Vikings fight through COVID-19 for winning season and playoff berth

Mark Martin
Sportswriter
Jackson Newspapers

They say cats have nine lives.

The Ripley Vikings fought tooth and nail nine times in the 2020 high school football season marred by COVID-19.

When looking around the state and seeing some teams with five or fewer games, first-year head coach Steve Sayre knows how fortunate his crew was to compete in nine.

“It took a lot of work on a lot of Saturdays by (athletic director) Steve Lough and (principal) Mr. (Jimmy) Frashier to get a game scheduled,” Sayre said. “We watched the (the state's color-coded map determining if teams could play or not) map (which was released each Saturday at 5 p.m.) and then tried to get a game scheduled in 20 minutes. It’s not the type of season that I would want to repeat (in terms of the constant schedule changes and COVID-19 protocols).”

The Vikings finished at 6-3 and earned a spot in the Class AAA playoff field.

The postseason game, though, was never played and ruled a no-contest when Jackson County hit orange (no game allowed) on the map.

The Vikings finished 15th in the final set of Class AAA ratings and were scheduled to play No. 2 South Charleston on a Sunday afternoon in one of the eight scheduled opening-round games. No. 2 South Charleston would ultimately be designated as the AAA state champs.

Games with Oak Hill, Point Pleasant, Greenbrier East, and St. Albans were unable to be played this season. Three of the four were made up. Two of those additions came from teams in the Eastern Panhandle – Spring Mills and Berkeley Springs - who both journeyed to Ripley. The Vikings also had a Tuesday night affair in Madison with the Scott Skyhawks to help fill up the schedule.

The original Viking football slate, before the first set of changes, were made and the beginning of the season was moved from the last weekend of August to the first weekend in September, had Ripley playing Brooke in its opener. That game was replaced by Lewis County later in September.

Ripley’s six wins came against Buckhannon-Upshur (42-0), Lincoln County (21-7), Marietta, Ohio (28-26), Scott (28-0), Shady Spring (35-14), and Ravenswood (21-0). Losses were handed out by Lewis County (29-13), Spring Mills (43-14), and Berkeley Springs (27-7).

With a young team, which featured just 10 seniors, the nine games Ripley played will bode well for the future according to Sayre.

“It was vital that we play as many as we could,” he said. “I’m really thankful.

“The seniors worked so hard. We had a great group of seniors who handled things. They knew to take care of the things we could take care of. All we knew for sure was going to our practices, getting ready for the team we were supposed to play, and playing the game.

“We couldn’t let ourselves get distracted by the map and the rumor mill.”

Quinton Joyner (offensive line/defensive end), Matt Moore(offensive line/defensive end), Kadin Hall (fullback/linebacker), Matt Armstead (offensive line/defensive line), Isaac Parsons (running back/receiver/linebacker), Austin Anderson (running back/linebacker), Evan Shouldis (running back/defensive back), Trey Starcher (running back/linebacker), Andrew Comer (wide receiver/defensive back) and Dakota Parsons (offensive line/defensive line) made up the senior class.

Joyner and Moore were 1 and 2 in tackles this season for the Vikings.

“Quinton Joyner had 60 solo tackles and 54 assists (from a down defensive end position). That’s almost unheard of. Matt Moore had 93 total tackles. They were outstanding,” Sayre said.

Hall, who finished fourth on the team in tackles with 58, was a huge part of the Viking offense. Hall was the team leader in rushing with 787 yards on 145 carries. He scored eight touchdowns. He caught four passes out of the backfield for 45 yards and had one TD reception.

"He's been a great leader for us," said Sayre of Hall.

Sophomore Joey Ramsey rushed for 757 yards on 137 carries. He led the team in scoring with 15 touchdowns. Ramsey found the end zone 10 times running the football and three times as a receiver. He also scored a TD with an interception return and another on a kickoff return.

Ramsey had 24 total tackles this season at his linebacker slot.

Also getting carries and producing positive yardage this season for the Vikings were Eli Miller (11-104), Brady Anderson (21-79), Isaiah Casto (2-68), Joshua Roush (15-43), Colton Pepper (2-9), Aydin Domico (3-8), Starcher (1-5) and Virgil Myers (2-4).

Ty Stephens threw for 602 yards as the Viking quarterback. The hard-working sophomore completed 42-of-84 passes with seven going for touchdowns. Stephens suffered six interceptions on the season.

Besides Ramsey and Hall, other pass catchers for the Vikings were: Casto (11-137), Miller (9-176), Blake Cummings (3-42), Roush (1-23), Comer (1-11), Wyatt Simon (1-6) and Kaleb Swisher (1-0).

Cummings and Miller each had TD catches.

Defensive contributors in the tackling department were: Pepper (60), Austin Litton (52), Roush (49), Isaiah Casto (33), Brady Anderson (28), Jaydon Martin (21), Brandon Deal (18), Hunter Brown (8), Comer (7), Swisher (7), Colton Rhodes (5), Stephens (3), Simon (2), Jacob Torres (2), Bradley Anderson (2), Armstead (2), Myers (2), Austin Anderson (1), Jeremiah Casto (1) and Gage Landis (1).

Moore was the team leader in sacks with five and a half.

Stephens and Joyner led the team in fumble recoveries with three. Hall had two. Isaiah Casto, Simon, Myers, Pepper, Ramsey, and Moore each had one.

Isaiah Casto had three interceptions to lead the way followed by Ramsey’s two. Brady Anderson, Parker Boyd, Pepper, and Roush each had one.

Ramsey returned three kickoffs for 165 yards and the TD. Hall had the most returns with six for 66 yards.

Stephens punted 18 times for an average of 32.8. Anderson punted nine times for an average of 31.8.

Carter Cochran was a perfect 16-of-16 in extra points while Kaitlyn Lawrence was 13-of-14.

Despite all the team had to deal with in 2020, Sayre, a 1974 Ripley High graduate and one-time Viking standout, is extremely pleased with his first year at the helm.

“You never get everything done you want to do. I’m really proud of our coaches,” he said. “We had a great group of kids who bought into what we wanted to do.”