It's hardly a must-win game for Robert C. Byrd.
At 4-0, the Eagles are ranked No. 6 in Class AAA and are poised for a third straight playoff berth. Tonight, Robert C. Byrd plays host to Musselman (2-2) at 7:30, and the importance of the game is obvious from listening to some of the Eagles' players.
"If we can win this game I think we can start getting a little more respect," Robert C. Byrd linebacker Mookie Mayer said. "I kind of like being underrated. The big teams look down on us and don't think much of us. This will be a good chance to start getting the respect we want."
The Applemen may not appear to be the same juggernaut they once were, but Mayer said he expects a tough, physical game.
Musselman lost the multi-talented and last season's Kennedy Award winner, Todd Mosby, to graduation. Last week, the Applemen were defeated by Southern, Md., 35-6.
"We know this is a game they need in a big way, too," Mayer said. "If they want to make the playoffs they have to win this game, so this is a big game for both teams."
The Applemen operate out of the wing-T offense -- a scheme which has been troublesome for the Eagles in the past.
However, Robert C. Byrd hasn't had trouble scoring this season. The Eagles are averaging 32 points behind a physical ground game led by tailback Scott Ross.
Ross, the Big 10's second-leading rusher, has gained 608 yards and eight TDs on just 72 carries (8.4 yards per carry). Tight end R.J. Coleman has caught six passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns.
"If we go out and concentrate, I think everyone will be OK," Ross said. "We all know what we have to do. This is Musselman. This has been a big game on our schedule all year, and now's a chance to go out and prove something."
The Eagles got a boost last week when all-state linebacker Joe Gonzalez returned to the lineup, along with linemen Patrick Gooden and Sam Brunetti.
"We feel a little more familiar with playing against (the wing-T)," Robert C. Byrd coach Richard Iaquinta said. "They're probably saying the same thing about the stick-I.
"We have to stay with our blocks maybe a little better this week and stop their fullback. Those are the biggest keys."
In another big game, Class AA No. 1 Bridgeport (4-0) hosts East Fairmont (1-3).
Jason Vennis is averaging 56.5 yards and has scored four TDs for the Bees, while quarterback Jeff Noechel has thrown for 320 yards and four TDs.
The Indians are led by a ground game, which is averaging 328.5 yards. Fullback Jeremy Hinzman (96.5 ypg, six TDs) is the team's leading rusher, while tailback Brian Berry (90.3 ypg., four TDs) and Mike Honce (53.8 ypg., five TDs) give Bridgeport a dangerous trio. Upback C.R. Rohrbough has scored four TDs.
In other games involving Big 10 teams, Oak Hill (2-2) visits South Harrison (2-2), Buckhannon-Upshur (1-3) travels to Class AAA No. 16 Philip Barbour (3-1), Lewis County (2-2) hosts Class AAA No. 1 University (4-0), Lincoln (1-3) is at Webster (4-0), Grafton (1-3) plays host to Southern, Md. and Liberty (0-4) visits Preston (0-4).
In a key Class A game, Notre Dame (2-2) is home against Parkersburg Catholic (2-2).
In other NCAC games, North Marion (1-3) travels to John Marshall (1-3), Class AAA No. 3 Morgantown (4-0) hosts Brooke (1-3), Class AAA No. 13 Hampshire (4-0) is at Fairmont Senior (1-3) and Elkins (0-4) visits Tucker County (0-4).
In other area games, Class AA No. 15 Doddridge County (3-1) is home against Gilmer County (1-3), Tygarts Valley (1-3) visits East Hardy (2-2) and Roane (0-4) travels to Braxton County (0-4).
Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org