Spring Valley’s speedy Malashevich is a threat to score in any situation
CHARLESTON — Last week, Capital’s pass defense shut down the winner of the 2017 Randy Moss Award as the top receiver in West Virginia.
This week, the Cougars’ defensive backs look to slow down one of the top candidates for the Kennedy Award, which goes to the state’s best player.
Graeson Malashevich, a hybrid running back/receiver, has been the center of unbeaten Spring Valley’s offense this football season, piling up 27 touchdowns and more than 2,200 all-purpose yards. Limiting his production could be crucial for the No. 3 Cougars (11-1) when they play at No. 2 Spring Valley (12-0) in the Class AAA semifinals at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
The winner of Friday’s game advances to the state championship game at noon Saturday, Dec. 1, at Wheeling Island Stadium, taking on either top seed and two-time defending champion Martinsburg (12-0) or No. 4 Musselman (11-1), who meet in the other semifinal, also being played at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
Malashevich, a speedy 5-foot-10, 175-pound senior, has proven to be dangerous all over the field for the Timberwolves. He averages 8.8 yards per carry and a whopping 27.4 yards per reception, scoring touchdowns on 13 of his 30 catches. He also has a pair of touchdowns each on defense and kick returns.
Not even Huntington High - a program that annually features one of the state’s best defenses and that knows Spring Valley about as well as any team in the Mountain State Athletic Conference - could stop Malashevich from doing damage in last week’s quarterfinals. He caught seven passes for 187 yards and two TDs from Will Adkins in the Wolves’ 36-0 victory and also ran for a score and threw for a touchdown.
In the second quarter, the Highlanders had Malashevich double covered, but the defenders ran into each other in the end zone and Malashevich caught a 20-yard TD pass. Just before halftime, out of a trips-right formation, Malashevich put on a double move, got open and landed a 16-yard scoring toss from Will Adkins to make it 21-0.
Capital, however, had success last week defending Hedgesville junior receiver Malakai Brown during a 48-14 quarterfinal triumph. Brown, who had more than 1,000 yards receiving and 18 overall touchdowns on the season, was limited to just two catches for 31 yards - one of them a loss of 5 yards on a sideline screen.
The Cougars used lanky junior Karrington Hill to shadow Brown all over the field, and the tactic worked. The 6-1, 165-pound Hill covered Brown so well that Capital didn’t need to use quarterback Kerry Martin Jr. in pass defense, saving his legs. Kerion Martin, younger brother of Kerry, also drew Brown on coverage a few times.
So might Capital coach Jon Carpenter consider using Hill in the same role Friday to follow Malashevich all over the field? If successful, that would allow the Cougars to stick an extra defender in the tackle box to help out with Spring Valley’s devastating running game.
“Well, he’ll be called on a little bit,” Carpenter said of Hill. “He’s long and lean. We didn’t hide him from anybody all year. Mostly all year we just played him wherever he lined up.
“This kid (Malashevich) is definitely one you’ve got to stop. Some teams use two on him, and that’s the way the good ones are. You double him, but they still find a way to get him the ball. He’s just so daggone quick. He’s a different deal than anybody we’ve faced.
“Obviously, he’s the best player we’ve faced and he’s going to catch some balls. You just want to try and cut down (the damage) because you’re not going to stop him completely, I figure.”
Spring Valley coach Brad Dingess and his staff figure Capital will try to shadow Malashevich with one of their shutdown cornerbacks, but noted opposing defenses have tried a lot of things against Malashevich this season and still haven’t found the answer. Only Point Pleasant held him without a catch, but he broke off a 17-yard TD run against the Big Blacks.
“That’s probably something that we look at,” Dingess said of man-to-man coverage on Malashevich. “People have done that to him, and double-covered him and smashed him and played over the top. We’ve got stuff where we can move him around and try to get him the ball in space. Capital does a good job with its defense - they’re very sound on defense. They’ve got several guys that they feel comfortable putting on him.”
During the regular season, in Spring Valley’s 21-13 win against Capital at University of Charleston Stadium, Malashevich caught only one pass for 26 yards, but carried 12 times for 129 yards and two scores and also ran for a 2-point conversion.
Dingess said the threat of the Wolves’ other top receiver, Nate Ellis, who averages nearly 24 yards a catch, also helps spring Malashevich when opponents tilt their coverage toward the latter.
“I think you’ve got to be aware of where Ellis is when you do stuff like that,” Dingess said. “He’s good enough to beat you too. It’s just kind of what they give you in the secondary. It’s not like (Malashevich is) an outside receiver all the time. He can play there in trips or anything, but you can move him around and get what you want out of him.
“We kind of wait and see what the defense gives us and try to take advantage. He does a good job creating space out there, too. He’s a very good route runner, and that helps a lot.”
Of course, Spring Valley has a top-notch ground game that regularly churns out more than 300 yards per game, so defenses just can’t bunch up to stop Malashevich running down the field. Malashevich himself pointed to his offensive line as the key Friday.
“We need to win the line of scrimmage like we do every game,” Malashevich said. “The big uglies up front, they’re getting it done for us.”