POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — James Monroe, the man, is easily identifiable as the fifth President of the United States of America.
James Monroe, the football team, isn’t quite as simple to stick a label on — especially given its history this fall of marching out any one of three quarterbacks on any given night.
Simply put, another wild and wonderful test awaits the Point Pleasant football team this Saturday night when the third-seeded Big Blacks host sixth-seeded James Monroe in a Class AA second round playoff contest at Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field in Mason County.
PPHS (11-0) survived an opening round scare from North Marion (45-42) last week to advance to the program’s fourth consecutive second round postseason game, which serves as a new school record.
The Big Blacks are also looking to secure the program’s fourth state semifinal appearance while joining the likes of the 1979, 2011 and 2015 squads in accomplishing such a feat.
Historically, Point Pleasant hasn’t fared well against the Mavericks (10-1) as JMHS owns a 2-0 all-time record against the Big Blacks.
James Monroe won a 16-14 decision at home in its last meeting with PPHS back in Week 9 of the 2005 campaign. The Mavericks also claimed a 21-14 win at the old Sanders Field just one year earlier.
JMHS — which lost the Class AA state title game to Bluefield in 2008 — picked up its first postseason victory in that eight-year span last week following a 38-28 decision over 11th-seeded Winfield. The victory also allowed James Monroe to secure its first 10-win season since 2007.
Though it will be his first contest against the Mavericks on the sidelines, 10th-year PPHS coach Dave Darst notes that he and his staff have spent a lot of time studying the Monroe County program.
And, from what he’s observed, the Big Blacks had better be ready for a full four quarters of battle.
“We are a little familiar with James Monroe from playing them in the past, but we have never beaten them in our two games against them. We do know that they know how to play football down there,” Darst said. “They have good coaches and like to do a lot of different things on the offensive side of the ball. In watching film, the defense also does some things that really impresses me in how they line up and attack. We’re going up against a big, strong football team that uses its talents in a number of ways.”
The Mavericks have outscored opponents by a 364-117 overall margin this year, which averages out to 33.1 points scored and 10.6 points allowed per contest.
JMHS has one shutout to its credit, a 55-0 win over Wyoming East, and is now 2-1 against playoff qualifiers. Besides Winfield last week, the Mavs also defeated Independence (27-6) and dropped a 25-9 decision to Nicholas County.
James Monroe has also played two common opponents with Point Pleasant this year, with both squads going unbeaten in those contests.
The Mavericks defeated Princeton (19-7) and Bluefield (34-27) by narrow margins in the regular season, while the Big Blacks earned a decisive 62-13 win over PHS and posted a 45-24 triumph over BHS this fall.
JMHS — which has won six consecutive games headed into its second straight postseason — has a nice blend of rushing and passing in its arsenal, with the catch being who is throwing the ball, running the ball or receiving the ball.
The Mavericks have eight different rushers on their roster who are averaging five yards per carry, with Grant Mohler (5-foot-9, 192 pounds) leading that charge with 800 rushing yards and 10 scores on 146 carries.
Evan Beasley (5-10, 164) has thrown four of James Monroe’s six TD passes this year and has also caught one of the other two, plus serves as the team’s second-leading rusher with 537 yards and 14 scores on 80 attempts.
Devin Johnson (5-8, 174) also had 518 rushing yards and eight scores on 116 tries, while Connor Moore (5-9, 157) has 215 yards on 22 carries — an average of just under 10 yards an attempt.
With three of those four capable runners (Mohler, Beasley, Moore) all taking turns behind center, the Big Blacks will definitely have to turn up the attention spans a notch this Saturday evening.
Then again, with half of the remaining field battling for the final four spots in the Class AA playoffs — focusing shouldn’t be a hard thing to sell this time a year.
“I think that the lesson our kids learned last week was that you just don’t make the show, you better show up and be ready to play once you get there. We had some playoff success at the triple-A level the last few years, but you also have to give your everything to advance in the double-A playoffs too,” Darst said. “We ran into one of the hotter teams in the bracket last week and we managed to get out with a win. We are one of only eight teams left playing for a state title, so we cannot afford to take anything for granted from here on out.”
The Big Blacks picked up their first win over a playoff team last week against North Marion, but did so after allowing a season-worst 42 points. In comparison, PPHS didn’t allow but 27 points over the final three games of the regular season.
But, even in surrendering a season-high 542 yards of total offense, Point Pleasant still had its traditional moments — mainly by churning out 508 rushing yards and 594 yards of total offense while finishing the night plus-2 in turnover differential.
The Big Blacks have outscored opponents by a 514-174 overall margin, which averages out to 46.7 points scored and 15.8 points allowed per contest.
PPHS owns a 220-130 advantage in first downs on the season and has outscored opponents by a 303-64 margin before halftime, including a decisive 142-16 cushion in the opening quarter of play.
Point Pleasant, for the season, has outgained opponents by a 5,214-2,930 overall margin in offensive yardage, with a sizable 3,671-1,519 cushion coming in the ground attack. PPHS is also plus-19 in turnover differential this year.
Point Pleasant — which owns an 8-3 all-time mark in playoffs contests at OVB Field — will be facing another first this weekend as the Big Blacks have never played a Saturday night postseason contest at OVB Field.
Darst noted that the late Saturday start time may or may not be a well-conceived idea on behalf of the Mavericks, but the venerable mentor is hoping that a few distractions won’t get in the way of a community rallying around its kids.
“There is some weather expected Saturday night and WVU will be playing on television at around the same time, so maybe they picked that time hoping to keep our crowd down,” Darst said. “This is a critical week when we need the crowd to really show up and get behind this program. Bundle up with every piece of clothing that you can get on and come out support the kids.
“They’ve played their butts off all year long to get to this point and they could really use the help that a 12th man brings in trying to get a win.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.
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