MARTINSBURG, W.Va – It’s a rematch of last year’s Class AAA state championship game as three-time defending state champion Martinsburg takes Cabell Midland Saturday in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs prevailed in last year’s matchup, 38-14.
While Saturday’s game features the same coaches and jersey numbers, the key playmakers for both squads are not. Last year, Martinsburg was led by quarterback “Cookie” Clinton, who totaled 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win. Running back Trey Boyd, who accounted for 193 yards on the ground and two scores in that matchup, is no longer with the Bulldogs as well.
“Our kids are excited (about the rematch), this an exciting time of the year to play,” Martinsburg head coach Dave Walker said. “Any time you’re playing in the postseason, it’s fun.”
The Knights last year were led by David Gaydosz who rushed for 131 yards and two scores, while fullback Lowell Farley added 120 yards of his own. Both of those players have moved on as well.
Fast forward to Saturday and No. 2 Martinsburg (10-1) is led by dual-threat quarterback Malique Watkins – he tallied 57 yards as a receiver in that championship game a year ago. Watkins leads the Bulldogs in rushing this season with 1,608 yards and 18 touchdowns. Through the air he’s thrown for 680 yards and 11 scores, to only six interceptions.
“We try to keep as much balance as we can, we’ve ben more a ground oriented team,” Walker said. “I think as a coach you have to adapt to what you have, and this year we have some guys who can run.”
Deamonte Lindsay has been a great sidekick to Watkins, as he has contributed 938 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Eric Brown has also added 806 yards and 10 scores as well.
No. 7 Cabell Midland (9-2) hoists a stout rushing attack with three players around or above the 1,000 yard mark on the season. Kasey Thomas leads the team with 1,235 yards and 17 touchdowns while, Teran Barnitz has rushed for 1,010 yards and 13 scores. Donte Hendricks needs just 32 yards in the game to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark.
“They’re a run oriented team that plays great D, they play physical with a lot of emotion,” Walker said. “There’s not a lot of big secrets – they get after you, so got to be prepared when you play those guys.”
The Bulldogs come into Saturday’s contest on the heels of a 36-0 shutout over Spring Valley in the opening round. It took a 22-point third quarter to put the game away for Dave Walkers’ squad.
“Defensively, I thought we did a better job in the second half,” Walker said. “Offensively, we had two quick turnovers in the first quarter, but we minimized our mistakes in the second half and were fortunate to come out of there with a win.”
The Knights are in the quarterfinals after taking care of No. 10 Washington, 35-6. In that game, Midland’s rushing attack racked up over 400 yards on the ground as they sent the Patriots home in their first ever playoff appearance. The Knights also held Class AAA second leading rusher Colin Gustins, to just 49 yards on 20 carries.
“They’re a physical (defense) that puts pressure on you,” Walker said. “(We) have to be able to handle their pressure and play physical.
Martinsburg has reeled off seven wins in a row, since a week four 35-34 heartbreak loss to Tuscarora, Va., where they failed on a two-point conversion with under a minute to go.
“You hate dropping a ball game, but I think we became a better team after playing that game.” Walker said.
The Bulldogs still haven’t lost an in-state game since the 2009 quarterfinal game in the playoffs against South Charleston.
If Martinsburg can advance on Saturday it will be their 14th straight playoff victory and keep its hopes alive for a record fourth-straight Class AAA state title.
“We don’t like to look big picture a lot of time,” Walker said. “We try to stay focused and prepare from week to week and not worry about anything else.”