HUNTINGTON – Facing the Class AAA No. 4 Huntington Highlanders under normal circumstances is tough enough, but facing them after they have suffered a serious defeat is another thing entirely. That is the task that awaits head coach Eddie Smolder’s Class AAA No. 15 ranked Ripley Vikings this Friday night.
Last week, the then-No.1 ranked Highlanders traveled to Charleston to face then No. 6 Capital and fell, 35-18. The Vikings fared no better last week, losing 45-21 to GW.
So with both teams looking to bounce back, the challenge for the Vikings will be to regain the confidence and swagger they had in the first few weeks of the season.
“We had a good team meeting on Monday and the kids have really worked to get better,” Smolder said, “Tuesday was our best practice of the season. Our kids are going hard and getting after it, now they just have to take that type of effort and attitude to the field every Friday for 48 minutes. When they do that, we can be pretty good and when they don’t, we aren’t very good. It’s all about bringing it and attitude.”
In order to regain their confidence, the Vikings will have to go back to square one. That means a renewed focus on what brought them success early on this season: being physical up front.
Thus, the Viking offensive and defensive fronts will be a focal point tomorrow night.
The Viking offense was largely bottled up last week against a GW defense that was able to stretch plays east and west, rather than north and south. Ripley’s offensive line will have to be strong at the point of attack to open rushing lanes for its stable of backs. The running of sophomore R.J. Evans and freshman Dalton Myers has been a bright spot over the past few weeks, along with the usual suspects carrying the ball.
Complicating the matter will be the fact that the strength of the Highlanders is also on the interior. Senior offensive lineman Billy Ross (6-foot-5, 305) is an absolute road grater and keys the Highlander rushing attack. Ross has already committed to play next season at North Carolina.
The rest of the Highlander front has done a fantastic job of clearing lanes for junior running back Jadon Hayes (5-foot-11, 180), who has already broken the school record for rushing yards in a game with 307 yards earlier this season against Parkersburg.
The Highlanders also have junior quarterback Luke Zban (5-foot-11, 175) and wide receivers Lenny Jackson (6-foot, 170), Mikal Dawson (6-foot-4, 200) and Dez Bradshaw (6-foot-1, 175) at their disposal, so the Vikings will have to keep their collective head on a swivel tomorrow night on defense. Senior defensive lineman Ryan Mills (6-foot, 230), junior middle linebacker Shymeik Burger (6-foot, 200) and senior Jake Romans (6-foot, 215) lead an imposing Huntington defense.
With Ripley’s power run style seemingly playing into Huntington’s hands, Smolder and his coaching staff have spent most of the week going over their gameplan and fine-tuning it to find some Highlander weaknesses to exploit.
“We’ll try a few new wrinkles to try to take away their leverage,” Smolder said, “We know they’re big, strong and good, but they put their pads and helmet on the same way we do. We just have to be aggressive and hard-nosed and good things will happen. Offensively, I just want to see execution.”
As for the defensive side of the ball, Smolder and his team are focusing on bringing back that swarming mentality that they lacked last week.
“The biggest thing is, we have to get our kids flying to the football,” Smolder said, “We have to get eleven guys to the ball. Everybody has a responsibility, be in the correct alignment, read their key and attack. We have to do that consistently.”Even with their mental and physical approach solidified, the Vikings are still aware that they have their work cut out for them tomorrow night.
Still, the Vikings have shown that they won’t be intimidated by any opponent.
“I want our kids to play as hard and physical as they can for 48 minutes,” Smolder said, “If they do that, we’ll be in the ballgame. If we don’t, it’ll be ugly, that’s just the reality.”
PRE-GAME NOTES The last meeting between these two teams occurred in Huntington in 2014, with the Highlanders scoring 35 second half points to win 35-0... The Highlanders have allowed just 43 points in their four wins... Last week was Ripley’s first game this season without a turnover... Kick-off is set for 7:00 p.m. at Bob Sang Stadium in Huntington