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Tigers set for rematch against Eagles

ELKINS — After picking up the school’s first-ever playoff win over Sissonville last week, 16th-rated Elkins (6-3) will look to move into the Class AA state semifinals Sunday afternoon against eighth-rated Robert C. Byrd (7-2).

The game — tentatively set for 3 p.m. at Robert C. Byrd High School — is of course dependent upon today’s COVID-19 map, which has dictated high school sports this fall. Randolph County must be any other color other than red or orange.

Playing their ninth game on the road this season, the Tigers used a late push to get by top-rated Sissonville, 42-27, in the first round of the playoffs. The 42 points scored were also a playoff best for EHS.

In a game that saw nine lead changes, the Tigers made the plays when they had to.

After falling behind 27-26, Dante Ramirez excited the crowd when he returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a score. Elkins then forced a turnover on the Indians’ ensuing drive, one of their four in the game. Rodney Vandevender put the final nail in the coffin when he ran 11 yards to paydirt, giving the Tigers their historic win.

In the victory, Trevor Smith ran for 112 yards on the ground, his second 100-yard outing of the season, while Vandevender accounted for three scores — two on the ground and a third on a 27-yard pass to Peyton Isner. Ramirez had three scores to lead the orange and black, who tallied 339 total yards, with 309 of those yards coming on the ground.

The historical moment was not lost on Tiger coach Evan Hott.

“It’s an awesome feeling to know that this group is the only team in Elkins football history to do something like that,” he said. “They will always be able to carry that along with them as long as they live.”

He added his players were overjoyed with the win.

“I didn’t get to see them until they were in the locker room because of the on-field interviews I did after the game and when I got in there, they were dancing and hugging one another. There was so much excitement in the room.”

Hott was also quick to point out the mental toughness his squad possessed against Sissonville.

“We talk about fighting for four rounds and how we have to put our best effort forth to win each round,” Hott noted. “For every punch that Sissonville threw, we had a counter. The amount of resiliency that this group has accrued over this season was put into motion throughout the game, and it’s what made me the proudest.”

On the year, the Tigers are averaging 329 yards per game and score at 29 points per contest. Defensively, they allow 22 points per outing.

Vandevender is the leading passer (472 yards) and the leading ground gainer (675). Ramirez has scored five different ways this season and shares the team lead with Vandevender at 14 TDs apiece. T.J. Guire, who has played on sheer will and determination after injuring himself earlier in the year, leads the team with 78 tackles.

Sunday’s quarterfinal opponent, Robert C. Byrd, is a familiar one to the Tigers. The Big 10 foe knocked off Elkins, 35-12, in the season opener back on Sept. 4.

Elkins is just 2-14 all-time against the Eagles, but Hott said familiarity could be a good thing.

“I definitely like the matchup, and I like that we have another shot at them after not being at full strength when we played them in September,” he said. “The team that we have right now is completely different than the one we had in our first meeting.”

One player EHS knows all too well is junior running back Jeremiah King — the leading ground gainer in RCB history.

King, who has ran for 1,497 and scored 23 touchdowns this season, has been a thorn in the Tigers’ side for the last three years. In the first meeting between the two, he ran for over 250 yards and scored four touchdowns.

Hott said slowing him down will obviously be vital to his team’s success.

“We have to tackle well and pursue properly, and we must know where our help is at all times and play slower than we typically would,” he emphasized. “He probably has more YAC (yard after contact) yards than any player in West Virginia history and will make you pay with his vision and cutback if you over pursue.

“Our defense is much improved, especially over the last 3 or 4 games of this season, so I’m confident in our ability to contain him.”

RCB averages 436 yards and 39 points per game while allowing 24. The Eagle attack is not a one-man show, as quarterback Xavier Lopez has thrown for over 1,600 yards and 15 scores this year. His top target is Bryson Lucas, who has 40 receptions for 696 yards and six touchdowns.

However, in order for his “road warrior” Tigers to remain alive in the postseason, Hott said an all-around effort is necessary.

“Offensively, we have to continue to do what we have been doing,” he said. “Our time of possession and securing the football have been the keys to our success late in the season.”

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