By Steve Keenan
Precision led to perfection.
Class A No. 3 Valley clicked on all cylinders in dominating visiting Gilmer County 60-20 at WVU Tech’s Martin Field Friday to cap an unbeaten regular season at 10-0, the first unblemished mark in a Valley High football history that began in 1976. Valley’s predecessor, Montgomery, was 10-0 in 1969.
Valley was crisp on offense, relentless on defense and gained valuable contributions from its special teams en route to rolling up a 40-0 halftime lead and leading 60-6 at one point before the Titans tacked on two late scores.
“It’s amazing; I can’t really explain the feeling,” said senior quarterback Raeshawn Breckenridge, who registered touchdown runs covering 25 and 4 yards. “We came out and played hard.
“The only pressure was us trying to beat them.”
Senior lineman Brad Higginbotham, who helped anchor an active Greyhound defensive line, got into the scoring act on the night, blocking a Gilmer punt and falling on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown and a 30-0 Valley lead a minute into the second period.
“This (the victory) means more than anything,” said Higginbotham. About his first high school touchdown, he said, “It feels amazing. I saw it (the ball) lying on the ground. It has been something I’ve been dreaming about since I was little.”
To set up Gilmer’s punt from its own 5 on that play, Valley’s Seth Harmon had a sack and Higginbotham and Darius Hutchinson teamed up on another sack.
“Our defensive line (he is joined by Harmon, Steven Mitchell and Garren Rowe) just got fired up,” said Higginbotham.
“Everyone on the defense played well,” said 35th-year Valley head coach Benny Hopkins. “Seth Harmon must have had four or five sacks.
“We came into tonight and our goal was to not let him (prolific Gilmer quarterback Austin Cunningham) sit in the pocket. We wanted him to move.”
The Valley defense was particularly staunch in the first half, constantly harassing Cunningham and limiting the Titans to minus-2 total offensive yards. Cunningham wound up with 303 passing yards (35 in the first half) and threw TD passes to Anthony Dean, Austin Ratliff (10 catches for 109 yards) and Thomas Harkleroad, but the scores came with the game well out of reach.
Keyshawn Payne led the Valley offense with 10 carries for 109 yards and a 1-yard scoring run. His six-pointer was set up by a halfback pass from Payne to Druw Bowen covering 49 yards.
Donte Wilkerson supplied 65 rushing yards, including a 6-yard TD, and also reached the end zone on a 48-yard punt return for Valley.
Also getting into the scoring act for the Greyhounds were Henry Barron-Houchins (46-yard run) and Dylan Sargent (83-yard kick return).
“Like I told somebody, I don’t think it (being 10-0) has sunk in yet,” said Hopkins. “It’s going to take a while.”
Breckenridge says his team is looking forward to the postseason.
“I believe we can do a lot with our speed and our line play, especially the way the defense played tonight,” he said.
“We’ve got to take it one game at a time,” added Higginbotham.
Valley, which was No. 3 in the final WVSSAC ratings, will host No. 14 Magnolia (6-4) in a first-round Class A playoff game Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at UC Stadium’s Laidley Field in Charleston.
Gilmer finished 5-5.
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Valley 60, Gilmer County 20
GC (5-5) 0 0 12 8 — 20
V (10-0) 24 16 20 0 — 60
V: Raeshawn Breckenridge 25 run (John Riddle pass from Henry Barron-Houchins), 6:43
V: Keyshawn Payne 1 run (Breckenridge run), 2:31
V: Donte Wilkerson 6 run (Barron-Houchins run), 0:26.7
V: Brad Higginbotham recovered blocked punt in end zone (Breckenridge run), 11:06
V: Breckenridge 4 run (Barron-Houchins run), 1:57
V: Wilkerson 48 punt return (Breckenridge run), 6:06
V: Barron-Houchins 46 run (run failed), 3:20
G: Anthony Dean 13 pass from Austin Cunningham (kick failed), 2:08
V: Dylan Sargent 83 kick return (run failed), 1:55
G: Austin Ratliff 39 pass from Cunningham (pass failed), 0:02
G: Thomas Harkleroad 28 pass from Cunningham (Kenny Smith run), 1:31
RUSHING — GC: Tristan Sparks 6-1, Ratliff 3-(-3), Cunningham 12-(-32). V: Payne 10-109-1, Wilkerson 8-65-1, Breckenridge 10-7-2, Casey Stewart 3-4, Darius Hutchinson 3-18, Barron-Houchins 1-46-1, Devon Williams 1-(-4), Tracy Conliffe 7-28.
PASSING — GC: Cunningham 22-40-0-303. V: Breckenridge 1-3-0-19, Payne 1-1-0-49.
RECEIVING — GC: Ratliff 10-167, Harkleroad 7-91, Nathan Allison 3-27, Dean 2-18. V: Druw Bowen 1-49, Riddle 1-19.
TAKEAWAYS - GC: None. V: Higginbotham (Rec. BP)