BY WES MCKINNEY
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Huntington head coach Billy Seals has had one specific goal in mind all season.
“Our motto all year has been: 14,” Seals said. “We just wanted an opportunity to play in 14 games. It didn’t matter if we were 10-3 or 13-0 going into that 14th game. Here we are with that opportunity.”
The top seeded Highlanders (13-0) will play in that 14th game — the Class AAA state championship game — against No. 2 Martinsburg (12-1) after getting past Wheeling Park last week in the semifinal round.
It was a matchup last week where Huntington got going offensively at just the right time.
“I thought offensively we played as well as we had in four or five weeks, especially in the first half,” Seals said. “We felt like we dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in the first half. When you hold a team to one first down in the first half, you are going to have an opportunity to jump out in the lead.”
Huntington vaulted to a 21-0 lead in the first half on touchdown runs by the trio of Charles Crawford, Paden Christian and Nick Tubbs.
After Wheeling Park batted back in the second half to trail 27-21, Huntington defensive back Stefan Gibbs sealed the game with a pick-six with 40 seconds left to preserve the win.
While 21 points are the most the Highlanders defense has surrendered all year, the 34 points offensively were the most they had scored since week nine of the regular season against St. Albans when they put 56 on the board.
But it’s an even bigger challenge on Saturday against the three-time defending state champions.
“This group has been there for four straight years,” Seals said of Martinsburg. “That’s the first concern. They have been there and we haven’t. I hope we handle that well. You can watch five minutes of film and find a number of guys that you have know to where they are at, at all times.”
The Bulldogs possess more than standout signal caller Malique Watkins. In their semifinal win against Capital, running back Deamonte Lindsay collected 114 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.
“I think the biggest thing for them is that they have tremendous special teams,” Seals said. “I know playing them two years ago their special teams were great. They are well-rounded in all three phases of the game.”
The Highlanders and Bulldogs squared off two years ago in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs with Martinsburg winning 46-7.
What has also excited Seals this season has been the outstanding involvement from the city of Huntington.
“You can tell we have a ton of support by just driving around town and seeing the number of signs on businesses that say, ‘Good luck this weekend, Go Highlanders,’” Seals said. “Our community has bought into the program. To me, that has been very satisfying. Our community has been tremendous with big crowds throughout every game. We are happy that Huntington is proud of its football team.”
As usual, Seals will have a business-like approach with his team as Saturday draws closer.
“We will head up (to Wheeling) Friday morning at 10,” Seals said. “We will have practice once we get up there, have dinner and then enjoy the Wayne-Bridgeport game as a team for a little bit Friday night. Once we have our meetings Friday night, the hay is in the barn.”
Martinsburg, meanwhile, has won 15 straight playoff games and 35 straight games against West Virginia opponents.