The Cougars sought redemption in West Union last Saturday to avenge last year’s quarterfinal loss to the Bulldogs and this time around in the first round of the state playoffs, No. 14 East Hardy pounced for an 18-nil lead en route to a 25-19 victory against No. 3 Doddridge County.
“Redemption was the word we used all week. That sums it up, all of it. A big part of our game plan is taking advantage of our split receivers and Dawson [Price] got to shine today with the touchdowns, but the game-winner we are throwing to No. 5 [Andrew Tharp] We have a lot of confidence across the board and you can’t forget Noah Lang and Brayden Ritchie. Price showed up today and that is the kind of faith and confidence we have in him. When you shoulder the load, you have to be tough in the way you play. You have to treat every ball in the air like it is yours and fight for it just as Noah Lang did. We gave the Bulldogs some big plays in the end, but with that being said they took advantage of the run game and I am proud of how our guys stepped up. We pride ourselves on how we throw the ball, but to be able to ground and pound in the red zone speaks volumes about your team. Words can’t describe what we are feeling here in the playoffs. This is what you play for and I am proud of what we have done and look forward to see what we can do moving forward,” East Hardy coach Devon Orndorff remarked.
“We control the controllable and some things are out of our control. We try to keep everybody safe on our team and in our community, but we can’t control what the map is going to do and who is going to come forth. We are going to celebrate this win and see who we have in the next round. We did enough to win today.”
East Hardy receiver Dawson Price was a huge difference maker scoring three touchdowns off passes from Christian Dove.
East Hardy advances to the quarterfinal stage for the second season in a row with a trip to Tolsia, but that opportunity is in jeopardy as the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to cancel the game as both teams are at the orange color code level and must have numbers reduce in order to play this coming Sunday in Fort Gay.
The defenses flexed their muscle as both teams had a punt in the opening possessions, then the Cougars struck pay dirt with an aerial attack on the second series.
On the second play of the drive, East Hardy quarterback Christian Dove connected with Dawson Price along the sideline, who jettisoned down the field for an 85-yard touchdown strike at the 8:05 mark and the extra point attempt went awry as the Cougars went up 6-0.
East Hardy clamped down on defense again forcing a three-and-out punt for the Bulldogs as tackles were made by Dayton Miller, Dale Hockman and Riley Mongold allowing just three yards total plus Alex Miller deflected a pass.
Dove was forced out of bounds on a seven yard gain reaching the 46-yard line to commence the third Cougars possession.
Miller punched the ball into Doddridge County territory on the next carry for a first down at the 47-yard line.
Dove launched a deep pass to Noah Lang, who wrestled the ball away from two defenders inside the red zone, but a holding infraction on the Cougars negated the catch.
The ensuing pass to Lang was a bit too high and couldn’t be corralled, then Mason Miller tried to lasso the ball near the sidelines having it fall out of his grasp crashing to the ground on third down and long.
Thanksgiving is coming soon as coaches on the sideline shouted turkey before East Hardy punted the ball and someone nearby asked where.
Doddridge County set up shop on the 39-yard line and Reese Burnside notched seven yards and was stopped by East Hardy’s Mason Miller, then quarterback Jared Jones rushed for a first down going three yards before being greeted by Hockman.
Burnside entered Cougars country at the 49-yard line, then the drive went haywire.
Mason Miller applied pressure on Jones, who just barely released the ball in time and it was knocked down by Dawson Price.
After a penalty for delay of game, Jones eluded one defender before being tossed to the ground by East Hardy’s Brayden Ritchie for a sack losing 16 yards resulting in a punt.
Dove’s fair catch signal wasn’t seen as the Bulldogs made a huge hit at the 45-yard line.
Alex Miller spun out of trouble to gain seven yards entering Doddridge County territory.
Dove dashed 16 yards, but the effort was erased on a holding call.
Miller added six yards and Andrew Tharp made a catch for seven yards placing the Cougars back in the Bulldogs side facing fourth and one with seven seconds left in the first quarter.
Doddridge County made the stop on fourth down with a sack to get the ball with one second to go, then reached midfield on a run of one yard by Dylan Knight to end the frame.
It wasn’t a good omen as the Bulldogs lost a total of 16 yards in three straight plays to begin the second quarter as a fumble recovered by Jones cost six yards, then there were two false starts.
After an errant throw, Doddridge County punted and the ball bounced back to the 49-yard line.
East Hardy’s first play of the possession was a pass from Dove to Price for 17 yards, then Dove collected one yard on a keeper.
Price made a leaping catch for a 31-yard touchdown at the 10:03 mark, but the kick attempt was blocked as the Cougars took a 12-nil advantage.
“This is what we worked for all summer. For us to have a chance at a redemption game is just crazy. If we wanted to go anywhere, we knew we had to come through here. I am so grateful to be playing and can’t imagine not having a season. We make sure we take care of that everyday in practice. We play everyday like it is our last. Our coaches had a game plan and we came out here and executed it. It was nice to add the interception, the ball just fell into my hands,” East Hardy senior Christian Dove stated.
Doddridge County’s Dylan Knight fumbled the ball and it was recovered by East Hardy’s Andrew Tharp at the Bulldogs 34-yard line.
East Hardy took five plays in a span of two minutes to find the end zone again.
East Hardy’s Alex Miller rushed for two yards, then Tharp caught a first down pass for eight yards.
Dove was forced out of bounds at the edge of the red zone, then broke free on the next play and was finally brought down inside the five yard line at the three by Hunter Jenkins.
Miller punched the ball into the end zone from three yards to put the Cougars ahead 18-nil and the conversion attempt fell incomplete with 7:54 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs failed to gather a first down on the following series as East Hardy’s Alex Miller and Dayton Miller made big stops, then a fake punt was intercepted by Christian Dove, who cut across the field gaining about 20 yards.
After a penalty was assessed on that return, the Cougars started at the Doddridge County 48-yard line.
Dove picked up three yards, then a screen pass was dropped behind the line of scrimmage resulting in a fumble which was recovered by Knight for the Bulldogs at the 5:39 mark.
East Hardy’s Dale Hockman joined Mason Miller on bringing down Knight after a five yard gain, then Hockman teamed up with Dayton Miller to tackle Burnside on a four yard rush into Cougars territory at the 48-yard line.
On third down and short, Doddridge County’s Simon James converted the play for a first down getting two yards despite being dragged down by Riley Mongold.
Two plays later, Burnside was tackled by Dove along the sidelines on a first down gain a the 26-yard line.
Knight rushed into the red zone for a first down at the 15-yard line and was tacked by Dove.
After another short gain and an encroachment call, Knight added two more yards to the six yard line for third down and one.
James took the next carry for a first down at the two yard line with the tackle being made by Dayton Miller, Price and Mongold.
Knight scored from two yard out with 58 seconds left in the first half and the extra point was made by D.J. Devinney to slice the deficit to 18-7.
East Hardy’s Alex Miller’s knee was down on the kickoff return catch at the 13-yard line.
A sack by Burnside backed the Cougars to their three yard line as the Bulldogs looked to force a safety or a turnover.
After a timeout, Dove was stopped for no gain by James and another timeout was called with 40 seconds remaining which was enough time to let expire on a kneel down for halftime to prevent any more points.
The Bulldogs went three and out to begin the second half as East Hardy’s Dale Hockman, Dayton Miller and Riley Mongold came up with solid stops to force a punt.
Facing third down and eight from the 37-yard line, East Hardy made a huge conversion with Dove connecting to Lang for 28 yards and a defensive penalty was declined on the play.
After another Bulldogs penalty added five more yards, Alex Miller was tacked for a one yard loss.
Dove was chased out of bounds on a five yard gain, then Miller was stopped for no gain forcing fourth down and one.
Dove’s pass sailed a little too high for Price to corral this time as the Bulldogs took over on downs.
Two plays later, Dove snatched an interception to put the Cougars at the Doddridge County 23-yard line and was shaken up on the play.
Mason Miller came in as the quarterback for one play and was mauled by the Bulldogs with the ball popping loose and it was recovered by Hockman at the 20-yard line.
Dove returned to the game and passed to Ritchie for a first down covering 11 yards to the nine yard line of the red zone.
After a loss of two yards and an incompletion, Dove found Price for his third touchdown catch spanning 11 yards with Lang adding the extra point to put East Hardy up 25-7 with 5:29 to go in the third frame.
East Hardy’s Gabe Henderson made a slamming hit on special teams during the kickoff placing the Bulldogs on the 19-yard line.
Ritchie tackled Seth Richards after a five yard reception and Alex Miller knotted out Jones out of bounds on just a two yard gain as Doddridge County faced third down now.
“It felt amazing to get this victory. I felt like we had unfinished business here. This was a redemption win for us. For us to come back for a retry was good. We hope to be able to continue to play and move on in the playoffs and hopefully win a state title. It is amazing to play as a Cougar and I am glad to be a Cougar,” East Hardy senior Brayden Ritchie said.
East Hardy’s Riley Mongold was drawn offsides and just walked through the line smiling on his offsides penalty resulting in a first down.
Price, Mason Miller and Alex Miller made tackles to force another third down and short, but it was converted by Knight despite being hauled down by Hockman.
Doddridge County’s Gabriel Stewart made a catch for 27 yards and a first down at the 26-yard line.
The Bulldogs located the end zone as Jones passed to Knight for a 25-yard touchdown strike with 39 seconds left in the third quarter and the conversion was denied by Ritchie as a Bulldogs helmet went flying with the score at 25-13.
After a punt by the Cougars to begin the final stanza, Doddridge County marched down the field into the red zone before the drive stalled with stops by the Cougars’ Hockman, Dayton Miller and Miles Kidwell plus two incomplete passes for a turnover on downs at the 17-yard line.
Facing third down and eight, East Hardy’s Andrew Tharp made a catch and did a zig zag move dodging tackles across the field for 39 yards reaching the Bulldogs 43-yard line.
After a couple of short gains by Alex Miller and Dove, there was a sack by Stewart and the Cougars punted with four minutes and change remaining.
East Hardy had burned about four minutes on that possession.
After a couple of penalties deep in their own zone, the Bulldogs got some breathing room on a 16-yard catch for a first down by Jenkins reading the 27-yard line.
Knight followed with a dynamic play as his reception covered 48 yards and was finally tracked down by Lang at the Cougars 25-yard line.
East Hardy countered with a sack by Hockman for a seven yard loss.
Kidwell forced a fumble, but it was recovered by the Bulldogs.
Richards made a catch for 14 yards to reach the 17-yard line as Doddridge County now faced fourth down and two.
Jones broke through the line for a first down and much more going all the way to the three yard line where Dove made the touchdown saving tackle.
Richards made a three yard touchdown catch with 1:43 left in the game and the extra point attempt was off the mark as the Bulldogs cut the East Hardy lead down to 25-19.
“We didn’t play well enough, no excuse. Turnovers and miscues and that’s what happened. It was difficult way to end the season. The boy who caught the touchdowns was the best receiver I have ever seen. We had guys on him and over him and he just jumped up making spectacular catches, three of them,” Doddridge County coach Bobby Burnside noted.
The onside kick was recovered by Mason Miller for the Cougars.
After a catch for about 30 yards by Tharp on second down to reach the Bulldogs 24-yard line, East Hardy elected to take a knee three times to end the playoff game.
Dove guided East Hardy connecting on 11-of-18 passes for 276 yards with three touchdowns.
Price accounted for 144 of those yards on just four receptions for the Cougars.
Doddridge County (6-2) made one final walk across Cline Stansberry Stadium’s field linked together as one unit after the season ending loss.
The Cougars (6-2) are scheduled to visit Tolsia this Sunday for the quarterfinal round.