Aug. 24—PETERSBURG, W.Va. — Petersburg surprised a lot of people with a playoff team last year — its third in school history — but the Vikings aren't complacent.
The Grant County squad returns 14 starters, including most of its line and a host of players on defense. The ultimate goal is winning a playoff game, something Petersburg has never done.
That journey begins tomorrow night at home against Berkeley Springs at 7 p.m.
"We're still going to be very young," said Petersburg head coach Donny Evans, who guided the Vikings in a 7-4 season last year. "Junior-heavy with sophomores playing some. We do have some senior leadership.
"I really do believe that we're going to do some good things, but we just have to keep focused and keep on our path."
The Vikings shot out of the gates last season, winning their first five games — the first time the program has done so in 30 years.
Senior tailback Peyton Day was a big reason why, as he racked up 1,381 yards and 23 touchdowns on 161 carries, and he caught 18 passes for 337 yards and seven more scores.
Senior QB Bumby Van Meter scored 22 touchdowns and rushed for more than 600 yards.
However, Van Meter wasn't able to play in the Vikings' playoff game at James Monroe — neither was leading tackler Cameron Ault — and Petersburg fell 37-13.
"The guys really bought into everything that we were doing," Evans said of last year. "We had a lot of senior leadership. ... We'll miss those seniors, but we have a lot of younger guys who have experience playing as freshmen and sophomores, and they're juniors and seniors now.
"We've been talking to our players about not being complacent and stagnant with last season. This is a new season, we have new goals and things we want to accomplish, and the guys are excited about that."
Petersburg will operate out of the spread again this year and will look to replicate an offense that exploded for 428 points and 38.9 per game — both school records.
"From last year to this year, we're ahead of installing a lot of things," Evans said. "We put in a lot of things toward the end of the season, and we already have those things in. ... The guys have really picked things up here the last two weeks."
Junior Clay Arbaugh will get the call under center. Arbaugh, who started seven games as a freshman, is a dual-threat option like Van Meter, though he's more of a downhill runner.
"He's really coming into his own," Evans said. "He's really excited to lead this program. He's worked hard in the offseason during our 7-on-7. Each week he's gotten better."
Junior Trace Rohrbaugh moves from wide receiver to backfield. As a sophomore, the speedster made 21 catches for 348 yards and four TDs, and he had 34 rushes for 209 yards and five scores.
Ault will also get the ball in the backfield.
"Trace is more of a scat back that likes to get in the open field and make some plays," Evans said. "Cameron is a downhill runner."
Senior Ethan Taylor, sophomore Kaleb Kuhn, junior Peyton Tingler and junior Spencer Rochette are the Vikings to watch in the receiving game.
"All those guys have started at those positions," Evans said. "I'm excited to see what they can do. They're coming into their own. They run their routes really well and catch the ball well.
"It's exciting to see we have a run game and a passing game. It's up to me to mix it up a little bit to keep the defense on their toes."
Petersburg returns four starters at the offensive line. Senior Maguel VanMeter and senior Jackson Alt are three-year starters, and senior Josh Biggs and senior Landon McGuinnis are back in the trenches.
Juniors Colon Mauzy, Riley Swick and Luke Adkins are vying for the other line spot and will all provide depth on both sides of the ball.
The Vikings will line up in a 4-2-5 or 3-3 on defense depending on their opponent and the game situation. Evans expects big strides from a unit that allowed 23.8 points per game in 2022.
"Our defense is gonna be a lot stronger this year," Evans said. "We have a lot of starters back. ... They've gotten more comfortable just understanding what we're asking. Last year when we were doing some of our read coverages, we were getting mixed up and having blown coverages."
Biggs, Alt, Mauzy, Swick and VanMeter will rotate at the defensive line. Rohrbaugh and senior Colton Vance are the starting outside linebackers, and Cameron Ault (104 tackles, six TFL, five sacks, one INT, one recovery) and Arbaugh will be a formidable duo at inside backer.
"One thing that hopefully we can emulate from last year is them getting downhill," Evans said of his linebackers. "Getting to the quarterback, getting to the running back."
Kuhn, Taylor and Tingler will be the defensive backs.
"Our passing defense will be a lot better than it was last year," Evans said. "They're starting to understand our concepts and our reads."
Tingler will handle the kicking and punting duties for Petersburg.
"Last year he kind of got thrown into that position," Evans said. "The week going into the Clear Spring game, I don't think he made one all week. But then he went 10 for 10 on PATs. These guys, they're just game players."
Rohrbaugh, Taylor and Kuhn are the guys to watch in the kick and punt return game. Rohrbaugh returned multiple kicks for scores in 2022.
"I'm not saying he's a Peyton Day, but I think he can kind of fulfill that role," Evans said.
Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.