All Oak Glen wants, needs is the opportunity
NEW MANCHESTER — Although it is facing a huge disadvantage due to COVID-19, the Oak Glen football team feels really good heading into its Class AA state semifinal contest with Robert C. Byrd.
And, why shouldn’t it?
The Golden Bears (8-1) easily took care of Point Pleasant in the first round and Herbert Hoover in the second. It is as though only the coronavirus can slow them down at this point, and it very well could.
All they want is the opportunity. If they fall, at least the Flying Eagles will have earned it.
“We feel really good about where our team is right now. That doesn’t mean we don’t have things to work on, but we feel like we’re playing at a really high level,” head coach Ted Arneault said. “We really feel like if we’re given the opportunity to play that we’re really going to be hard to beat.”
Hancock County is orange on the latest COVID map. It must go down to gold in order for Oak Glen to compete at 5 p.m. Sunday. It also needs Robert C. Byrd to be green, yellow or gold. If Oak Glen and/or RCB is orange or red by the time the new map is released Saturday, the Flying Eagles will advance to the state championship.
“Our numbers are dropping. I know we’ve had a lot of people test the last few days,” Arneault said. “The first two days of the week, we are seeing a downward trend. Percent positivity is what we’re focused on, and we need to get that below 5 percent.
“I know we had a really good day on Sunday, and I know that they were testing people at the (John D. Rockefeller Career) Center all afternoon (Tuesday). I believe it was close to 700 tests.”
While Arneault worries about the results, his squad is focusing on just one thing.
“We’re focused on football,” he said. “I told them that there’s nothing we can do about the map. We just have to focus on learning from our mistakes first that we made on Saturday. We’re laser focused on RCB right now. We just have to do our part.”
The Flying Eagles (7-3), seeded eighth, are coming off an impressive 33-6 victory over 16th-seeded Elkins, who upset No. 1 Sissonville in the first round. Sunday would mark RCB’s first state semifinal appearance since 2013.
“If you watch Robert C. Byrd on film, the person who sticks out the most is Jeremiah King. He’s a very talented halfback,” Arneault said. “They use him in every single capacity that they can. They’ll swing him out, they’ll run him up the middle, they’ll run him on pass patterns. It’s not just about him because they do have a few other talented weapons, as well.
“Their defense impressed me a lot. They play a 3-4, bend-but-don’t-break defense. They’re very fundamentally sound and make you earn everything that you get.”
Against Elkins, King ran 221 yards, received 79 and scored four touchdowns overall. He is to the Flying Eagles what Hunter Patterson means for the Golden Bears, but on a smaller scale.
If Oak Glen, the fifth seed, does not play, at least Patterson went out with arguably his best performance ever. Against Herbert Hoover, he broke the West Virginia record for most yards averaged per carry with 26.9 (eight rushes for 215 yards). He also caught four passes for 134 yards and five total TDs.
Patterson was injured in the first half of last season’s semifinal contest at Bridgeport. His cousin, Gage Patterson, did not play, and former defensive back Michael Lemley played with a sore body.
Injuries to key players are one of the main reasons why Arneault feels more confident about this year’s Golden Bears compared to last.
“This year, I see a team that’s healthier in some positions compared to last year,” he said. “We were really banged up after the Poca game (in the second round). We’ve lost some key players this year obviously, but the kids that are healthy and are able to go seem to be good to go in practice.
“I see us being healthier, more confident and more experienced than we were last year going into the state semifinals. Plus, we’re at home, which is a huge boost.”
One of the key injuries this season occurred just this past Saturday. Senior tailback Paxton Shuman broke his leg in two places. Thankfully, he already had surgery on Monday in Pittsburgh.
“The surgery went well,” Arneault said. “It’s going to kind of be a long road to recovery for him. I can’t speak enough for what Paxton did for us this season. He’s going to be sorely missed.”
Arneault added that he hopes Shuman will be able to join the team Sunday even if he needs to be in a wheelchair. That’s what senior cornerback Brayden Mineard did following successful surgery to repair his torn MCL and PCL.
With Shuman officially out, Oak Glen is making slight changes to its offense. Kholton Goodlin will move from tight end to fullback, and Juvencio Quintana will be inserted on the end. Buck Franklin (10 rushes for 43 yards Saturday) and Dylan Conley are expected to see time in the backfield, as well. Landon Beatty could see time as a split end.
Conley definitely is capable of producing in big moments. The junior linebacker already is making a name for himself on defense with 92 tackles (10.2 per game) and five sacks. He is an inside linebacker but occasionally plays outside to covers receivers.
“He’s a kid that I can point to somebody that worked really hard in the offseason and is a kid that does everything that is asked of him,” Arneault said. “He’s very coachable. He has stepped up big time quietly on defense. He also is a big key for us offensively. I see him being more and more part of the productivity on offense as the year goes on.”
TALKIN’ ABOUT PRACTICE, MAN
Due to the state’s protocols for being in orange, Oak Glen had to slightly alter its practices.
“We had our typical Monday and Tuesday practices,” Arneault said. “Monday’s usually a lift and watching film for offense and defense. We also do some conditioning, and that’s our typical Monday. Tuesday, we did a typical offensive day, broke off into groups and followed COVID procedures. We went through a walk-thru against their defense. We tried running the plays with as little contact as possible.”
Arneault added that the Golden Bears practiced on Thanksgiving morning and hopes to make that a yearly tradition.
After the COVID map is released on Saturday, it will determine where the Super Six will be held. If Ohio County is at least orange again, Wheeling will not be the host.
“I have heard about the SSAC looking at different locations for every game, maybe a neutral site depending on the locations of the teams playing,” Arneault said. “I’ve heard about possibly using Marshall Stadium or other fields across the state in counties that are not orange or red. What that will mean for Class AA, I don’t exactly know. What I do know is they will not make any official announcement until after the map is released Saturday.”