By Michael Minnich — Mineral Daily News Tribune
Can Martinsburg do it AGAIN? That quest for a fifth straight state championship for the Bulldogs, and the hopes of everyone else in West Virginia, start this weekend. It’s Week 1 in the Eastern Panhandle.
AAA No. 1 Martinsburg vs. H.D. Woodson (D.C.), Friday, 7 p.m.
Martinsburg has won the last four state championships and hasn’t lost a game in the state of West Virginia since 2009.
We’ll have to wait until December to see if they can make it five, and until September 26th to extend the in-state streak.
“That’ll be the hot topic,” Martinsburg coach Dave Walker said. “But we’ll approach it like we have the past four years. Our goal was just to go out every day and get better in practice, try to take care of the little things and hopefully, if we play well enough in the regular season, we’ll put ourselves into position.”
Walker will be breaking in a new starting quarterback: junior Carter Walburn is expected to fill the shoes of Malique Watkins.
That won’t be the case in the backfield, where Deamonte Lindsay and Eric Brown were staples of last year’s 13-1 team.
Lindsay rushed for 1,200 yards and scored 15 TD’s last year.
“The sky is the limit for him,” Walker said. “He has a great frame, he’s fast, very smart and has kind of flown under the radar because of some of the other kids we have had. He has a lot of potential and I think he will get a lot of attention this year.”
Running back/athlete Trey Boyd also returns for Martinsburg after a year of playing in Florida.
The Bulldogs will be in for a battle against Woodson, who they edged 20-14 at home last year.
Woodson won its final six regular season games after a 1-3 start last year, going undefeated against D.C. Foes.
A No. 7 Moorefield at AA No. 7 Frankfort, Friday, 7 p.m.
Two teams with high expectations and Division I-caliber players will meet in what has been a great series in recent years.
Frankfort, who was upset in the first round of the Class AA playoffs by Robert C. Byrd last year, is quarterbacked by Maryland commit Gage Shaffer: the 6-foot-7 senior has his two leading rushers back from last year in Brady Watson and Noah Bible.
Shaffer impressed Terps coach Randy Edsall so much at a summer camp that the boss started to snap to the Falcon signal-caller personally during drills and then signed him on the spot.
“The attention that he got from Maryland was a bonus because it made him re-focus his energy and get excited,” said Frankfort coach Kevin Whiteman. “He’s a good boy, he’s a good leader. He doesn’t get caught up in all the attention that he gets, and that’s a good thing.
Watson, the News Tribune player of the year last year, rushed for 24 touchdowns and made 115 tackles on defense and was second team all-state captain.
“Brady Watson is a tough kid. He plays hard,” said Whiteman.
Moorefield fell in the Class A quarterfinals to Magnolia last year, but coach Josh See likes his team for 2014.
“I think you can definitely put us in the talk,” said See of his team’s state title hopes. “If we keep growing the way we have, we’re going to be a really good football team.”
The Jackets are led by junior Wil Schoonover, who already has some D-1 interest and has worked with a pair of Eastern Panhandle WVU alumns in Moorefield’s own Reed Williams and Martinsburg alum Nate Sowers in the off-season to improve.
“Wil has gotten stronger,” said See. “He went out to some summer camps in Morgantown and got to meet Coach Holgorsen, and Holgorsen knew who he was. That kind of shocked him a little bit.”
“He knows that he’s got the target on his back and has stepped up his game.”
No matter who wins on Friday, it’ll be a feather in the cap.
“Moorefield is a tough team. I always get excited about that game,” said Whiteman. “They beat us in ’11, 15-6, then we beat them in ’12, 28-20, and last year it was 37-34 [for Frankfort, Moorefield's only regular season loss].”
“They never are easy,” said See. “When you’ve got Brady Watson to hand the ball off to, and Gage Shaffer throwing that stinking rock…it’s a two-headed monster.”
“We’re going to be ready for them. I like this matchup.”
AA No. 6 Keyser vs. Clearfield (Pa.), Friday, 7 p.m.
After getting to Wheeling in 2012, things never fully clicked for Keyser in 2013.
Although there were bright spots, including a win at AAA playoff contender Hampshire and a 42-3 shellacking of Frankfort in the Mineral Bowl, a 7-3 season got them the No. 10 seed and a date with Fairmont Senior.
FS threw the ball all over the Golden Tornado, building a huge first-half lead and putting an abrupt end to KHS’s season.
A veteran core will try and get Keyser a few steps further this year as the program celebrates its centennial.
“It’s probably one of the best summers that we’ve had,” said KHS coach Sean Biser. “Everyone thinks that we lost all those great players, and we absolutely did.
“But this group, we’ve got kids like Hunter Kasmier who have been starting on and off….Someone like Iden Blizzard is a three-year starter,” said Biser. “Garrett Crites, Timmy Biser, Amonte Turner, right on down the line. It’s not like the cupboard is bare.”
After opening at Wheeling Park last year, KHS again had issues finding an opener before settling on Clearfield, located about three hours north of Keyser.
“It’s disheartening to drive by 10 to 15 schools that you probably should be playing to play someone else,” said Biser. “They were 13-1 last year and lost to Berwick, which, if you know anything about Pennslyvania football, is a great program. I think [Clearfield] has lost like 5 games over the last 4 years.
The Tornado will play two defending state champions this year in Fort Hill (Md.) and Bridgeport.
The Bridgeport game on October 10 will include the celebration of 100 years of Keyser football, with an All-Century team, previous state champions, and football, band, and cheerleading alumni being recognized.
Jefferson at Spring Mills, Friday, 7 p.m.
There’s a lot of buzz around Jefferson football after a 5-5 season last year, with the Cougars receiving votes in preseason polls.
“I definitely think we’re a playoff team,” Jefferson linebaacker Kyle Ransom told the Martinsburg Journal.
After chucking the ball all over the field last year, the Cougars plan for a more balanced attack this year, but quarterback Andrew King will likely still be one of the most productive arms in the state.
“I like to be balanced,” King told the Journal. “But I guess I’ll do whatever works, whatever gets us to win.”
Spring Mills took their lumps as a first-year program last year, going 1-9 without any seniors.
Of course, the good news there is that everyone is back for the Cardinals, who beat Clear Spring (Md.) 21-14 in their eighth game for the first win in program history.
“We’re really coming together. We got more guys and got more talented guys. We just have a lot more people, not relying on one person and praying they don’t get injured,” running William Sweeney told the Journal.
Jefferson won last year’s meeting, the first game in Spring Mills history, by a 58-6 scoreline.
Washington at Hedgesville, Friday, 7 p.m.
Daryl Hayes takes the reins of the Washington Patriots this year after a 7-3 season earned them the No. 10 spot last year, the first in school history.
But with 21 seniors gone from last year, some patchwork is needed.
“We’re trying to build a program,” Hayes told the Journal News. “We don’t want to forget last year. We had some kids who got playing time and some kids got to play in mop-up time.
“We’re going to put a viable product on the field.”
Hedgesville also has a new boss in Aaron Fiddler and will have to replace the production of Troy Markley.
“We’ve got a good balance,” Fiddler told the Journal. “We’ve got kids that we’re developing in the program right now and kids are ready to go right now.”
Washington won last year’s contest, 47-14.
Musselman vs. Sherando (Va.), Friday, 7 p.m.
Musselman is young: 12 seniors and 16 juniors are outweighed by a big 30-man sophomore class that went 8-1 as freshmen.
They’ll try and build on a 5-5 season: after a 4-2 start, they faded a bit down the stretch before closing with a win over Shady Spring.
The Applemen will look to avenge a 40-13 loss last year, the start of a 9-1 regular season for Sherando, who only lost to Martinsburg.
Hampshire at Preston, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Hampshire has been one of the ‘last four out’ in Class AAA each of the last two years: a 6-4 record last year had the necessary base points to get into the playoffs, but just seven bonus points from their opponents spelled doom for the Trojans.
Gone are Shane Ennis, Lucas Powers, and Dane Heavener, key cogs of the offense at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, respectively.
“We’re moving in the right direction, but we need to get there just a little bit quicker,” said HHS coach Darren Grace.
The Trojans won last year’s meeting, 34-14.
East Hardy at Page County (Va.), Friday, 7 p.m.
Berkeley Springs at Clarke County (Va.), Friday, 7 p.m.