Blue Devils face top-seed East Hardy Friday night
ST. MARYS — In Greek mythology Heracles (or Hercules as he is better known) had 12 labors assigned to him by the gods, tasks they deemed impossible.
His first task, assigned to him by King Eurytheus, was to slay the Nemean Lion, a beast impervious to any weapons.
Class A’s fifth-seed St. Marys’ football team (10-1) has a similar labor when they travel for a showdown with top-seeded and undefeated East Hardy (12-0) for a 7:30 p.m. showdown Friday.
Much like the Nemean Lion, Chad Williams’ Cougars have proved impervious to defeat on their home turf the last three seasons. In fact, the team has lost at home just three times this decade. All of those defeats coming in 2014.
Of course it doesn’t help the Blue Devils handed the Cougars just their second loss in three years in the state title game last season, 23-8. Revenge is sure to be on the minds of every East Hardy player.
Two teams came close to toppling East Hardy this season in Williamstown (14-10) and Wheeling Central (10-7). However, as the Yellowjackets and Maroon Knights learned, you have to play a flawless game to escape Baker with a victory.
Wide receiver Brett Tharp taught the Yellowjackets a lesson the hard way after he hauled in a 33-yard pass from quarterback Clay Skovron with 5:53 left in the fourth, which proved to be the game-winning score. The pair then joined the defense to shut down any possible game-winning magic.
Tharp, a 2016 All-State First-Team selection, also took St. Marys to school the last time these teams got together on the Cougars’ turf in the semifinals two years ago. Then a sophomore, the now-senior set a W.Va. high school playoff single-game receiving record with 232 yards, along with four touchdowns against the Blue Devils.
He stands as one of the key cogs in an offense averaging 38 points per game on the season and 38.4 points per game at home. East Hardy also is outscoring visiting opponents 310-91 in eight home games.
Skovron, running back Phillip Mullin and receiver Aden Funkhouser stand as other big weapons behind an outstanding offensive line led by all-state hopeful Nick Miller.
The passing game, the primary attack for the Cougars, is one of the best in the state. Skovron has completed 153 of 281 passes for 2,673 yards with 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Yet he can get the job done on the ground as well with 655 yards and 13 touchdowns on 170 carries.
Tharp, who surpassed 4,000 receiving yards for his career against Sherman last week, and Funkhouser have a combined 95 catches for 1,801 yards with 27 scoring receptions between them. Tharp leads the way with 61 haul-ins for 1,170 yards and 16 touchdowns.
St. Marys’ secondary led by Matt Eichhorn, Anthony Wince and Eric Illar will have their hands full all evening.
Mullin provides the Cougars the ability to run the ball when they want. He ripped off a big scoring run of 75 yards against Sherman last week.
Every one of those players sees major minutes on a defense allowing just 12.1 points per game to opponents in 2017.
“They are the No. 1 team in the state and are just incredible as far some of their kids,” said St. Marys’ head coach Jodi Mote. “We have to be ready to play ball and do it well. We have to play the best football we have played all year to have an opportunity to be successful.”
“We have to eliminate the big play — It is a must,” added St. Marys defensive coordinator Jay Powell when asked how St. Marys could walk out with a win. “They are very balanced and we have to match their physicality every single play will all 11 of us. Lastly, we must play with a high-football IQ. We look for them to motion us a lot and screen us thus we must play intelligent, disciplined football every play.”