ALBRIGHT: These Patriots are for real, folks

Parkersburg South High School’s football team could have left Cabell County Friday night with a 5-1 mark.

But, that didn’t happen.

Yes, Parkersburg High School head coach Mike Byus. You should be worried about this Patriots team.

Nate Tanner’s excitement during a phone call Friday night after his group’s 30-21 win over Huntington was clearly audible.

Tanner’s tone never left the upper levels of enthusiasm during the 10-minute conversation I was quite thankful for given the circumstance of his group being on the road.

His undefeated Parkersburg South team, having largely manhandled the first five opponents on its schedule, walked into Bob Sang Stadium, an unknown in terms of being a Wheeling contender and walked out as very much the real deal.

His group faced for the first time this season the prospect of needing a complete four-quarters performance.

His group lined up against a team among the most successful in the state with deep postseason runs to its name the past several seasons.

His group needed to rely on more than just a stellar offensive display to walk away with a victory. Strong play in all three phases of the game was the only clear path through the Highlanders.

Dylan Day’s 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, one blocked field goal after a great stand by the Patriot defense, two fumble recoveries and an overall outstanding defensive performance in the second half checked off all the boxes.

Devin Gaines toughing out a 19-carry evening for just 65 yards, but scoring two huge touchdowns along with Brandon Penn doing his usual thing brought the offensive fireworks. Penn’s Kennedy Award candidacy continued its growth after another gritty performance.

His 47-yard connection with Levi Rice with 1:55 left in the first quarter not only answered Brocton Blair’s 10-yard scoring run from three and a half minutes earlier. It infused confidence into a Patriot group Tanner and his staff have well reminded the strength of its opening opponents.

From there on it was about competing the remining 25:05 minutes in a hostile, homecoming environment. Penn’s snaring interception No. 4 late in the final period helped seal the sixth win and sent the Patriot bench into a frenzy as the bye week approached before a trip to Morgantown High School on Oct. 18.

Fans can say what they will about the Mountain State Athletic Conference having a down season. Message boards can write all they want about this not being a typical Huntington team.

The bottom line is this Highlander team was still the best group the Patriots faced on the grid in the opening six games. This Highlander group was still coached by one of the more accomplished leaders in the state in Billy Seals. This Highlander unit still puts out quality talent recognized across the nation year in and year out.

Darnell Wright starting on the offensive line as a freshman at the University of Tennessee didn’t just happen out of thin air. Running back Jadon Hayes making big things happen at the next level is no mistake, either.

Seals and his staff’s ability in the identification then development of talent is a blueprint of what Tanner and company appear to be erecting at the Erickson All-Sports Facility.

As for the future, this victory firmly puts in sight 10-0. And while Wheeling Park poses a very real threat to the dream and anything can happen in a rivalry game against the Big Reds, this South group feels different.

“Get the ball back Brandon,” “If they want to play an offensive slugfest we can do that too,” “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” are just a few of the phrases on the sideline that prove this South team is having fun on the gridiron. They want the ball. They want to play any team. They want to win.

This isn’t just four or five guys enjoying themselves, but the entire team.

Buckle up Patriot fans, this ride might not stop until The Island.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.