By: Wes McKinney, WVMetroNews.com
AAA No. 1 Martinsburg (13-0) vs. AAA No. 2 Spring Valley (12-1) – Saturday 12:00 p.m.
The road to Wheeling for Spring Valley began in the August heat with a 55-26 win over Cabell Midland in what a was a coming-out party for quarterback Derek Johnson, and the journey was completed Saturday in an instant classic against Capital as Johnson scampered 49 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 36 seconds left to lift the Timberwolves to a 20-14 win.
“That was one of the best high school games I’ve ever seen,” Spring Valley head coach Brad Digness said. “To be a part of it was awesome. The high-level drama was like a heavyweight title fight at the end. Both teams were slugging back and forth.”
But it took more than just a 49-yard rush from Johnson for Spring Valley to appear in its first Class AAA state title game.
Capital drained a majority of the fourth quarter clock before Spring Valley stuffed the Cougars at the goal line to set up a dramatic 99-yard drive that began at the 4:55 mark of the final quarter.
“They won the field position battle the whole game,” Dingess said. “For our defense to get the goal line stand and go 99 yards for a score was the most dramatic way to end the game. To see the smile on the kids’ faces and them running around celebrating, that’s what it’s all about.”
And Saturday’s theatrics was a moment that the supporters of Spring Valley had been waiting on since the school’s opening in 1998. The consolidated schools of Ceredo-Kenova, Buffalo and Vinson that make up Spring Valley combined for 16 state championships.
“This is a football rich community with the previous schools,” Dingess said. “You could see the support on Saturday how much it means to this community. It’s big for our school, for our community. This is something that they’ve been waiting on for a long time.”
The only other state championships for the Timberwolves was a 2001 golf title and a 2011 volleyball championship.
But Spring Valley and its powerful offense led by offensive linemen Riley Locklear and Doug Nester as well as a stable of running backs that includes Jonah Wellman, Mason Brubeck and Owen Porter and the nimble Johnson isn’t satisfied with just facing mighty Martinsburg led by quarterback Tyson Bagent and running back Mikey Jackson.
“The biggest thing we have to do is be able to put some points on the board,” Dingess said of a Bulldogs’ defense that has pitched three consecutive shutouts. “They have the best defense in the state. We have to able to put some drives together and get some points on the board.”
As for Bagent and the offense, “Martinsburg’s receivers and running backs are comparable with just about anyone that we’ve seen on our schedule,” Dingess said. “Along the offensive and defensive lines, they are really good and really disciplined. I thought we did a pretty good job of guarding some of the athletes we saw on the outside. We won’t be changing anything we do—that’s what got us here. We’re going to hang our hat on that.”
And Dingess isn’t allowing his team to get blinded by the lights of a state championship game either.
“It’s a football game,” he said. “I know it’s on a big stage, but we can’t lose sight of it being a football game. We still have to block and tackle people as well as execute.”
After all the Timberwolves have played in some marquee games this season including a week ago.
“The game against Capital was played on a big stage with a lot of drama,” Dingess said.
“It was good for us to play in that type of game—we grew from that game. We need to survive the first wave of intensity and then settle in. We’re going to enjoy this moment. Not everyone gets to play for a state championship.”