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Football Lookahead: Determined Paden City Welcomes Gilmer County to Berger Field

September 19, 2013
By TRACY WATSON , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

There is no question that Coach Brent Croasmun's youthful Paden City football team has taken its lumps early on in 2013, having lost its first three games.

Still, there have been signs of improvement. For the third time in four weeks, the Wildcats will get to do a little learning on the home sod of Berger Field.

Coming off a 36-14 loss to Beallsville in which Paden City trailed by 12 in the fourth quarter, the Cats will play host to Gilmer County (2-1) on Friday night.

Coach Jason Cunningham's squad opened the campaign with consecutive victories before being blasted, 51-16, by Wirt County last week.

Paden City allowed nearly 300 yards of offense a week ago, but the most glaring statistic of the night was the fact that the Wildcats managed just 73 yards of their own. They did score a defensive touchdown on Brandon Cross' 56-yard interception return but also allowed a fumble to be returned for a score.

"I felt we played some good football last week," Croasmun said. "But we are our own worst enemy at times and that hurts. Overall, Beallsville just beat us at the line of scrimmage. They have four senior linemen who can play and we had a heck of a time moving the football because of that."

Zach Heasley threw for 66 yards and an 8-yard touchdown strike to Luke Cooper last week, but the Wildcats ran for seven yards on 27 tries, with Cross picking up 23 on 11 totes.

"From the films we have seen they do have some playmakers," Cunningham said. "I know they are young and struggling with numbers a bit, but they have some impressive athletes at the skill positions and can be formidable to stop.

"If they just get a couple of breaks in their losses, it could make a big difference and we could be talking about a completely different team.

"This is kind of a big game for us because we really need to turn things around and get back on the winning side after last week's loss."

Gilmer County runs an up-tempo offense and likes to spread the ball around as much as possible. Senior four-year quarterback Austin Cunningham does a good job of doing just that. Cunningham, no relation to the coach, has thrown for 550 yards and seven touchdowns without an interception.

His main target is junior slot receiver Austin Ratliff, who has 25 catches for 185 yards and a score. Nathan Allison (8-139-3td) is also an option, while Tristan Sparks is the main running back.

The Titans' main concern is defense where Coach Cunningham was without three starters last week, including his two leading tacklers, and the trio will probably not play again this week because of injuries. However, Ratliff has picked up some of the slack from his safety position with 25 tackles, four strips, three fumble recoveries, an interception, and a pair of touchdowns.

"They are good and they have a four-year quarterback who likes to throw the ball around and can run it when he needs too," Croasmun said. "There are also a couple of nice receivers. Our biggest thing this week is going to be getting pressure on the quarterback and defending the pass."

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