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Great season, unfortunate ending for Rebels

Photo by Joe Albright Ritchie County’s Ethan Haught (10) looks to pass during a high school football game against Wirt County earlier this season in Ellenboro.

ELLENBORO — All things considered, Ritchie County third-year head football coach Rick Haught was more than pleased with his team in 2020.

An 8-2 regular season earned the Rebels the No. 7 seed, which led to a 16-7 opening round playoff win versus Wirt County at Chuck Schofield Memorial Stadium.

The following week, the Rebels went to Charmco and upset Greenbrier West at Cavalier Field, 38-29, to advance to the state semifinals.

With no team there to play due to the Mountain State COVID-19 map, the Rebels had a date in Wheeling for the Class A state title against St. Marys, which handed RCHS a 34-26 setback on Sept. 18.

Of course, that game never materialized as Ritchie County went the wrong way on the map and was banned from playing, thus making the squad from Ellenboro the state runner-up and the rival Blue Devils state champions.

“I think us and St. Marys is such a rivalry everyone, both sides, probably would’ve liked to see a rematch and it didn’t work out,” admitted coach Haught, who bids farewell to seniors Dakota Wayne (FB/DE), Blaine Bowie (WR/S), Graden McKinney (WR/CB), Damien Trader (LB/RG) and Eddie McComas (RG).

“Small group, but really a nice class, excellent attitudes. I think Blaine, Eddie would’ve been and Dakota was four-year starters. Graden played middle school, but we didn’t get him back out until his junior year. Trader hadn’t played football at all until his junior year and became a solid contributor for us. He (McKinney) was out because of Blaine Bowie. I think Blaine harassed him. They are pretty good friends.”

Trader, who made 77 tackles, took over at right guard when McComas was lost for the season because of a knee injury during the Rebels’ 9-8 home setback against Doddridge County.

Wayne led the team with seven sacks.

“He had 600 yards rushing. He didn’t start playing fullback until the Doddridge game,” Haught said. “I think he’s a really, really good defensive end.”

This year’s Rebels also made a mark in the school history books.

In 1994, then head coach Kenny Wright guided the Rebels to playoff wins of 31-9 against Duval and 27-23 versus Bluefield, both at Stadium Field, before falling in the Class AA state semifinals to Sissonville, 21-20, at Laidley Field.

Thanks to triumphs against the Tigers and Cavaliers, the Rebels tied the school record of two postseason wins. Coach Haught, who has now led the Rebels to the playoffs each season, will have a chance to break that tie next fall. Coach Wright (1994-96) and former head man Mike Dawson (2011-13) also led RCHS to the postseason three straight times.

“The COVID just determined everything and I’m glad we got to play,” added Haught, whose program was just one of six — Wahama, Mt. View, Ravenswood, Webster County and Montcalm — out of 44 single-A squads to play 10 regular season contests. I think the kids enjoyed playing the games and I’m glad we found someone to play every week. Seven teams didn’t get beat.

“They got stopped by the map. That’s just single-A. Williamstown and Wheeling Central didn’t get to play. They got knocked out in week one. I could complain, but I’d rather look at it that we got two games in the playoffs and we got to play every game in the season and just a great group of kids and I’m happy they got to play those 12 games.”

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 contact tracking, McKinney wasn’t eligible to compete for 14 days.

“He missed two games because he was quarantined because he was on a bus with a kid who tested positive and got caught up into that,” Haught added.

“He missed the Roane game and the Gilmer game. He was the key guy at the Wirt County game.”

Two other key contributors for the Rebels this year were sophomore signal-caller Ethan Haught and junior tailback Gus Morrison, whose five interceptions tied McKinney for the team lead and was one more than Bowie.

Morrison finished just behind Haught in total yards (1,579 to 1,542). Haught hit 85 of 153 passes for 1,544 yards with 24 touchdowns and just one interception. Along with leading the state in scoring during the regular season, Morrison rushed for a total of 1,104 yards with 16 touchdowns to go along with 20 receptions for 438 stripes and 11 more scores.

“Gus is such a playmaker. He had a really good year,” added the coach, who said of his son “he ends up with 24 TDs against one INT, that’s pretty impressive.”

Although getting the chance at the big prize wasn’t meant to be, Haught loved the following the Rebels had even if it was mostly online.

“It’s been a different kind of year to gauge that. You determined how much people were following you with Facebook,” he said. “It wasn’t a bad crowd (at Greenbrier West), 900 households logged into that so how many people is that really? We had a niece who had 10 people watching the game.

“You had all those extra people watching online. They were a fun team to watch. Ran the ball well, threw the ball well, exciting and hit big plays and our defense was also solid. Regardless of what you want to see when you watch a football game, there’s something there for everybody.”

As excited as Haught and the Rebels are about what lies ahead, there was plenty to be grateful for despite how this season ended.

“The Wirt game and the Greenbrier West game I think really ends up meaning a lot to our kids, our program and our community,” said the coach.

“Just the opportunity to get two games into the playoffs, because we played really well, I can’t be disappointed and feel lousy for ourselves not getting that last week.”

Contact Jay Bennett at jbennett@newsandsentinel.com

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