By: Eric Little – Seven Ranges Radio
Ritchie County at Class A No. 2 St. Marys
This game always carries a great deal of intrigue because it matches two schools that are less than 20 miles apart, but this year seems to have even more buzz. For starters, if the ticket presale is greater than 3,000, the local television station will air this game live. Think about that. How many AAA matchups in this state air on live TV? I’ll wait for your response…
That’s right. Not many. And yet here’s one with a Class AA team against a Class A team that’s on the cusp of live TV for the first time ever. Also, with a new St. Marys High School on the way this winter, this will almost certainly be the final installment in this rivalry to take place at historic Imlay Field.
But more intriguing is where these two programs are at this point in time. St. Marys is coming off one of their greatest regular seasons of all-time – a 10-0 campaign that stands as just the fourth unbeaten season in the history of Blue Devil football. Ritchie County has shown steady improvement each year under head coach Mike Dawson. This includes yearly playoff appearances and last year, that improvement meant a playoff win and a home game in the postseason, albeit an unexpected one given Ritchie County’s No. 12 seed.
For much of the 90’s and into the 00’s, the Rebels owned this matchup. That shifted upon Jodi Mote’s appointment as St. Marys head coach more than a decade ago. Now, the Rebels are back on the scene and match up well with St. Marys.
Both teams are replacing quarterbacks and how well the first-time starter for each respective school does in this opener will go a long way to decide things. St. Marys will turn to senior Evan Illar – a player who had a plethora of playing time in many of the Blue Devils’ blowout wins last season. Ritchie County replaces Alex Lipscomb – the best quarterback in the Little Kanawha Conference last season, along with Williamstown’s Jake Tracewell – with Cory Farley.
Another key will be line play. Ritchie County returns more starters up front than St. Marys. Both teams lost talented skill players, but both teams have talent returning at the skill positions. Another factor to watch will be the heat. With temperatures in the mid-80’s in the week leading up to this game – and similar weather expected for Friday – the better-conditioned team will likely be the victor.
No matter what decides the outcome, one thing rings true – this year’s matchup between the Blue Devils and Rebels is likely one of the biggest toss-ups this rivalry has seen in many years. This game will air locally on Lite Rock 93R and online at literock93r.com.
Parkersburg at Warren Local, Ohio
Even though recent years would make you forget as much, Parkersburg High School boasts one of the state’s and nation’s greatest high school football traditions. A win Friday makes the Big Reds one of just eight high school football programs in the United States to win 800 games. Not a bad way to open a season, if it can be attained.
Parkersburg faces a Warren team in the midst of a coaching transition from last year. Warren is also a team the Big Reds knocked off a year ago in a strange game that steamrolled out of control for the Warriors in a hurry. Last year’s game also featured a lengthy lightning delay in the third quarter to add to the oddity. Former Big Reds quarterback and current head coach Don Reeves would love to be the guy to lead Parkersburg to this milestone. To do so, the defense has to come out of the gate hot. The Big Reds have had lots of trouble on that side of the ball in recent years.
Ripley at Parkersburg South
As is often the case for head coaches trying to establish themselves within a program, this game will be a measuring stick for Mike Eddy’s progress as head man at Parkersburg South. The Patriots showed signs of progress toward the end of last season and if they can build off that, the schedule isn’t one that will necessarily bury Parkersburg South.
The Patriots have University and Morgantown immediately after this game, and you’d think a split would be necessary there. Then a winnable home game against Warren, a bye week, a tough matchup with Point Pleasant and a homestretch that isn’t too formidable – with the exception of Wheeling Park in the season’s penultimate week.
A playoff spot isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Eddy’s Patriots. First things first, Parkersburg South will need to show discipline on both sides of the ball and a strong running game if they aim to sink the Viking ship yet again.
Class A No. 4 Williamstown at Tyler Consolidated
Tyler Consolidated shocked a lot of people in the area last year by finishing up with a 5-5 record last year in Ryan Walton’s first year as head coach of the Silver Knights. Even more shocking? Despite an 0-4 start to the year, the Silver Knights were still mathematically eligible for a playoff spot entering the final week of the year with a 5-4 record.
In year two, Walton has the Knights focused on bigger and better things. First off, the Silver Knights have a lot of returning talent from last year’s squad. Second, the schedule is much more manageable and balanced than it’s been in previous years. The Magnolia game has moved later in the year. The likes of perennial Class AA playoff participants Ritchie County and Roane County have been replaced by teams like Cameron and Valley-Wetzel. That will help, but so too will an upset win over the Yellowjackets.
Williamstown lost talented signal-caller Jake Tracewell to graduation, but will replace him with the athletic Dakota Watson. Expect the Yellowjackets, especially early in the year, to rely on the legs of Watson – a converted running back.
Head coach Terry Smith has shown a willingness to adjust his offense to the skill set of the player under center. The playbook opened up a lot in the last couple years with the big arm of Tracewell getting the snaps. Time will tell how wide the book falls open with Watson, and which chapters receive more attention. This game will air locally on WXCR Radio (92.3 FM) and online at www.wxcr.com.
Parkersburg Catholic at Buffalo
Jeff Campbell’s Parkersburg Catholic Crusaders always have limited numbers each year when they field a team. At this point though, they’re used to the adversity that comes with those challenges, so traveling to Buffalo to open the season isn’t a tremendous obstacle. An obstacle averted here or there during last year’s 6-4 season likely spelled the difference between the playoffs and sitting at home for Parkersburg Catholic.
The crusade back to the postseason begins against a Buffalo team riddled with injuries last year. A team that often competes with the best in the state was reduced to rubble by a slew of year-ending injuries. Senior Jake Boice looks to lead the way on the ground for the Crusaders this season and expect a big effort from him to set the pace in week one.
Class A No. 9 Wahama at Ravenswood
Easily one of the more compelling matchups of the season’s opening weekend features the 2012 Class A champion White Falcons against emerging AA power Ravenswood. Wahama has had almost a full calendar year to adjust to head coach Dave Barr following the abrupt resignation of Ed Cromley during last year’s title defense.
Ravenswood lost its last eight games during Mick Price’s first season as head coach two years ago. The Red Devils bounced back to go 6-4 last year and earned a playoff bid. The winning formula for the Red Devils involved a lot of young speed that’s now maturing.
Wahama’s bread and butter over the years has been the ability to churn out talent at the running back position. If the line play in this game is in midseason form, this could turn into a high scoring game for about a half until adjustments are made. Much remains to be seen, however, to prove that the Red Devils could hang with Wahama for an entire 48 minutes if a track meet breaks out.
Paden City at Clay-Battelle
This year is shaping up to be one of great expectations for the Paden City Wildcats. Zach Headley will be under center at quarterback and with Hayden Hizer as his primary play-making option. Both are among the best all-around athletes in the last several years to represent Paden City High in any sport. The Cee-Bees were on the cusp of a spot in the first edition of the MetroNews top-10 poll for this year and have garnered the attention of many in the state. A strong showing won’t be easy for either school in what has the makings to be a very underrated small school lid-lifter.
Clay County at Roane County
Calhoun County at Gilmer County
Wirt County at Valley Fayette