MAN — Three down and one to go.
After knocking off Class AA county rival Chapmanville back on Oct. 11 the Man High School football team talked about running the table against its last four remaining Class A opponents and finishing the season 9-1 with homefield advantage for the playoffs.
The Hillbillies are almost there.
Man (8-1), riding an eight-game winning streak after falling to 3A county rival Logan in the season opener, can complete the sweep on Friday night with a victory at home over Van in the regular season finale.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Man’s George A. Queen Memorial Field. It will also be Senior Night for the Man football team.
The Billies won 24-14 at Tug Valley last week. After knocking off Chapmanville, Man also won over Sherman (36-6) and Pocahontas County (42-0).
Only the Van Bulldogs stand in the way now.
Man coach Harvey Arms said he’s proud of his team for turning it around after three straight sub .500 campaigns.
“We’re really happy with the way the kids have played,” Arms said. “After last year we thought that we’d have a good team this year. In some aspects we are still young but our kids really grew up from last year and have played so much better with consistency and have been focused. Last year, it seemed like we were talking every week about the number of turnovers that we made. This year, we’re getting some turnovers. Our kids have grown up and have gained some experience. It’s been great for us.”
Van, an added team to Man’s schedule this fall, lost 46-14 at South Gallia, Ohio, last week.
The Bulldogs (3-6) lost 56-20 at Meadow Bridge in the season opener, then won 41-14 at home over Paden City on Sept. 6. Van then lost 40-20 at Valley Fayette and 36-13 the following week at home over Midland Trail.
Van then won 39-35 at Richwood on Oct. 4 and took a 27-0 victory at home over Class A Boone County rival Sherman on Oct. 11.
The Bulldogs have lost three straight games since to Tug Valley (44-38), Clay-Battelle (50-22) and South Gallia last week.
Man, ranked No. 6 in the state last week, are expected to climb to the fourth spot in this week’s ratings, which are set to be released on Tuesday.
The top 16 teams qualify for the playoffs with the top eight getting first round home playoff games.
A win over Van would almost certainly lock up Man in the top eight. The Billies, are suffering three straight losing seasons since its magical Super Six season in 2009, are hoping to make some noise again in the post-season.
Van is led by quarterback Brandon Elswick, who rushed for 39 yards in the loss to the Clay Battelle CeeBees.
Justin Lambert scored two of Van’s touchdowns with Logan Crouse scoring the other.
Corey Agosti led Van in the game with 18 tackles. Elswick had 12, while Brayden White had 10.
Earlier in the season in the OT loss to Tug Valley, Van QB Elswick tossed four touchdown passes — two to Lambert — and rushed for another.
“Their quarterback has some great stats,” Arms said of Elswick. “He runs it and throws it. What we have seen of them they have a varied offense. They have a lot of different things that they do throwing the ball and running the ball. We have to come out and play hard and be the team that we have been all year. We’ll have to be good in our assignments because they will run the misdirection. They throw screen passes and they do a little bit of everything on offense.”
Last week, Man led Tug Valley 12-8 at the half and 24-8 after three and outgained the Panthers 303-168 in total yardage. The Billies rushed 36 times for 180 yards. Man’s defense held Tug Valley to 27 yards rushing on 28 carries.
Neil Mullins ran for 95 yards on 14 carries to lead Man. Braden Griffin had 14 attempts for 88 yards. QB John Thomas Keffer was 9-for-15 passing for 123 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Cayce Mullins had a 55-yard TD grab and ended up reeling in six passes for 91 yards for the Billies. Tracy Jones had two catches for 34 yards.
Jones led Man with eight total tackles. Maynard had seven, while Christian McCoy had five and Tanner Bailey, Robert Caudill and Gage Harvey had four each.
“I thought we played pretty well last week,” Arms said. “The conditions were kind of rough. It was muddy and wet. We were outstanding again on defense. We basically gave up one play defensively on a long pass which allowed them to score their first touchdown. Their last one came on a blocked punt. We didn’t execute very well but I thought defensively we played real well. We still moved the ball pretty well despite the conditions.”
Arms said his rushing defense has been good all year.
“We’re good up front,” he said. “Our defensive front for the most part has controlled the line of scrimmage. We have also run to the ball real well and our pursuit has been good.”
On the season, Keffer is 85-for-152 passing (55.9 percent) for 1,066 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Arms was asked when was the last time a Man QB had thrown for 1,000 yards in a season. The Billies have been a run-oriented power team for many years but this year Man has achieved balance.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Arms quipped. “Maybe John’s dad did but I don’t know. He was an option quarterback for the most part. It’s been a long time anyway. John Thomas’ biggest asset is that he understands what is going on on the field. He has a good football knowledge. The things that he can see and do out there on the field has been outstanding for just being a sophomore. His skills are real good, too.”
Griffin leads Man’s balanced rushing attack with 513 yards on the ground on 92 carries and eight TDs. He’s averaging 5.6 yards per pop. Mullins has 80 rushes for 484 yards and five touchdowns with an average of 6.05 yards per attempt.
Mikle Scott Rowe has 274 yards rushing on 70 carries with two touchdowns on the season through nine games.
Jones is Man’s leading receiver with 32 catches for 561 yards and eight touchdowns. Cayce Mullins has 42 grabs for 473 yards and five scores.
McCoy leads Man’s defense with 52 total tackles and seven sacks. Maynard has 50 tackles and one sack, while Jones has 44 stops, Neil Mullins 43 tackles and three sacks and Gage Harvey 42 tackles. Rowe has 34 tackles and Jeremiah Beavers 33 tackles and three QB sacks.
Jones and Tyler Grimmett each have two interceptions.