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Oak Glen Is Focused On Point Pleasant

Photo by Alex Kozlowski Oak Glen’s Gage Patterson and the Golden Bears are excited to take the field this week for postseason football against Point Pleasant.

NEW MANCHESTER — Coach Ted Arneault preached to his Oak Glen squad following Tuesday’s practice about being safe and not risk ending the season because of COVID-19.

That is true for any of the 48 West Virginia teams in the playoffs, but it speaks volumes for a team like the Golden Bears. They could smell the Class AA state championship last year. They have only suffered two defeats since the start of 2019. They feel like this is their year to win it all, even more so than their unforgettable run last year.

Depending on what happens in the postseason and who they face, they feel as though only the coronavirus can stop them.

“My message to the kids is to don’t do anything to increase that risk,” Arneault said. “Let’s not take our chances with what nature’s given us and try to limit the risks. We just need to hang on for this week, then we’ll see what happens next week.”

Before No. 5 seed Oak Glen (6-1) can worry about next week, its focus turns to 12th-seeded Point Pleasant (4-2). The two teams will meet for the second time this season at 4 p.m. Saturday.

The Golden Bears bested Point Pleasant, 36-13, in the season opener on Sept. 4. They led, 36-0, at halftime.

“We feel very confident, but we also know we have to play at a very high level against a football team like that to beat them,” Arneault said. “If you look at Point Pleasant’s history, they’re in the state semifinals often. They have a good program, a great wrestling program because those guys are outstanding and have a lot of kids out for football. They are a force to be reckoned with.

“They’ve gotten better and more comfortable in their scheme, but they only played six games. They’ve had the same type of drawbacks that we’ve had. They didn’t play last week. When you do miss the opportunities to play, sometimes you can’t make the adjustments to shore your weaknesses up. I am anticipating different looks on both sides of the ball to challenge us.”

Oak Glen accumulated 373 total yards in that opener, including 214 on the ground. Paxton Shuman led with 14 carries for 110 yards and a score. Hunter Patterson totaled 215 yards (71 on four carries, 144 on five receptions) and three scores. Nick Chaney tossed 159 yards on eight completions and a TD.

“Our game plan the first time we played them was to get our athletes out in open space and let them do what they do. We did that pretty affectively, especially in the first half,” Arneault said. “It almost became insurmountable for (Point Pleasant). I anticipate them being ready for that type of strategy, so we’re going to have to be ready to adjust to what they do and make sure that we’re versatile. We also have to be ready to be stingy on defense and make some tackles.”

Defensively, Point Pleasant rushed for 113 yards and threw for 153. Most of those numbers occurred in the second half, but it is worth mentioning.

Last week’s season finale against Philip Barbour was a small sample size of the new-look defensive backfield. Buck Franklin and Matt Greenlief were the two new cornerbacks, with others waiting in case another injury occurs, or one or the other is not performing well. It also marked Patterson’s first try after switching from corner to safety.

“I think it looked good. They’re still learning, and everyone’s learning their new positions,” Patterson said. “I think all around it’s looking good. I also am still learning, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.”

To counter the young defensive backfield, the Golden Bears know they have to put even more emphasis on the run defense. Again, just a small sample against winless Philip Barbour, but they allowed negative 4 yards on the ground.

“Against teams that are run first, you still have to play sound coverage because typically teams like that will still have play options that they’ll try to hurt you with,” Arneault said. “Our coaches have been adjusting based on what we have, and we have some talented young kids that are willing to step up and put in the work. We just have to keep coaching them up and get them ready for the big-time games.”

At least Oak Glen has all-state lineman Kyler O’Connor in its corner. The senior is getting his legs back after missing three games (including the lone defeat to Wheeling Park) due to an injury to his right ring finger.

O’Connor sustained the injury against John Marshall and is still swollen. He underwent surgery shorty after, with a pin placed in.

“I don’t even think about it. I just go out there and play,” O’Connor said. “If it gets caught in-between guys tackling or blocking, then it hurts.

“It was tough (not playing). It made me mad, and I didn’t have anything to take my anger out on. I was a little slow during my first practice back, but then I picked it back up. I got my fire back.”

O’Connor has 46 tackles in four games played, seven sacks and a forced fumble. With the numerous season-ending injuries Oak Glen has dealt with this season, Arneault is thankful Connor was not one of them.

“Kyler is a one-of-a-kind athlete, whether it’s as an offensive or defensive lineman,” Arneault said. “I think there are very few kids in the state that can match his athleticism. The way we run our offense, he is a prototypical guard in our system. Having him not only get a push when he’s inside the box but also his athleticism when he can open up and get out into space, he’s so physical and aggressive. Of course you want seniors like Kyler in the game because he gives you so much based on their experience and physicality.”

As for the rest of the team, the Golden Bears know what to expect come Saturday. They were in almost the exact same position as last year. One of the main differences is experience.

“It’s not as new to us. We’re not at nervous or anything like that,” Patterson said. “We’re just ready to go for the first round. I don’t think we have a target on our back, but I’m not sure. There may be.”

There is another difference, and it is the same, obvious one for everybody else. As long as both teams show up for game time, nobody is thinking about the coronavirus. The hardest part occurs during the other 160 or so hours before and after the contest.

Thankfully, as of earlier this week, Oak Glen and Point Pleasant are green on the COVID map. If the Golden Bears advance, they just have to work hard to make sure it stays that way or change to gold at worse, along with making sure everybody tests negative.

“I guess the difference is the uncertainty of the colored-coded map. But, ultimately, it’s still football,” Arneault said. “You still have to line up when the game starts. The big difference from year to year is the amount of preparation required to make sure that your team is in the least amount of risk possible to let outside factors determine the outcome.

“We’re a more experienced team this year. Our kids know what to expect. Last year being in the playoffs for the time in such a long time, our kids didn’t really know what to expect from the atmosphere and the quality of teams we see. I think that’s out of their systems, and they’re anxious to get after it.”

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