When Eddie Smolder returned to his alma mater for the chance at being head football coach of the Ripley Vikings in the season of 2015 he had but one thing in mind and that was to consistently have Ripley reaching the postseason year in and year out.
After some growing pains in year one and a couple of close calls in seasons two and three, Smolder and his Vikings were indeed a part of the promised land of playoff competition in 2018.
Not only did Ripley reach the Class AAA playoffs, but the Vikings captured victory in the opening round with a second win of the year over Greenbrier East and moved on to the quarterfinals.
While the brilliant campaign came to a close in a loss to Musselman, the Viking crew of this past season could look back and be proud of so many things.
After a season-opening loss to Parkersburg South (a team that reached the AAA playoffs), Ripley reeled off nine straight wins. The 9-1 regular season was followed up with the playoff win. The 10 wins matched a program-record with the 1989 and 2002 squads.
“It was a great year, very special,” said Smolder, a Class AAA First Team All-Stater during his Viking playing days in the late ‘90s before becoming a starter at Marshall University. “This season was great for our program, our school and our community. We had been on the verge of getting to this point and making it (reaching the playoffs) happen, but we just couldn’t get to that point.”
Until this season.
Smolder referred to a pair of back-to-back 4-6 seasons that left the Vikings on the outside looking in of the Top 16 (the number of teams which reach the playoffs each year).
Perhaps those near misses made the Viking returners hungrier.
“We were so daggone close it was heartbreaking,” said Smolder. “We regrouped in the offseason and went to work.”
Smolder said seasons like the one just enjoyed by Ripley is a group-effort.
“I’m extremely proud of our players, our coaches and all of the people who work to make our program one of the best in the state,” Smolder said.
Smolder said this season was for people like the late Frank Marino, who coached Viking football for 26 years and brought Ripley its first playoff teams, and his late mother.
“This is for all the former Ripley football players,” Smolder said. “We wanted to put respect back in Viking football and I think we did. All the things came to fruition.”
Smolder is happy for the young men who have represented the program with class, hard work and integrity. “We work hard, try to make good grades and stay out of trouble,” he said.
Ripley will lose 15 seniors.
“They were a special bunch and will be missed.”
Ripley averaged 34.2 points per game and allowed 21 this past season. Offensively, Ripley amassed an averaged of 371.3 yards per game while giving up 274.4.
R.J. Evans rushed for 1,479 yards and scored 22 touchdowns while Jeremy Harper raced for 1,000 and scored 14 times. Both are seniors.
Quarterback Cyrus Casto, another senior, threw for nearly 1,000 yards by finishing with 903. He fired 10 touchdown passes and rushed for six more.
His top targets were Dalton Myers, who piled up 298 receiving yards, and Evan King who had a team-high 11 catches.
On the prevent side, Myers was the leader with 100 tackles. Josh Kay finished with 85.5. Chris DeFrank had 74.5, Jake Lawrence ended the year with 72.5 and Caydon Keeler made 67.5 stops.
In the special teams department, Davisson Flint made 42-of-49 extra points and averaged 33.2 per punt. King averaged 23.4 per kickoff return.
The future is now according to Smolder.
Not only for those returning but any newcomers.
“We are going to go back to work and hopefully make the playoffs again.”
After all, when it comes to high school football there is no better destination.