St. Marys, East Hardy meet again

Fourth time in last five years

St. Marys’ Jaiden Smith (21) scrambles by Doddridge County’s Logan Gogan (4) during the Blue Devils’ 44-14 win over Doddridge County in W.Va. Class A first-round playoff action. Photo by Joe Albright.

ST. MARYS — East Hardy vs. St. Marys.

This matchup is becoming a common sight in the W.Va. Class A football playoffs. After meeting in the semifinals in 2015 and the state championship game last season, the third straight contest (and fourth in the last five years) comes in a semifinal matchup at 7:30 p.m. Friday night in Baker.

Each team has one win apiece in the now-trilogy with the Blue Devils winning the state title last year, while East Hardy denied St. Marys’ bid to play in two straight state championship games two seasons ago.

Cougars’ Head Coach Chad Williams hardly is surprised the two squads are meeting with so much on the line again this season.

“I can go all the way back to June when we were at WVU 7-on-7s and St. Marys and us were the only two Single-A teams out there,” said Williams. “Even then our kids saw St. Marys walking by and you just kind of knew at that point. We knew since last December we would come in preseason No. 1 and 2. And regardless of the ups and downs of the season I haven’t waivered in my believe we are still the top two teams. This was a matchup we knew was coming.”

Outside of East Hardy’s 14-10 scare from No. 16 seed Williamstown in the first round, the two teams have rolled through the playoffs to arrive at this point. Williams’ Cougars have outscored opponents 66-24.

“He just has a great offensive mind,” said St. Marys’ Head Coach Jodi Mote on Williams. “Defensively they do a nice job getting after it as well. This is the best team we have faced all year.”

Mote’s Blue Devils have been no pushover either. No. 12 Doddridge County’s 14 points are the only ones allowed by the Blue Devils as they have racked up 91 points on offense.

Many faces are back from the title game one year ago. Players like the Blue Devils’ Jaiden Smith, Dylan Gray, Zac Long and Tucker Dalrymple, along with the Cougars’ Brett Tharp, Clay Skovron and Phillip Mullin have the singular goal of getting their respective team to the last game of the year.

“Jaiden is the best running back in the state,” said Williams. “I would have said that from day one. My opinion has never changed regardless of the situation. I really like Dylan Gray. He is a heck of a football player. Matt Eichhorn is very fast and if he gets away he can pop one at any time.”

There is no coincidence Williams mentioned those three SMHS players by name. The trio has been responsible for almost all the big plays behind a monster offensive line.

Smith and Eichhorn ripped off scoring runs of 84- and 55-yards respectively in a 47-0 win over Tug Valley last weekend. Each also went over the 100-yard mark rushing the football. Smith picked up 206 stripes on 14 carries, while Eichhorn rushed 7 times for 126 yards.

Gray caught four passes for 96 yards, including a 59-yard scoring reception from quarterback Eric Illar in the fourth quarter against the Panthers.

Williams is hoping to force turnovers to get the ball away from the Blue Devils offense, but his task is easier said then done as St. Marys has committed just two turnovers in the postseason. One of those came with the starters on the bench last week against Tug.

“We also have to limit the big play,” said Williams on keys to winning the game. “Jaiden is going to get his yards but we need to keep him from popping off the long runs and shut down the other guys mentioned too.”

Mote has also paid attention to what East Hardy can do as his team has a chance to accomplish something no other team has done at St. Marys – Repeat as state champions.

“I don’t take anything for granted this time of year,” continued Mote. “We are appreciative and thankful for where we are at right now. The kids have done a tremendous job to get where they are now.”