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Williamstown has Rebels’ attention headed into state final

Ritchie County’s Ethan Haught (10) and Marlon Moore (13) help bring down Wheeling Central’s Lorenzo Ferrara during the Rebels’ 20-16 Class A state semifinal victory last week in Ellenboro. (Photo by Kerry Patrick)

ELLENBORO — Suffice it to say the Ritchie County football team is working harder than ever in preparation for the 7 p.m. Saturday Class A state championship showdown against Williamstown set for Wheeling Island Stadium.

“Williamstown has our attention,” said Rebel boss Rick Haught, whose 12-1 fourth-seeded squad will try to be the first Mountain State team this season to knock off No. 6 WHS (11-2). “I think there will be some really good battles up front. We are going to have to play well.

“They’ve improved to a point where they are playing some really good ball now. They got two really good backs, but they are going through the line of scrimmage with no one touching them. That tells you the guys up front are doing a really good job for them.”

Although coach Haught hasn’t been able to concern himself much with being the Rebel boys basketball coach, they’ll be plenty of time for that next week.

“We look a lot better when I get people back we didn’t have,” added the coach. “It’s been nice to have Austin Bartlett back and Brandon Riddle is making progress every day. He’s getting stronger each day on the ankle. We’re glad he’s improving like he is.”

Riddle, who was injured early in the state quarterfinal victory versus Mount View, was limited to a dozen-plus snaps during the Rebels’ 20-16 semifinal victory against Wheeling Central.

“I thought for us to have a chance that we had to control the ball as much as possible,” Haught added. “We probably went more for it on fourth down than we did in any other game this season.”

The last time two Little Kanawha Conference programs met in the state finals was when Williamstown fended off St. Marys for the 2014 crown in triple overtime, 33-32.

Of course, Haught has a little bit of a soft spot for the Yellowjackets.

“I don’t know what to feel,” admitted the coach. “(WHS athletic director) Jeff Givens and I graduated together. We’re the same age. I still have that connection, just the fact coaching other sports I know a lot of their coaches.

“I still have some great memories of Williamstown and I still consider it home also, even though I’ve been here my whole career. My parents still live down there. It will be kind of neat being on the other side of the field of them.”

While both squads prefer to run the ball, coach Haught has stressed to his team they can’t just focus on stopping the running game of quarterback Maxwell Molessa and running back Rickie Allen.

“Coach (Dave) McCullough, he’s done a really good job this year coming up with defensive schemes,” coach Haught said. “We’ve got a game plan and we’re going to put it in. Coach McCullough has done a great job.”

Coach Haught also noted the victory against the Maroon Knights was “a confidence booster. Those kids just did something that very few programs are able to do. It’s been a long time since Wheeling Central has been beaten in the playoffs. I think it’s a confidence builder.

“I don’t think we are still hanging on. We’ve kind of put that game behind us for now. Our kids really have kind of moved forward and focused on Williamstown. I’ve been really impressed mentally with how our kids have handled themselves all year, especially in the playoffs.”

The Rebel head man, who admitted it’s always easier to coach when you’re winning and have good players, knows his team has to continue playing at a high level for the final four quarters of the campaign.

“There’s a lot of excitement in the community because this is a first time thing,” Haught added. “I’m treating Saturday as close to a typical Friday night game as I can. It will be bittersweet at the end.

“I will say this, win or lose on Saturday it’s the last game. I have the opportunity to coach these guys, a great group of kids, 14 games, and we’re still enjoying practice. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Contact Jay Bennett at jbennett@newsandsentinel.com

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