Capital charges into AAA semifinals
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- University's John Kelley has spent more than two decades as one of the most quotable football coaches in West Virginia, with Capital's Jon Carpenter emerging from the same mold in his first four years with the Cougars.
There was precious little the two verbose coaches needed to explain Saturday, however, as Capital pounded the Hawks 65-14 in a Class AAA playoff quarterfinal at Laidley Field that punched the Cougars' ticket for their first trip to the semifinals since 1999.
"All these guys are convinced they play midget league championships on Thanksgiving," Carpenter said of his underclassman-dominated squad. "They'll be upset when they find out they've got to practice on Thanksgiving day."
Capital (11-1) will play at three-time defending state champion and No. 2 seed Martinsburg (11-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the semifinals.
After Capital spotted University a 7-0 lead thanks to a drive-saving facemask call on the game's third play, the Cougars dominated every phase of the quarterfinal, led by running back Kashuan Haley. The junior had 126 of his game-high 153 rushing yards in the first half and scored both his rushing touchdowns in the second quarter.
Haley said the extra day of practice leading into the quarterfinals helped the Cougars maximize their opportunities.
"We had that extra day of practice Thursday then a walk-through on Friday and went out to eat with the team Friday night," Haley said. "We were hyped, and came out and gave it our all."
The combination of Capital's readiness and University's inability to get out of its own way with turnovers paved the way for the rout. After Haley's second score, Capital senior Edmund Harvey intercepted a pass from Hawks quarterback Travis Renner and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown that gave the Cougars a 35-7 lead just before halftime.
It was the first of two interceptions thrown by Renner, and both were returned for touchdowns. Tyrell Davis grabbed a deflected pass out of the air in the third quarter and ran it back 55 yards for a score.
Even when the Hawks had a bright moment, such as a 28-yard touchdown pass from Renner to senior Jack Armstrong that Renner threw with perfect touch and placement, Capital was able to quickly retake momentum. After Armstrong's touchdown, Haley took the ensuing kickoff at his own 8-yard line, ran into a pack of would-be tacklers near the 25, managed to stay upright and escaped before breaking for the sideline.
A few seconds and 75 yards later, the junior had a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown added to his stat sheet.
"It spiraled downhill quickly after we got that first score," Kelley said. "They beat us in just about every phase."
Kelley said special-teams play also figured heavily in the result. Capital averaged 34.5 yards on seven returns of punts and kickoffs, and Cougars senior kicker Logan Garrison drilled a 43-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter that equaled Ravenswood's Nathan Cunningham for longest in the state the season.
"They killed us, especially in special teams," Kelley said. "I thought we might have an advantage in special teams, especially kicking, but their kicking was excellent."
The Capital defense never let the Hawks off the mat. University's second touchdown came after the Hawks recovered a fumble by Cougars quarterback Tyrhee Pratt deep in Capital territory.
Capital outgained the Hawks 422-143, and University was held to 56 rushing yards on 29 attempts. Renner was sacked four times.
"We just listen to our coaches. We have a great coaching staff, especially on defense," said Capital defensive end James Walton. "They put us in the right spots. As long as we listen to them, we just have to go hard."
Pratt's turnover was the rare misstep for the sophomore. He completed 9 of 10 passes for 118 yards and ran 10 times for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
"Hopefully we can keep this going next week," Carpenter said. "Hope we didn't empty the tank right there. We're just tickled to death to still be playing."
The 51-point margin of victory was the largest for a quarterfinal or later in Class AAA playoff history. The previous record was 49 points set by Martinsburg in the Bulldogs' 63-14 win over George Washington in the 2012 semifinals and by Capital in a 56-7 win over Morgantown in the 1996 semis.