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Hedgesville hoping to build off convincing victory to start season

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. — A year ago, Hedgesville opened its football season with a convincing win against Washington, before suffering a tough loss to South Hagerstown (Md.).

If the Eagles wishes come true, history won’t repeat itself this season.

Five days removed from a resounding 68-8 victory over the nearby Patriots, Hedgesville is busy preparing for a key contest Friday against South Hagerstown, which will be playing its 2018 opener and finished 5-5 last season. In their 12-2 win over the Eagles last year, the Rebels forced seven turnovers, including six interceptions.

“We kind of felt we let one get away last year against South Hagerstown,” Hedgesville coach Joey Yurish said. “So we need to do what we have to do to get a win against them. They’re always a well-coached team.”

While the Eagles will certainly face a tougher test in Week 2, Yurish was encouraged with his team’s showing in the opener.

Breaking in Owie Ash at quarterback, a sophomore with no previous varsity experience, the Eagles scored early and often to build a 33-0 halftime lead. In the win, Ash threw touchdown passes to Malakai Brown, N’iyjere Smith and Devin Heath, while rushing for another score.

“Once he got comfortable, he turned into a big weapon,” Yurish said of Ash. “Then Malakai, N’iyjere and Devin picked up where they left off.”

Brown, the recipient of last year’s Moss Award as the state’s top receiver chosen by the West Virginia Sportswriters Association, is a focal point offensively, while Smith and Heath are major keys as well.

“We want to get the ball to Malakai, N’iyjere and Devin as much as possible, so how they handle opponents just as athletic as they are will be key to look at this week,” Yurish said. “We’ll see how our defense handles the physicality of South Hagerstown, because that will be a good test.”

The experience of the aforementioned trio, with Brown and Heath juniors and Smith a senior, has helped the transition for Ash.

“When he first took over in the summer, it was exciting to return four wide receivers who could sit down and tell him what the reads are, where they’ll be open and holes in the coverage,” Yurish said. “It was exciting to see them communicate. For them to take him under their wing makes him feel more comfortable to go out there and play football.”

In this Yurish’s third season as coach, the Eagles are hoping for a third straight trip to the Class AAA playoffs after finishing 1-9 in 2015. However, Hedgesville has yet to win a playoff game in his tenure.

“Thankfully we’ve made the playoffs both years, but that’s kind of just set standard of Hedgesville football from here on out,” Yurish said. “Our kids have bought into it and they worked hard in the weight room. The expectation is 7-3 or better and to get past the first round.”