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Tigers set to battle Indians tonight

T.J. Guire (557 rushing yards)

SISSONVILLE — The “second season” begins tonight as Class AA, 16th- rated Elkins travels to take on top-seed Sissonville in the first round of the 2020 state football playoffs.

The Tigers (5-3) come into the game off a strong showing last week at Nicholas County. In a must- win game, EHS rose to the occasion, winning by a score of 42-8 and in the process securing its first playoff trip since 2012, and the school’s sixth overall trip to the postseason.

The Tigers’ other postseason appearances came in 1980, 1992, 2003, 2011 and 2012.

Elkins head coach Evan Hott said it was a “preseason goal” accomplished to make the postseason.

“The kids were excited, and their faces after the (Nicholas County) game were priceless,” Hott said. “They knew they had achieved a goal and that their place in school history was forever cemented.”

Rodney Vandevender (1,024 APY, 12 TDs)

The defense was outstanding, holding the Grizzlies to 87 yards of total offense and a lone score. Rodney Vandevender, T.J. Guire, Dante Ramirez, Landen Weese and Isavir Sweezy each contributed five tackles to lead the defensive effort.

Offensively, Elkins had its way, gaining 418 total yards and scoring a season-best 42 points. Vandevender accounted for five scores, while Trevor Smith (89) and Ramirez (83) led the team in rushing. Ramirez and Demanuel Smith also had touchdowns for Elkins.

Overall, Hott was pleased.

“I knew that we had the ability to perform at that level,” he acknowledged. “We were pleased with the effort, but we weren’t happy with the penalties we had. But overall it was a good performance by the guys.”

Hott — also the team’s defensive coordinator — was happy with the level at which the unit played.

Dante Ramirez (11 TDs)

“We kept the scheme simple on defense and the boys executed it very well,” he said. “I was really pleased with the aggressiveness in which we played and after the first drive of the game, we really buckled down and played great football.”

Vandevender has emerged as a solid leader for Elkins in 2020. After an up and down year a season ago, along with the maturity that comes with becoming a senior, he has turned in some outstanding numbers.

He currently leads the team in all-purpose yards (1,024), rushing yards (582) and touchdowns with 12 — impressive numbers for an abbreviated season.

Other top offensive performers for the Tigers this season have been Guire, who is second on the team with 557 yards rushing, and Ramirez, who has scored 11 touchdowns, Ramirez and Demanuel Smith are the leading pass receivers with 15 and 12 catches respectively.

Defensively, Guire, Ramirez and Peyton Isner top the list for tackles, while Demanuel Smith has made two interceptions to lead Elkins in that category. Isner also handles the punting duties and averages just over 35 yards per punt.

Evan Hott

On the year, EHS has averaged 328 total yards of offense, but most of the damage has been done on the ground to the tune of 267 yards per game. The Tigers enter the playoffs averaging 27 points per game, while allowing 22 to the opposition.

The Indians (5-0) have played an even shorter schedule than the Tigers, but they have been impressive. Sissonville, which is located just 15 miles outside the state capital of Charleston, has averaged 45 points per game in its unbeaten season, while allowing 26.

The Indians, who own wins this season over Herbert Hoover, Riverside, Nitro, Greenbrier East and St. Albans, will be making their 14th trip into the playoffs, with their last visit occurring in 2017.

After watching film on tonight’s opponent, Hott was impressed with the Indians’ playmaking ability.

“They have a lot explosive players and have had success with big plays,” Hott noted. “They’re a big-play team and don’t sustain a lot of long drives, so we must take away their big plays and make them execute.”

Hott is particularly impressed with quarterback Jackson Foster.

“He’s their catalyst,” Hott said of the 5-10, 170-pound senior. “We must contain him in the box and not allow him to get free. They’ve also got a running back in (Dylan) Griffith that runs hard, so we’ve got to tackle well.”

The Tigers will be seeking their first-ever playoff win, and according to Hott, they must continue to do what got them to this point of the season.

“Offensively, we need to do what we have done the last couple of weeks,” he said. “We need to communicate and run the offense as we have. We’ve taken care of the ball and haven’t turned it over, and that will be no different (tonight).

“Defensively, we have to read our keys … we’ve prepared all week in practice and look ready, but we’ve got to do it when it counts.”

The Tigers and Indians kick off at 7:30 p.m. from Joe Sawyers Field at Sissonville High School.

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