Highlanders ride strong defense to 6-0 start
HUNTINGTON - Christian Hill ran for 1,700 yards in the 2017 football season, but last Friday the talented Hurricane High School running back gained merely 29 on 19 carries.
Such is life for any team trying to run against Huntington High’s stout defense. The Highlanders give up 2.19 yards per rushing attempt, a figure Hill and the Redskins didn’t reach in averaging 1.9 yards per carry last week in a 34-21 loss. That figure doesn’t surprise Huntington High coach Billy Seals.
“I felt like our line would be the strength of our defense,” Seals said.
The linebackers and secondary, however, were question marks. Only junior linebacker Brocton Blair returned as a starter behind the defensive front and, although Blair is outstanding, Seals wondered how those players around him would perform. Seals has been pleased through six victories to open the season and hopes to come away impressed again when the Highlanders (6-0) visit Capital (5-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Laidley Field in Charleston.
The Cougars were open last week and remain surly after a 21-13 loss to Spring Valley on Sept. 28 knocked them from the top spot in the West Virginia Secondary School Activities ratings. Capital fell to fifth, Spring Valley vaulted to No. 1 and Huntington High is No. 2.
“I’ve been really proud of those guys,” Seals said of his linebackers and secondary.
Seals mentioned defensive backs Johronimo Mitchell, A.J. Prestera, Kris Brown and Paxton Thompson as playing well as a unit and holding foes to a 40.2 percent pass completion percentage (39 of 97). Opponents have thrown for 520 yards (86.6 per game) and average 13.3 yards per completion. Huntington High has intercepted eight passes and the secondary has been strong in run support.
Just twice have the Highlanders surrendered as many as 21 points, first in a 21-point victory over George Washington, and again last week. Huntington High held Hurricane to 115 total yards. The Highlanders’ secondary blanketed receivers, allowing just five completions for 35 yards in 14 attempts.
While the defense has been aggressive, it has contributed its share of 64 penalties for 595 yards. That’s a trend Seals said must be corrected for his team to be as effective as it can be.
“We’ve had too many silly little penalties,” said Seals, whose squad was flagged nine times for 95 yards last week. “I don’t mind hustle penalties. Those are going to happen. It’s the silly penalties that have hurt us. Those things need attention.”
Huntington High (6-0) at Capital (5-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday
UC Stadium/Laidley Field
Radio: ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM