By Michael Minnich
Mineral Daily News Tribune
Martinsburg starts its quest for a fourth straight Class AAA state championship, Keyser returns to the Island, and West Virginia’s newest high school Springs to life. It’s Week 1 of high school football in the Eastern Panhandle.
H.D. Woodson (D.C.) at AAA No. 1 Martinsburg (Friday, 7 p.m.)
For three years, everyone in Class AAA has been looking up at Martinsburg.
The Bulldogs have posted an astounding 41-1 mark en route to triple state championships. Martinsburg’s lone blemish last year came out-of-state against Westminster (Md.). In fact, Martinsburg hasn’t dropped a game in the state of West Virginia since a quarterfinal loss in the 2009 playoffs to South Charleston, a streak of 26 games.
But, to extend the baseball metaphor, a home run of titles will only come after facing a harsh slate.
“It’s probably the toughest schedule we’ve ever played. We could have a great team and not win near as many games because of that schedule. Our out of state opponents are really tough and Morgantown is probably going to have the best team they’ve had in years,” Martinsburg coach Dave Walker told MetroNews.
That in-state streak obviously won’t change this weekend against a D.C.-based foe.
The Bulldogs won last year’s meeting by 42 points against Woodson, who finished the year with a 4-6 mark, but did advance to the DCIAA semifinals and return Tennessee recruit D’Andre Payne at corner.
As for Martinsburg, senior Malique Watkins will get snaps at quarterback, replacing graduated Kennedy Award runner-up Cookie Clinton.
AA No. 2 Keyser at AAA No. 5 Wheeling Park (Friday, 7 p.m.)
The Keyser Golden Tornado will begin 2013 where 2012 unceremoniously ended—on Wheeling Island.
KHS returns nearly everyone from last year’s team, which went 9-1 in the regular season, losing only by two points to Allegany (Md.), and then cruised through the first three rounds of the playoffs to the school’s first state championship game since 1969.
Then they ran into a bulldozer—or covered wagon, if you want to match vehicle with mascot—in the form of the Wayne Pioneers, who handed Keyser a 35-0 defeat.
Keyser has four seniors this year that were first- or second-team all-state last year. Danny Fife and Drew Roy made the first team, while tailback Blake Ravenscroft was offensive captain of the second team. Josh Coffman, Keyser’s MVP in the state championship game last year, was a second-team pick. Wes Nelson, an honorable mention selection last year, also returns.
Keyser’s road back to Wheeling will be just that—road test after road test, against the likes of Wheeling Park, Bridgeport, and Fort Hill (Md.).
“They’re a quality contender in AAA, they’ve got 1,700 kids in their school, they’ve got athletes that we don’t have and size that we don’t have,” said Keyser coach Sean Biser of Wheeling Park. “Knowing that we’re playing them right off the bat has created a sense of urgency.”
Wheeling Park has high hopes, too, after earning the No. 9 seed in last year’s Class AAA playoffs, before falling to Spring Valley, 31-7.
It’s the first-ever meeting in football between the schools.
Spring Mills at Jefferson (Friday, 7 p.m.)
The first game in Spring Mills’ football history will come on Friday night at Jefferson.
The Cardinals, formed from players from Martinsburg and mainly Hedgesville, will not have any seniors on their roster this year, adding to their challenges.
“Obviously, it’s a challenge anytime you’re without a senior class,” Spring Mills head coach Derek Munson told MetroNews. “We’re going to be very young and we’re going to be very green. We’re going to have a lot of kids that will, perhaps, be playing football for the first time.”
Under new coach Craig Hunter, Jefferson is looking to reverse a program that has won only three games in the last three years.
The game is also one of two in the brand-new Eastern Panhandle Athletic Conference, which links the six AAA schools in Jefferson and Berkeley counties.
Musselman at Sherando (Va.)
Life after Denny Price, the state’s all-time wins leader, begins for new coach Brian Thomas and the Applemen on the road Friday.
“Our style of offense is going to be a lot different from what we’ve done the past couple of years, so we’ve stressed conditioning a lot. I’ve changed the program to where we’re worried about getting in better shape than we have in the past,” Thomas told MetroNews.
Musselman was the No. 11 seed last year after a 7-3 regular season, which included a 21-19 victory over Sherando.
Hedgesville at Washington
The traditional opener for both schools since Washington formed, this year’s match-up will have added meaning as an EPAC game.
Both teams were 3-7 last year – Washington won last year’s meeting, 14-6.
The Patriots have the talent to make the Class AAA playoffs for the first time this year, but a loss here would set that cause back.
North Marion at Frankfort
Frankfort, AA quarterfinalists last year, return Gage Shaffer, a second-team all-state pick at quarterback as a sophomore, and have made it to at least the second round of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.
Frankfort thrashed North Marion on the road by a 55-27 margin that wasn’t as close as the score indicated, but FHS coach Kevin Whiteman urges caution.
“It’s a new year. Things change,” said Whiteman. “(Our players) know it’s not going to be the same team. I’ve talked to North Marion’s coach twice a week for the last month or so. He feels like they’re a better team and their kids are more physical this year. He sounded like he had a pretty positive attitude.”
Moorefield at Petersburg
Normally a mid-to-late season clash, the Hardy-Grant border battle is the opener this year after Petersburg dropped Keyser.
Moorefield coach Josh See, whose team finished 16thin Class A last year and gave Tucker County a good game until late in the fourth quarter in the first round of the playoffs, is targeting his program’s first home playoff game in a decade, and some quick AA points would certainly aid that cause.
“Going back to when I played, Petersburg was my rival. To this day, they are my rival: it’s not East Hardy, or Pendleton, or Frankfort. It’s Petersburg,” said See.
Petersburg started last year with a 4-1 record before losing their final five games.
“We’re all excited for [Moorefield]. It’s a big rivalry game each year,” said Petersburg coach Jeff Dodd of the season opener. “A win over them would really get some momentum going.”
Preston at Hampshire
Hampshire rode the roller-coaster of being in the playoff picture after Elkins had to forfeit games last year, but then found themselves on the outside looking in after the forfeits were overturned and the Trojans lost to Frankfort in their final regular season game.
“I think for a lot of kids, it’s a big motivator. Our senior group had a taste of winning at 6-4. They know what it takes. In the off-season, our team has worked really hard. Some of the kids have gotten faster and stronger,” said Hampshire coach Darren Grace.
The Trojans had little trouble at Preston last year, winning 40-7.
Page County (Va.) at East Hardy
Clarke County (Va.) at Berkeley Springs