Ritchie County has tall task in Greenbrier West

ELLENBORO — The No. 7 Ritchie County Rebels are a win away from the Class A state football semifinals, and a road trip to Greenbrier West stands in their way. The Rebels (9-2) took care of business last week with a 16-7 victory against Wirt County in the first round.

Unlike most teams in the state, RCHS played a full ten regular season games en route to its postseason appearance. While that experience helped Ritchie prepare for a number of obstacles in the playoffs, head coach Rick Haught is throwing it all out the window, as West waits in the wings on Sunday.

“We did have two games we did not get to play. We didn’t get to play Wirt (in the regular season), but then we played them in the playoffs,” Haught said. “We were also supposed to play South Harrison, but both those counties went a color where we couldn’t play them. We ended up picking up Moorefield and Roane County, so those were the only weeks where we struggled finding somebody. I think when you get in the second half of your season, playing games makes you better.”

It was all about the repetition of playing each week, and it helped both sides of the ball throughout the year. Defensively, the Rebels clamped down when Wirt had the ball in the red zone on multiple occasions. That led to the win, as sophomore Austin Bartlett led the charge. His nine total tackles (including a pair of sacks) proved to be a watershed moment for the development of Haught’s defense, as the No. 2 Cavaliers (9-0) have weapons that will test the grit of the team. One such player who may not be available for the unbeaten Cavs is Noah Brown.

The all-purpose running back has more than 1000 yards of total offense on the year, but he left West’s 58-0 win over Madonna in a walking boot.

No new information is currently available about the availability of the 6’3 220-pound senior. Still, that won’t deter Haught from leaning on his defense when needed. That means other Cavaliers like running back Levi Weikle and wide receiver Lawson Vaughn are key to the success of the team. Haught likes how his defense has grown throughout the course of 2020.

“We knew we had some areas where we had to develop some kids early in the season,” Haught said of his defense. “In our two defensive ends, we knew what we had in Dakota Wayne. We knew what we had with him, and Austin Bartlett has matched him on the other side. I really like the job our defensive tackles are doing on the inside. Kolton DePinho, Gavin Bell and Charles Copeland all have stepped up and really helped. We had a very veteran-heavy back end of the defense when we started. Blaine Bowie’s a three-year starter. Gus Morrison is a three-year starter, and Graden McKinney is now a two-year starter. Those guys have a lot of experience back there.”

Morrison enters this playoff tilt having been running all over opponents (a team-leading 1015 yards rushing), while McKinney gained 136 yards and a score on just six carries to put the Tigers away. Quarterback Ethan Haught continues to grow in his sophomore season, as the option to throw the ball helps Haught and company open the playbook even more. The sophomore enters Sunday’s game with 21 touchdowns tossed to just one interception.

Contact Josh Hughes at jhughes@newsandsentinel.com


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