AA No. 9 Fairmont Senior at AA No. 4 Robert C. Byrd
The top game of the region involves a pair of top 10 ranked teams in the preseason MetroNews Power Rankings.
RCB has reached the state semifinals in back-to-back seasons. A late regular season push got a young Eagles team into the post season last year where they would upset Frankfort and then beat Ritchie County to get to the final four.
Running back Ben D’Annunzio returns for his senior season a year after suffering a broken collarbone in a season opening loss to Fairmont Senior last year. Much of RCB’s skill position talent is back.
Fairmont Senior knocked off Keyser to advance in the post season a year ago. A second round playoff loss to Bridgeport ended the careers of a large senior class. Fairmont Senior must replace 10 starters on offense and seven on defense. There are a total of just seven seniors on the Polar Bears roster this year.
Buckhannon-Upshur at AA No. 2 Bridgeport
Bridgeport will begin defense of its first state championship in 13 seasons as it will open at home against a Class AAA opponent. The Indians will be challenged by a total of five AAA teams in 2014.
Bridgeport has to replace the production of standout running back Anthony Bonamico and quarterback A.C. Caldera. The duo, now both at West Virginia Wesleyan — combined for 3,686 yards of offense and 56 touchdowns.
After a large senior class moved on with a title, new leaders should emerge from a group including juniors Dylan Tonkery and Dante Bonamico, along with offensive linemen Brandon Hartz, Josh Hastings and Conner Nelson.
Senior quarterback Dillon Gaudet is back to run Buckhannon’s triple option offense. Gaudet still managed to throw for over 900 yards last year in an offense that emphasized the run under first year head coach Duane Stoeckle.
AAA No. 9 University at John Marshall
University opens the season with a Two Rivers Athletic Conference contest against John Marshall on the road. The Hawks have won seven in a row in the series.
The Hawks finished 10-2 last year and they must replace key contributors Tony Richardson (VMI), Jack Armstrong (William & Mary), Travis Renner (West Virginia Wesleyan for baseball), Billy Kinney (WVU) and Jeff Headley (WVU).
There is still optimism as senior Jeremy Eckels takes over at quarterback. Eckels possesses a similar skill set to Renner in that he has a strong arm and can sell the play fake on the read option. Senior Jace Neville and sophomore Isaiah Utt will also be focal points of the offense. Neville has speed while Utt is a 240 pound bruiser.
Defensively, the Hawks should be strong up front with Utt and seniors Scott Dixon and Matt Minard. John Marshall has struggled for wins in recent seasons, but the Monarchs are have a veteran group returning this season led by junior quarterback Noah Martin. Martin threw for over 1,000 yards a year ago. 6-foot-2, 215 pound nose tackle Cameron Fisher leads the John Marshall defense as he is a constant threat to get to the quarterback.
Anacostia (DC) at AAA No. 5 Morgantown
The Mohigans’ philosophy on offense will likely change now that 2013 Kennedy Award winner Chazzy Thomas plays at Fairmont State. Tight end Stone Wolfley (6-4, 200) figures to be a much bigger part of the offense as the coaches plan to flex him out to get him the ball in open space. Wolfley and his younger brother, Maverick, have both committed to WVU. Maverick Wolfley is a 220 pound running back who also figures in big in the offense.
A concern is that MHS must replace all five starters along the offensive line. Morgantown returns seven starters on defense and has a very deep and talented group of linebackers.
Anacostia is making the trip to Morgantown for an early season non conference game for the second time in three seasons. MHS won 41-26 at Pony Lewis Field back in 2012.
Oak Hill at Lewis County
The Minutemen were a 7-4 playoff team last year and all four losses were to teams that reached the post season. It was the fourth playoff birth in five seasons for Lewis County. The Minutemen return the leader of what was a very good defensive team in Brandon Moneypenny. The defensive back led the state in interceptions in 2013.
Lewis County is the second smallest Class-AAA school in the state as it will try and get back to the playoffs with a schedule featuring seven games against AAA opponents.
Notre Dame at Wheeling Central
Talk about a tough way to start the season. The Irish take to the road to face the No. 1 ranked Class A team in the preseason MetroNews Power Rankings.
Notre Dame was a top 10 ranked team itself last year as the Irish got to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Notre Dame has the bulk of that playoff team returning including senior running back Santino Cava. Cava is among the most prolific runners in Harrison County history. He needs just 29 yards to become the school’s all time leading rusher. The county career rushing record is within reach as well as Cava needs 505 yards to reach that mark.
Grafton at Philip Barbour
Grafton lost a number of close games a year ago as it was building under first year head coach Drew Toth. Five of the Bearcats losses were by a total of 14 points. Toth is hoping if his team cuts down on penalties and turnovers this year, they can turn the corner. Grafton’s 2014 roster is dotted with a number of veteran players as 24 juniors and seniors return.
Philip Barbour graduated 14 seniors from a team that made it into the playoffs last year as the No. 16 seed, falling to Wayne in the opening round.
Liberty at East Fairmont
East Fairmont coach Bill Haddox has some veteran players to build an offense around, including quarterback Jake Delaney who started most of last season. Most of the Bees offensive line returns as well. On defense, Haddox believes his players are stronger following off season weight work. The coach believes his team will be better at stopping the run.
A.J. Harman is the new head coach at Liberty. Harman knows the program well as he spent a total of six seasons over two stints as an assistant coach with the Mountaineers. Liberty is coming off an 0-9-1 season.
Paden City at Clay-Battelle
The Cee-Bees have won eight or more games and reached the playoffs three consecutive years. Both streaks should continue as the 2014 Clay-Battelle squad is loaded with skill position talent. Junior Quarterback Jarrett Hockenberry will be a threat to run or pass.
Tanner Bragg, Colby Shriver, Jacoby Steele and Cannon Brummage are among the options are among the options at running back and receiver. The Cee-Bees do need to replace three starters along the offensive line.
6-4, 270 pound Wyatt Tennant and 6-0, 290 pound Tanner Six are expected to lead the defense from their tackle positions.