SUMMERSVILLE – One year away from the West Virginia high school football playoffs was long enough for Gene Morris and his Nicholas County Grizzlies.
After reaching the playoffs three straight seasons in Class AA, Nicholas County missed out on the postseason party in 2015 despite a solid 7-3 record.
This year Nicholas posted an outstanding 9-1 record and earned the No. 7 seed in Class AA’s Road to Wheeling. The Grizzlies will host Keyser, the No. 10 seed, in an opening round game Friday night at Nicholas County High School’s Memorial Stadium in Summersville.
“It’s fantastic to get back,” said Morris, a former three-sport standout at Ravenswood High School. “It’s an honor. The team played well this season.”
Morris, who graduated from Ravenswood High in 1981, saw his Grizzlies begin the season by producing four consecutive shutouts over Greenbrier West (23-0), Shady Spring (60-0), Wyoming East (35-0) and Roane County (35-0). Those four whitewashings were followed by a 25-9 victory over Class AA No. 6 seed James Monroe.
After suffering its first loss of the year to Class A unbeaten and No. 3 seed Fayetteville, 44-42, Nicholas reeled off four more wins to end the season against Westside (45-6), Midland Trial (22-0), PikeView (47-7) and Richwood (48-14).
“We have several seniors,” said Morris, who was an excellent football and baseball player at Ravenswood for Fred Taylor and Doug Parrish, respectively, and captured a state wrestling title under Dale Hinkle’s guidance. “We hang our hat on the defensive side of it, but we have a fairly explosive offense.”
Morris said the strength of his team is up front on the line. A group of sophomores who started a year ago are now a year older, wiser, bigger and stronger as juniors.
This year’s team is the fourth Morris has had at Nicholas to finish the season at 9-1. Prior to making the shift to Class AA, Morris had four straight teams in the Class AAA playoffs (2007-2010).
Since 2006, Morris has an overall record of 86-34.
His last three playoff teams have advanced to the quarterfinal round. His 2014 squad lost a tough, 26-20, quarterfinal round matchup to eventual state runner-up Frankfort.
Morris’ team fell to Ripley in the opening round of Class AAA’s playoffs in 2009. Had things turned out differently in the 2013 and 2014 playoffs, his Nicholas teams would have met Mick Price’s Ravenswood squads in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Morris and Price have grown to be very close through the years.
As for this year’s opening round playoff matchup Morris said, “We don’t know much about each other. They have a rich tradition. They are a very good football team. They are well-coached and well-disciplined.”
Morris has enjoyed his time at Nicholas, where he has been coaching since 1986.
An enjoyable period was when Ravenswood native Greg Carter served as the “Voice of the Grizzlies” on radio. Carter died last week of a heart attack at the age of 55.
“We enjoyed Greg’s company,” Morris said. “He was a friend of ours. His son (Bradley) played baseball (Morris is also the school’s head baseball coach and at one time served as head wrestling coach) for me. Greg just did an outstanding job and he was a big part of the community.
“We went to school together. It was nice to have a familiar face around. He was a heck of a guy. He was just a good friend.”