MORGANTOWN — The proverbial monkey is off the backs of the Preston High football team. With a convincing 22-0 victory on the road against Washington last week, PHS earned its first victory of the season.
Knights head coach Mark Deep said it could not have come for a more-deserving group.
“For all the hard work we’ve put in, just to show something for that is a great achievement,” Deep said. “The kids earned that and deserved that. To get the win, we were ecstatic. We needed it bad.”
Despite being outscored 248-98 in its previous six games, Preston was playing pretty solid at times this season. In a loss to Fairmont Senior, the Knights outscored the Polar Bears, 33-27, after the first quarter. And, in a loss to Bridgeport, the Knights were able to force two fumbles.
Deep also said Preston (1-6) let two winnable games against Hampshire and East Fairmont slip away at key moments.
“We felt like we gave two away this year, honestly,” he said. “I told them it’s about reaching up and taking something — don’t be afraid to be successful. We talked about that in the week leading up to Washington.”
That talking point was a sticking point in the big win. The Knights dominated the Patriots and never let the moment get too big for them.
“As the game progressed we got more confident and we could sense them dying down a bit and we just had to keep going at them,” said PHS sophomore Ethan Likens.
The defense stood their ground and didn’t allow Washington to complete a pass, finishing 0 of 15.
Cole Turner and Riley Land each picked off a pass. PHS even forced a safety on a bad snap when Washington was attempting to punt in the second quarter.
Likens had 10.5 tackles with one forced fumble and one pass breakup in the win. He has tallied more than 50 tackles on the season.
“For our first win, to be able to shut them out, that was what we wanted to do,” Likens said. “We executed the defensive game plan well. They didn’t complete any passes. We were prepared for it by playing Bridgeport the week before, because it was a similar offense. Playing the tough games like that help us mentally and physically. They’re a great challenge to see that caliber of teams and it helps us in the long run.”
Senior Logan Specht encouraged his teammates to really watch and study game film throughout the week and “when we got on that field you could tell everyone was paying attention and studied the film because we were well prepared. When times got harder I just told everyone to keep your head up, we got this, and it showed.”
The Patriots and Indians both run a single-wing scheme on offense so the Knights used their experience defending that the week prior to their advantage last Friday.
With that preparation in mind, the mood on the two-and-a-half hour bus ride to the Eastern Panhandle was focused, yet loose, Deep said. It was a bit of a change of pace compared to other games this season.
“We turned the radio on and relaxed the kids going down there,” he said. “Usually, we’re a little more buttoned up. But the cheerleaders were with us and we had some fun on the way there instead of being so serious all the time.”
The bus ride home was a little different, too.
“It was quiet,” Deep said, laughing. “We were tired. The kids were exhausted after a lot of them played both ways all night. But just to see the kids with a smile on their faces after the game was priceless.”
Likens said, “It was so much fun celebrating with my teammates. It felt so good to get one after all the work we put in all season.”
Specht said the defensive effort has gotten better as the season has progressed; a lot of that is thanks to the tough schedule the Knights have faced this season. He has 53 total tackles, six tackles for a loss and three sacks.
“Playing the harder teams in the state definitely prepared us and, honestly, I like playing the harder teams because we can show what we got against them,” Specht said. “People forget that any team can come out on top.”
Another tough test awaits Preston at 7 p.m. Friday with a road game at University High (5-2). The Hawks have won three in a row.
By Matthew Peaslee