ELLENBORO, W.Va. – As we inch closer and closer to the start of the high school football season, we take a look at a team that had the chance to make school history taken away from them last season.
The Ritchie County Rebels made it to the Single-A semi-finals for just the second time in program history last season. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the Rebels’ chance to play for a state title.
So, the goal is simple: Make it happen this year.
“I think the players realize what got us here. And I guess it’s our job to make sure they continue to work hard and realize that on any given night, if you don’t bring your best game, anybody can knock you off,” said head coach Rick Haught.
“Not being able to play in the championship last year motivates us pretty good this year. We’re trying to get back there, and hopefully win it this year,” said senior Gus Morrison, who led the state in points scored in 2020. “It’d mean a lot to us, the team, and not only us but the community. That wasn’t a very good feeling. If we can get back this year, do it two years in a row, and then actually play in it this year, that’d be sweet.”
Ritchie County did graduate two of its biggest play makers on offense, but Haught still has second-team all-state quarterback, Ethan Haught, and a first-team all-state co-captain in Morrison at his disposal.
“We had a really good line last year, and I think we’ve filled it already pretty good this year. We lost one guy and filled in with an even better guy, I think. So, it should be just the same if not better,” said Morrison.
“I’ve been handing the ball off to him since I was in seventh grade, when I first started football. So, I’m getting pretty used to handing him the ball. Since freshman year, he’s been one of my favorite targets. Just throwing the ball to him a lot makes it easy,” Ethan Haught said.
Ritchie County is also replacing at least three starters on defense. Haught, however, has numerous players ready to step up and fill their shoes.
“Tristen Ginanni is one, he’s just a sophomore. Garrett Cunningham is a senior, who played linebacker last year,” said Haught. “(We’re) moving him to the middle, he’s been really solid. Marlon Moore is a guy that we’re going to put on the edge that I think is going to give offenses fits.”
Haught also said that his teams’ success on the offensive side of the ball somewhat overshadowed how good the Rebels were on defense last year.
The question heading into this year is can Ritchie County make another deep playoff run? And can COVID-19 not stand in the Rebels’ way of potentially making school history?
Their march to the playoffs begins on Friday at home against Tyler Consolidated.