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Ritchie’s ready!

Rebels host Wheeling Central with Class A title spot on the line

Photo by Jay W. Bennett Ritchie County’s Marlon Moore surveys the field looking for someone to block for teammate Gus Morrison during the Rebels’ 34-6 Class A state quarterfinal win last week versus Mount View.

ELLENBORO — Wheeling Central has more state championship trophies — a baker’s dozen — than the Ritchie County football program has playoff victories, which currently stands at eight.

The Rebels of head coach Rick Haught will be out to deny the Mike Young-led Maroon Knights when the two programs collide at 1:30 p.m. Saturday inside Chuck Schofield Memorial Stadium in a Class A state semifinal.

WCC, the No. 8 seed currently sitting at 9-3, rolled past Gilmer County 55-0 in its quarterfinal triumph. The trio of Riley Watkins, Lorenzo Ferrera and Cody Martos combined for 21 carries and 298 yards in the victory. Seven different players scored a touchdown versus the Titans.

Fourth-seeded Ritchie County (11-1) was tied 6-6 at halftime against Mount View, but scored 14 points in each of the final two quarters to win going away.

“They are still running sets to where they got a double-wing and put one guy in motion and the quarterback comes around or runs the counter off of it, or throws off of it,” said coach Haught.

“The last two weeks they’ve gotten a heavy dose of that and I think a power run game. They are still throwing it some. They execute well.

“They seem up front to always get a hat on a hat and get the right guy to block. It’s a nice scheme. Offensively, they put a lot of points up. They are basically gashing people on the ground. On the defensive side of the ball I’m pretty impressed with their speed and their front four is pretty active and they put pressure on you.”

Central’s Payton Hildebrand has thrown for 701 yards this season. He’s 46 of 88 with six touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Watkins (132-894-7), Ferrera (64-761-9) and Martos (55-362-4) lead the ground attack, while Ayden Baker and Brayden Whitelatch have registered 10.5 and seven sacks, respectively.

Ritchie County can expect the visitors, who bested them on the same field during the 2019 playoffs by a score of 13-0, to do everything they can to not allow Gus Morrison to beat them.

Morrison, who leads the Rebels with seven interceptions, has found the end zone 29 times and currently has 2,122 all-purpose yards. Morrison’s 51 solo stops and 79 total tackles is second on the squad behind Austin Bartlett, who has a team-high eight sacks to go along with 56 solo tackles and 90 total stops.

“We’ve exhausted all of our means. I hate that,” coach Haught said of not having Bartlett’s services for the game after the 6-foot-4 defensive end/tight end was ejected for a helmet to helmet hit last week.

While Rebel Gavin Bell, who has seven sacks, will have to help pick up the slack along with his teammates, the Rebels also don’t know about the status of Brandon Riddle. The Rebel fullback/linebacker was injured early in the Mount View game.

“He was at practice Tuesday night and walking on it. We’ll see how he comes along this week,” added Haught, who watched senior Seth Hardy fill in at fullback versus MVHS and surpass 100 yards on the ground. “It is what it is. You never know when you’re going to have to replace somebody and it just happens to be this week for us. We’re going to coach kids up, plug them in and go from there.

“It’s not like we don’t have any options and we do have some options. We’ll probably do some things different on the defensive side of the ball. There are four teams left, and I got to think, I look at the other three teams that are left and they are all fundamentally sound, well coached across the board, good athletes, which is what you expect when you get this deep into the playoffs.”

Ethan Haught enters the contest for the Rebels having completed 105 of 175 attempts for 1,885 yards to go along with 21 touchdowns against five picks.

Ritchie County had what coach Haught felt was a more front-loaded schedule, and he’s more than happy to be practicing the week of Thanksgiving.

“Personally, when you get into the playoffs you step back and try to enjoy it a little bit,” said the coach. “Try to enjoy the fruits of where you are at and let the kids play. I think we have to play mistake free football. We have to be really aggressive on defense. We probably have to turn it into a defensive battle.

“I believe we’ll have to play better than we have in our previous two playoff games. It probably has to be an advantage for us that we practice and play on grass, or what’s left on grass, and they are a turf team. See if that maybe swings the ball in our court a little bit.”

Contact Jay Bennett at jbennett@newsandsentinel.com

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