By Rick Kozlowski (The Journal) for the West Virginia Sports Writers Associations
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Just when Martinsburg solved an alignment issue, someone jumped offside.
So instead of trying to kick a field goal as Spring Valley initially intended, the Timberwolves took the penalty yardage and were able to score a touchdown during the early going of the Class AAA state championship game.
It was the Timberwolves’ first advance into the end zone. It was their last, too, in a runaway, 49-7 state title victory by the Bulldogs.
Still, the touchdown shocked undefeated Martinsburg.
“We really couldn’t believe they actually scored on us,” Martinsburg defensive end Tavis Lee said. “People don’t run for touchdowns on us…so that was surprising to see them driving the field like that.”
People weren’t passing for touchdowns either, or for that matter, scoring in any way up to that point.
Fourteen previous quarters had elapsed since Martinsburg last had allowed any points, including shutouts in three previous playoff wins.
“Our defense was really good,” Lee said. “I feel like we were the best defense in the state.”
Led by Lee, Martinsburg gave up only 7.6 points per game on average during a 14-win season.
He was the best defender on the state’s best defense.
And now Lee is being recognized as state’s best defender, selected as the winner of the Huff Award as the Defensive Player of the Year by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
The award is named for state native and NFL Hall of Famer Sam Huff.
Lee is the fourth Martinsburg player to be honored with the award, all since 2006, and will be honored 71st Victory Awards Dinner, set for 4 p.m. on May 21 at Village Square Conference Center in Clarksburg.
A defensive end, Lee led the Bulldogs in tackles with 114, almost a third of them taking place behind the line of scrimmage. Even more impressive, he led the team’s second-best tackler by an unthinkable 37 stops.
Defensive linemen usually take up the initial blockers and allow the linebackers to make most of the tackles.
“He’s so explosive,” Martinsburg coach David Walker said. “People run away from him, and he runs them down.
“He’s only scratching the surface of how good he can be. This is about only his third year; he’s only learning how to play.”
Lee is just a junior.
“How often does a junior win the Huff? Walker asked rhetorically.
The coach will have Lee for another season.
“He’s got a nice frame,” Walker said. “He works hard in the weight room. He reminds me of a Bruce Irvin-type of guy. I don’t kinow if he can get taller, but he could put another 20 pounds of muscle on him.
“He’d really be hard to handle.”
Irvin, a former West Virginia University standout, is in the pros with the Oakland Raiders.
WVU is showing interest in Lee, Walker said. So are Marshall and a couple of FCS teams.
“I think things will start to pick up,” Walker said.
The thing was, Lee, didn’t want to play to play football initially when he left Washington, D.C., to move to the Eastern Pahandle to live with his father. Lee’s dad coaxed his teenager son into giving football a shot at Martinsburg.
Lee gave in.
“He just showed up at the weight room one day and asked if he could work out,” Walker said. “I thought he was older.”
Lee hopes to do better as he ages.
He barely took a break from football and was back to working out in preparation for his senior season – and what he hopes will be a future in college football.
“I hope to get my weight up,” Lee said. “I want to get stronger. I feel like I’m strong now, but I want to get stronger and faster.”
As if he isn’t already.
Lee’s favorite game came during the regular season at Morgantown. The two teams also played in the postseason.
“I thought it would be a close game, and we beat them 33-6,” Lee said. “Myself, I did a pretty good job; last year, I didn’t do so good against them.
“This year, I got them back, got my revenge on them.”
He sacked Mohigans quarterback Logan Holgorsen, the son of the West Virginia coach, Dana Hogorsen, on one play.
“Up at Morgantown, he got a shot on Holgorsen,” Walker said. “He had a play where it was like, ‘Wow.’
“He had multiple plays like that: ‘It’s going to be hard to get up in the morning.’”
Opponents of Martinsburg might not have wanted to awaken the days of games, too.
Beside being stingy as far as points go, Lee and Martinsburg’s defense caused 50 turnovers, often leading to short fields for the team’s offense.
It helped Martinsburg also lead the state in scoring offense with an average of 52.3 points per game.