As the 2019 high school football postseason arrives, the landscape is quite a bit different than a year ago for Midland Trail.
In 2018, the Patriots raced through an unbeaten regular season, earned a final WVSSAC Class A No. 2 rating, and captured a pair of playoff wins (14-2 over Tucker County and 20-14 over Sherman) before suffering their first loss of the campaign, a 56-8 verdict to Williamstown in the semifinals.
That 12-1 season gave way to an injury-plagued 2019 campaign in which the Patriots stubbed their collective toes at times and came back down to earth a little.
Midland Trail enters the postseason on a bit of a slide, losing three of its last four outings after getting out of the gates at 5-1. That includes a 49-13 shellacking at the hands of visiting Pocahontas County in the final week of the regular season.
“We got completely destroyed,” Midland Trail head coach Frank Isaacs said of the regular season finale. “They played harder than us.
“They didn’t do a whole lot of stuff, but what they did, they put it to us. They dominated us from the opening kickoff to the very end.”
Isaacs said the setback to the Warriors was different than the other three Patriot losses this fall.
“The first three games we lost, I felt like there were things we did that hurt us to cost us the game,” he said Saturday. “(Against Pocahontas) We didn’t give ourselves an opportunity to be in the game.
“When you’re not competitive, it’s disheartening.”
All that aside, Midland Trail still finds itself in the 16-team single-A playoff field for the third straight year, and Isaacs feels his No. 9 squad (6-4) can compete with this week’s first-round foe, No. 8 East Hardy (7-3). Game time in Baker is 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16.
“We have to move on from (Pocahontas) and get better,” he said. “Tomorrow’s a new day.”
East Hardy does “a lot of the things that Pocahontas County, Liberty and Westside do,” said Isaacs. “They try to spread you out, and they do some zone read stuff.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The fact that it’s an 8-versus-9 matchup should help, Isaacs said. “Any time you have an 8-9 game, it’s always a 50-50 (proposition).
“We’ll just go up there and not hold anything back. We’re in a place where we can be competitive. We are capable; we’ve just got to quit making silly mistakes.”
A season-long battle with injuries that often reduced the Patriots’ locker room to something more resembling a MASH unit is still a concern. In addition to players lost for the season earlier, defender Trevor Maichle is done for the year, and others such as Tyler Brasse, Seth Ewing and Caleb McCune are questionable.
“The kids we do have have been working so hard,” said Isaacs. “That will give us an opportunity and, if we put together a full game, we’ll have a puncher’s chance.”
Sophomore fullback/linebacker Aden Isaacs says the Patriots have made progress during the up-and-down season.
“I think we’ve had some good things happen even with all the injuries,” said Isaacs, coach Isaacs’ son. For one, the injuries have allowed younger players such as Aden Isaacs, Robert Ruffner and Robby Knight get more playing time and experience for the future, the younger Isaacs said. Other leaders had to step in to fill the void when several senior leaders were sidelined, he added.
Aden Isaacs feels the Patriots “still have a real good chance. I wouldn’t count us out yet.”
“We just have to come out and play two halves,” he said. Shoring up communication on blocking assignments is a must, he said, and the Patriots “have to contain their quarterback, and we have to play good coverage.”
In the regular season, Colton Yoder led the Midland Trail rushing attack with 901 yards and six touchdowns on 143 carries despite missing considerable time due to an injury. Ruffner had 102 carries for 708 yards and eight TDs, Chris Vines had 91 carries for 385 yards and seven scores, and Griffin Boggs had 59 carries for 218 yards and four six-pointers.
Vines was 26 of 89 in the passing game, accounting for 534 yards, three TDs and four interceptions.
The leading receiver was Aaron Sisler, with nine catches for 206 yards and two scores.
Ruffner’s 90 tackles, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries paced the Trail defense. Isaacs had 65 tackles, a forced fumble, two recoveries and an interception, Sisler had 63 stops, three fumble recoveries and one interception, and Maichle had 52 tackles, a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery.
East Hardy and Midland Trail had two common opponents this season. The Cougars defeated Pocahontas County 12-6 and Meadow Bridge 21-14 in consecutive weeks, while both of those squads pinned losses on the Patriots (14-2 by Meadow Bridge and 49-13 by Pocahontas County).
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