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Midland visitor new to playoffs

Nov. 13, 2013 @ 11:54 PM

ONA -- Cabell Midland has been to the Class AAA football state championship game as recently as last season, while Washington is making its first playoff appearance

Cabell Midland (8-2) will be at home resting Friday. The Patriots (7-3) will be on the road traveling from Charles Town, W.Va., in the eastern panhandle for the first-round playoff game at 1:30 p.m., Saturday at Cabell Midland. The Knights are seventh in the WVSSAC ratings. Washington is 10th.

Very little of that matters, according to Cabell Midland coach Luke Salmons and his players. The game still will come down to blocking, tackling, execution and eliminating mistakes.

"Our guys haven't even mentioned that it's the playoffs," Salmons said. "They're treating it as if it's just another week. The thought of losing and being done scares them, but it's our third year being there and that helps."

In the Patriots, the Knights face a team with a versatile, potent offense. Washington prefers to run, averaging 263.3 yards per game, but can throw. The Patriots, led by quarterback Matt Harris, average 158.7 yards passing per game. Harris, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior, has completed 91 of 172 passes for 1,502 yards and 16 touchdowns with eight interceptions. Harris was hot in Washington's last two games, going 15-for-20 for 248 yards and four touchdowns in a 55-14 rout of Hampshire, then completed 11 of 19 for 217 yards and one score in a 60-22 victory over Jefferson.

Harris' primary target is senior Kendall Smith (6-5, 210), who has 57 catches for 936 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Senior running back Colin Gustines (5-10, 180) has 12 catches for 174 yards, but does most of his damage on the ground. Gustines has rushed for 1,769 yards and 20 touchdowns on 214 attempts. He ran for 294 yards against Jefferson and 215 yards against Virginia playoff team Sherando. Gustines has accounted for 2,028 total yards this season.

"They have good skill players," Cabell Midland linebacker Justin Leggett said. "We have to go play. If we don't play with energy, they can beat us."

Washington's defense, which gives up 16.3 points per game, is led by linebacker Zane Bradbury, who averages 10.2 tackles per contest. Bradbury has 10 of his team's 38 sacks, nine quarterback hurries, five fumble recoveries and one caused fumble. Bradbury will be challenged by a Cabell Midland offense that averages 332 yards rushing and 57 passing per game.

"They're athletic," Salmons said of the Patriots. "Their running back is good, runs hard and is quick. They have a receiver who is taller than any we've seen. They're good. They'll be a challenge for us. Their defense comes after you. We have to play well."

Senior tailback Kasey Thomas (6-foot, 185) leads the Knights running game with 104 carries for 854 yards and 13 touchdowns. Thomas is far from Cabell Midland's only weapon. Junior running back Dontae Hendricks has carried for 606 yards and six touchdowns on 69 rushes. Senior fullback Teran Barnitz has 597 yards and seven touchdowns on 93 attempts in an offense that scores at a 42.9 point-per-game clip.

Senior Josh Cox leads a productive Cabell Midland defense that gives up 16 points per game, averaging 6.2 tackles per contest. Tyler Hayes and Leggett each average 5.2 stops per game, Hayes has 7.5 sacks.

Washington has faced five playoff teams this season, including three from Virginia. The Patriots split with two Mountain State foes, losing to the three-time defending Class AAA champion Martinsburg, 34-0, and to the No. 4 team in Class AA Frankfort, 26-6. Washington lost to Virginia playoff teams Sherando, 28-21, and Handley, 38-28. The Patriots beat Skyline, 63-0.

Cabell Midland, too, has played a rugged schedule, facing six playoff teams, defeating George Washington, Hurricane, South Charleston and Spring Valley. The Knights lost to Huntington High and Capital. Cabell Midland is coming off a 48-12 rout of Brooke.

"We played well last week," Salmons said. "We're a few plays from being 10-0. Some of the breaks that went our way last year didn't this year. We've played a really tough schedule, so our guys are battle tested. I hope that helps us. We're hungry."

Salmons said this team is in some ways more mature the previous two Cabell Midland squads he coached simply because of winning and experience. The Knights lost in the second round in 2011 and reached the title game in 2012.

"In year one, we got to the playoffs and some of our guys thought they had made it to the Super Bowl," Salmons said.

"We beat Wheeling Park in the first round and I could tell we were done. Last year, we were happy to reach the championship game. This team is different. They aren't happy unless we win it all."