t be fully prepared Friday night. 

Blake Hartman is the guy who comes to mind with any coach who’s game-planning for the Applemen, but Biser also knows he has to be ready for their big-time QB Caleb Hardy and the triple option. While Hartman ran for 240 yards and four touchdowns, Hardy was also integral in the win over the Polar Bears with two scores on the ground. 

“They’re a well-coached team No. 1,” Biser said. “They play hard, they have athletic kids on defense and of course they have the Hartman kid, but their quarterback is really good, too. He’s as dangerous as anyone else. They’re a high-ranked team for a reason.” 

University hosts Albert-Gallatin

While their peers are facing teams with four games under their belts, University has some leeway when it comes to their season-opening game against Albert-Gallatin (Pa.) who only has two games to their name. His concern is a common one across the county now: How will the kids fare after one week of live contact?

“I’m excited for the kids, they’ve been doing a lot,” Kelley said. “Things looked really dark when we were in the red, and I asked them to hold on to hope. Hope has answered us, so we have to take advantage of it.

“I am very concerned that our issue will be 48 minutes of live contact and what kind of condition we’re in for that,” Kelley said. “I think we have a physical team, but the big advantage goes to Albert-Gallatin having played two games.”

The Colonials (2-0) are undefeated, however, albeit against Laurel Highlands (Pa.) and Brooke, the latter being a close 28-19 win in Uniontown, Pa., two weeks ago. Still, it’s something to hang their hats on, whereas UHS can only point to their scrimmage against John Marshall which took place nearly a month ago. 

And while the Hawks are fighting for a season-opening win, they’re also fighting for redemption. The Colonials snuck away with a win last year in the game that saw current QB Chase Edwards inherit the pocket for good, and since then the starters have gotten stronger, older and more well rounded. Plus, it’s senior night. The problem is, though, that Kelley and his team don’t know much about the Colonials this year. What they do know is that they have Shawn Loring, a powerful, 257-pound fullback who, as Kelley put it, “is a man.”

“All we could exchange with them was our scrimmage, and it was only fair to ask for their scrimmage which was against a Class A school that was not very good so they look like a million dollars,” Kelley said. “I’ve done some talking with other coaches that’s played them, trying to pick their brain, and they do have [Shawn Loring]. He drags people. He’s not going to go down on the first tackle, he’s averaging 7 yards a carry and has scored a bunch of touchdowns already.” 

Kelley also noted that AGHS runs the triple option, and with their starting quarterback back from injury his defense will need to be keyed in. They also have to prepare for their fast wideouts who beat the secondary last year en route to their win. 

“I do think we’re better up front, but the key will be Loring. If he gets going, he can dominate the game. Even if they don’t score they can take 6-8 minutes off every quarter. I think we can score some points, but I’m worried about our execution, we haven’t done it live. I worry about our special teams, we haven’t done that live. There’s a lot of factors here. All those things are scary.”

Preston gets back to work after forfeiting Week 4’s game

After the Preston County Board of Education forfeited Preston’s Week 4 game against Lewis County for disciplinary action, PHS coach Jonathan Tennant is ready to get back to the field and take on Woodrow Wilson. 

“We haven’t really done anything differently, but we did use the time to correct a lot of fundamental things,” Tennant said. “We had some good practices, some physical practices. Usually this time we have a bye week and go back to basics, and that’s what we’ve done.”

The Knights (0-4) and Flying Eagles (0-3) are both winless, both had a break last week and neither will have home-field advantage this week as the game has been moved to Buckhannon-Upshur due to bleacher issues at Knights Stadium. Kick off is still slated for 7 p.m. This does not affect the Buccaneers who have been scheduled to play John Marshall in Glen Dale. 

The question is, then, has Preston improved their weaknesses in their week off? Tennant believes they have, and after some personnel changes due to injury, he thinks the Knights have a good shot of notching their first mark in the win column.

“This is the first time we’ve dealt with injuries all year, so we had to move some people around,” Tennant said. “It’s going to be interested to see how it works out. We lost an offensive lineman against RCB, so we had to shuffle some kids around. 

“They’ve got a pretty good wide receiver corps. They run a lot of spread trips, empty sets, doubles, and they try to get the ball in those receivers’ hands. They run a lot of bubble screens, tunnel screens, so that’s their main offense. We just have to slow them down. They’re pretty good-sized receivers, 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-4, so we have got to play good pass defense and be aware of those screens.”

 Tennant also noted that junior QB Trevor Thomas, who was banged up in the last part of the Knights’ game at Robert C. Byrd, will be starting again. Still, he was highly impressed with freshman backup Dillon Taylor.

He also believes his team is better and closer as a unit after the disciplinary action taken by Preston superintendent Steve Wotring. While Wotring wouldn’t comment any further on the situation when asked the day news broke of the forfeit, Tennant shared his thoughts on the situation while not sparing any details. 

“Some students said some things they shouldn’t have said and we all realize that. We’ve taken our punishment and have done a lot of soul searching this past week, had some lessons and diversity training and I think we’re a better team now than we were two weeks ago. We’re more focused and looking forward to the rest of the year,” Tennant said. 

Trinity Christian heads to Madonna for Saturday season-opener

The Trinity Christian Warriors looked like they’d be the only Mon County team to play before the county went red, but Wirt County pulled out at the last minute dashing any hopes to get live-action under their belts. Now, the sophomore-laden team will begin its season on the road in Weirton at Madonna. 

The Blue Dons (2-2) aren’t the team they were last year, but that doesn’t mean first-year coach Chris Simpson is looking past them – they still have the advantage over Trinity. Plus, they’re coming off a 34-28 win over Steubenville Catholic Central (Ohio) and have major weapons to exploit. 

“They’ve got a returning quarterback that has a lot of experience,” Simpson said. “He’s a very capable kid. He’s got some pretty good receivers with good height, and they run a spread offense. We’re pretty familiar with it, they had good luck with us on it last year, but I feel like the matchup is going to be better this year. They don’t do too many crazy things, it’s just a straight-forward spread offense. They’ll probably throw the ball three quarters of the time.” 

That quarterback, Santino Arlia, is a 6-foot-1 junior who was a nightmare for the banged-up Warriors last season. Arlia threw for 386 yards in that win, mostly connecting with 6-foot-1 Luchenzo “Lucky” Pulice. Pulice is back for his senior year and will prove to be a threat one more in tandem with that deep receiver group. 

“The good thing with the offense we’ll be facing, 7-on-7 drills are highly effective,” Simpson said. “Learning your zone coverages, who to pick up and when to pick up – we’ve watched a ton of film to be prepared for what they run a majority of the time. Honestly, I feel good with the secondary going up against them. I’m more prepared not hitting to where we’d be if we were playing a power running team.” 

 Already being four games back from their upcoming opponent, Simpson and the Warriors know any game can be their last. With a lot on their mind, they’re just taking things one day at a time and come time will leave everything on the field. 

One serious setback is that Trinity will be without their top-tier kicker Kyle Knight. Knight, also a standout soccer player, suffered a concussion in a game this week.  

“That will hurt, because any time we get inside the 30 he’s money for us,” Simpson said. “Ball possession will be a different story. We’ll look like a traditional single-A team – we’ll go for it a little bit more on fourth down than I want to, I won’t get the points I want if we get stuck inside the red zone, so we’re just going to have to brawl and fight it out. Hopefully, Kyle gets healthy in time for the next game.” 

Clay-Battelle heads to Calhoun

Calhoun County may be the Red Devils, but they’ve been unable to bring the heat this season, but as Clay-Battelle heads south to face them there’s still uncertainty as to who will pull out the win. 

The Red Devils (0-4) have faced numerous setbacks so far, but they’ve also played the two best teams in the state, both tied for the No. 1 spot, interlaced with two not-so-great squads. Their best performance came in the season-opener at Valley-Wetzel where the Devils were able to put up 26 points, albeit losing by seven. Since then, they’ve been unable to break 10 points, getting shut out at home by No. 1 Doddridge County 47-0, losing 42-6 to Tyler Consolidated at home, and putting up eight points in their 60-8 road loss to No. 1 St. Marys. 

It’s fair to argue that in recent years the Little Kanawha Conference has gotten exponentially better with some of the historically worst teams – Ritchie and Doddridge – becoming playoff contenders along with the powerhouses – St. Marys, Williamstown and Gilmer County – so Friday will be determinate if Calhoun has just had a rough shake so far, or if Clay-Battelle, another team that’s missed four weeks of live-action, will be able to start the season with a win and break off any rust that may have accumulated. 

Clay-Battelle enters with solid playmakers in Daniel Gorbey, Carson Shriver and Cooper Watson, as well as a tough front line that can protect those playmakers. Further, to help keep that rust from accumulating, C-B coach Ryan Wilson, who was unable to be reached before this story publishing, has been shaking things up before each practice to keep his players focused, entertained and exercising skills that wouldn’t normally be touched on. Only time will tell to see if it pays off. 

Kick off is set for 7 p.m. in Mt. Zion. 

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