CHAPMANVILLE — It’s not how you start the game.
It’s how you finish it.
After a sluggish start in Friday night‘s home opener against Herbert Hoover, the Chapmanville Regional High School football team caught fire just before the half, ratcheted up its emotions and then ran past the Huskies in a 33-19 Cardinal Conference victory at Tiger Stadium.
Senior running back Dustin Smith was the catalyst for the Tigers as he rushed for 225 yards on 18 carries and tossed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Brady Cox on a gadget play. It turned out to be the last play of the first half, ended up being the turning point of the game and was the beginning of the end for the Huskies.
Cox was also brilliant as he finished the night with three nice touchdown grabs — the others coming from 10 and 15 yards out from junior quarterback Max Spradlin, who was making his second start.
Brandon White, last year’s starting quarterback who has been bothered by a leg injury, also contributed on both sides of the ball. He had a 6-yard touchdown as he took the direct snap from what Chapmanville calls its “Tiger formation.” White also had a couple of nice runs and catches and added a late interception on defense to help seal the win.
Chapmanville avoided an 0-2 start, improving to 1-1 overall and 1-1 in the league after last week’s disappointing 40-21 loss at Sissonville last week in the season opener. Herbert Hoover dropped to 0-2, 0-1.
Tigers’ coach George Barker was happy with the win as he congratulated his team in the post-game huddle.
“I’m tickled to death for an old man to have a win like this,” Barker said, grinning after the game.
Chapmanville trailed Herbert Hoover 7-0 after one quarter of play and fell behind 13-6 in the second quarter.
The Tigers were facing the possibility of going 0-2.
“I told the kids earlier in the week that there’s a huge difference being 1-1 as opposed to being 0-2,” Barker said. “When you are 0-2 it is really hard to overcome.”
Barker said playing week in and week out in the Cardinal Conference is no easy task. Last year, the Cardinal showed its strength as three of the state’s Final Four Class AA playoff teams (Chapmanville, Wayne and Point Pleasant) were league members.
“It was a typical Cardinal Conference battle,” Barker said. “They came out swinging and then we came out swinging. They scored but we got back in it. We made a couple of plays late in the first half to get back in it. Our senior leadership really came to the forefront. For the first time this year our senior leadership — Brandon, Smitty — came to the front. What a gutsy performance out of those two.”
Barker had praise for Smith, who scored a touchdown late in the game on a 1-yard run and had three long runs of 77, 69 and 51 yards on the night.
“He had a great game and did a great job,” Barker said of Smith. “It was a total game. I thought our kicking game and our punter did a great job. We did all of the little things right. They didn’t quit and we didn’t expect them to. It was a great game.”
The three touchdown grabs by Cox all came at or near the goal line and all were leaping, finger-tip kind of catches. At nearly 6-foot-4, Cox is a perfect target and the Chapmanville coaching staff felt he had a mismatch on the smallish Herbert Hoover cornerbacks for the entire night.
“He’s got great hands,” Barker said of Cox. “As soon as we get seasoned we think that this offense will go.”
One play, though, ended up being the hinge to Chapmanville’s second half success.
It happened on the last play of the first half.
Backing up first, however, the Huskies had taken a 13-6 lead with 19 seconds left after quarterback Tyler Americo hit Josh Gurski on a 27-yard touchdown pass.
It looked like the Tigers would be going into the locker room down a score.
Not so fast, my friend, as Lee Corso might say.
A quick 18-yard run by White gave the Tigers a first-and-10 at the 41-yard line of Hoover.
Chapmanville called timeout but Spradlin tossed an incomplete pass on the next play.
The Tigers would have one more shot at the end zone, if at all.
It looked bleak.
Chapmanville would probably be going into the half down a touchdown.
But the Tigers surprised everyone by running a gadget play to perfection. Spradlin dropped back and swung a lateral pass to ex-quarterback Smith to his right. Smith then fired a 43-yard TD pass to a streaking Cox down the sideline. Cox caught the ball around the 10-yard line and then fought his way into the end zone with no time left on the clock. Kicker Dustin Conley’s extra point kick sailed wide left as the Tigers closed to within 13-12 at the half.
Despite the one-point deficit, Chapmanville clearly went into the half with the momentum.
Hoover would turn out to be toast.
“We put that in for last week but we didn’t have an opportunity to run it,” Barker said of the trick play. “We thought that it might be there tonight. Coach (Rob) Dial said before the game that it was time for that play. It worked. Brady made a super effort to jump up and get that ball with no time left on the clock.”
It was all Chapmanville in the second half.
Hoover started the third quarter with a disaster as the Huskies’ Joey Forbes fumbled the ball on a fourth-and-four at the Tiger 29. A mad scramble ensued as the ball kept going backwards. Chapmanville’s Paul Workman finally fell on the ball at the Hoover 40 in what amounted to a 31-yard loss.
Seven plays later, Spradlin connected with Cox on a 15-yard touchdown pass. The conversion failed but Chapmanville held its first lead of the night, 18-13, with 4:00 left in the third quarter.
Chapmanville’s defense then tightened, forcing Hoover on a three-and-out on its next drive.
The Tigers took over on their own 16 but Smith charged life into the Chapmanville offense again with a 69-yard run to the Hoover 15 on first down.
Four plays later, Smith took a direct snap from the shotgun and ran up the middle and into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown. Spradlin then passed to Cox on the two-point conversion as the Tigers expanded their lead to 26-13 with 54 ticks left in the third.
White then intercepted Americo at the Tiger 33 on Hoover’s next possession.
Late in the game, Chapmanville put it away with Smith’s 1-yard touchdown plunge with 7:57 left. Smith set up the score two plays earlier with a 77-yard scamper in which he was run down and tackled from behind at the 1-yard line.
Herbert Hoover struck back at the 5:09 mark with Shawn Dotson’s 1-yard touchdown run to make it 33-19 but it was too little too late.
After a CRHS fumble the Huskies still had a flicker of life but Americo fumbled the ball away at the Chapmanville 27-yard line after getting sacked by Brent Bigley, who then fell on the pigskin.
Smith dashed for 51 yards on the first play of Chapmanville’s next drive for the finishing touches on the win.
The Tigers then snapped the ball three more times to run out the clock.
Barker said another key to the win was Chapmanville’s improved play on defense, particularly in the decisive second half.
“We got better,” Barker said. “We’ve got a lot of new guys but we just have to keep working and working and working. If we can stay healthy we’ll be fine.”
Herbert Hoover jumped on top 7-0 early as Americo passed for a 21-yard touchdown to Forbes with 3:59 showing on the first quarter clock. Americo was playing in place of starting quarterback Brenden Holbrook, who went down to injury in last week’s 40-20 loss to Ravenswood.
Chapmanville then got another piece of bad luck later on as Spradlin was intercepted by Forbes on a tipped pass at midfield.
But with 1:40 left in the second quarter, Spradlin got his revenge with a 10-yard TD pass to a leaping Cox. Matt Chapman’s PAT was partially blocked leaving the score at 7-6 in favor of the Huskies.
The drive was kept alive by a running into the kicker penalty against Chapmanville punter Dustin Conley, giving the Tigers a first-and-10 at the CRHS 22.
Americo’s 27-yard strike to Gurski made it 13-6 before the Smith-to-Cox trick play put the Tigers to within one at halftime.
Spradlin finished the game 8-for-13 passing for 138 yards and one interception.
White had four carries for 38 yards and a score, while Cox had five catches for 75 yards including the three scores. Zac Casto had two grabs for 79 yards for the Tigers.
Devin Wiley had five rushes for 14 yards. Trevor Payne had one carry for two yards.
Chapman led the Chapmanville defense with eight solo tackles and one assist. Austin Watts had seven solos, three assists and a sack. Dakota Sowers finished with six solos and three assisted stops.
Smith contributed five solo tackles, two assists, a sack and a fumble recovery. Paul Workman had four solos and a fumble recovery. Zach Pridemore had four tackles and three assists.
White had three solos, one assist and one interception. Cox had three solo tackles and two assists, while Matt Dingess had three solos and two assists.
Bigley had two solos, one assist and one fumble recovery. Andrew Workman had two tackles for the game. Casto and Frankie Thompson each had a tackle and an assist. Zac Hudson had one tackle.
Conley punted three times for an average of 37 yards per kick.
Each team was penalized eight times. Chapmanville had 65 yards in hankies, while Hoover had 45 yards.
Chapmanville is scheduled to return to action next week at rival Scott in another Cardinal Conference contest.