By Sean McNamara – Times West Virginian for WVMetroNews.com
It’s playoff time in West Virginia, and the Eastern Panhandle will be well represented this postseason with six teams qualifying for the playoffs.
In Class AAA, Martinsburg, Musselman, Hedgesville and Spring Mills advanced to postseason play, as did Keyser in Class AA and East Hardy in Class A.
The Cougars and Bulldogs each have clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, and each will look to make a return trip to Wheeling Island and the state championship game.
Hedgesville and Musselman have each earned the right to host a first-round game, while Keyser and Spring Mills will be on the road.
No. 15 Morgantown at No. 2 Martinsburg
The Martinsburg Bulldogs and Morgantown Mohigans are each coming off a bye in the final week of the season as they prepare to square off at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The game will not only be a rematch of a regular season contest, which Martinsburg won 51-7, but also of last year’s Class AAA semifinal, which the Bulldogs won 51-0.
“Obviously they’re a familiar opponent,” Morgantown coach Matt Lacy said. “We’ve played them a lot in past years in the regular season and playoffs it seems like.”
The Mohigans enter the postseason 4-6 with losses in their last three games. As Lacy brings his team across the state to the Eastern Panhandle, he hopes that more experience with quarterback Logan Holgorsen and a more concrete offensive identity will pay off this time around.
“We’re going to do what we do,” Lacy said. “This year we’ve struggled a little bit to find an offensive identity, but now having Logan back it’s helped us to settle into an offense a little bit. We’re just going to continue to work on what we’ve continued to work on the last few weeks. You won’t see us do a whole lot different.”
The task at hand will be very difficult for Morgantown, however, as they face a Bulldogs team looking to secure its 25th consecutive win.
Behind quarterback Tyson Bagent, who accounted for 2,279 passing yards and 28 touchdowns through the air with five more on the ground this season, the Bulldogs cruised through the regular season. Coach Dave Walker’s Bulldogs outscored opponents 570-89 this season with the starters only playing one complete game.
The winner of this game will take on the winner of Friday’s matchup between No. 10 John Marshall and No. 7 Parkersburg.
No. 14 Spring Mills at No. 3 University
For the third straight season the Spring Mills Cardinals will make a playoff appearance as they enter the Class AAA bracket with a No. 14 seed.
For the second straight season, coach Derek Munson and his team will travel to Morgantown for a first round matchup after falling in 2016 to the Mohigans, 25-7.
This time around, the Cardinals will head to the other end of the city as they take on the third-seeded University Hawks at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mylan Stadium.
As his team prepares to travel across the state and looks to get out of the first round, Munson is proud of what his team has accomplished making the playoffs after a 5-5 regular season.
“It’s exciting for our program and exciting for our school,” Munson said. “Going into this thing I don’t think anybody really envisioned that we’d be sitting where we are right now. It’s been a difficult road, a tough road trying to bring these different players together initially and trying to establish some tradition and things like that.
“But it’s been well worth the effort and hard work by the coaching staff and people in the community, administration, players, parents and everybody involved.”
The University Hawks finished the regular season 10-0 for the first time since the 1990s, and coach John Kelly sees a lot of similarities between the two squads.
“They’re a carbon copy of us,” Kelly said. “They run the spread, they have great athletes and skill kids all over. They probably don’t throw like we do with a sophisticated passing game, but they like to run the football. They’ve got a great tailback, a good quarterback and some good aggressive defensive guys.”
University lost in the first round last year to Hurricane, and despite having five more wins than Spring Mills, Kelly and his team will not be taking the cardinals lightly.
“They’re very good. Their 5-5 is deceiving,” Kelly said. “They lost to three playoff teams, but they’re a pretty good football team.”
The winner of this matchup will take on the winner of No. 11 Wheeling Park and No. 6 Capital.
No. 12 Cabell Midland at No. 5 Musselman
Coach Brain Thomas and the Musselman Applemen enter the 2017 playoffs with a No. 5 seed and host No. 12 Cabell Midland in the first round.
Musselman ended the regular season 8-2, with wins in four of their last five games.
Leading the way for the Applemen has been a backfield duo of Jacob Northcraft and Blake Hartman behind quarterback Chris Fox.
As the senior leader of the team and the school’s all-time leading rusher, Thomas has relied on Northcraft to carry much of the load this season, and he’s delivered in a big way.
“Jacob is a special kid, man,” Thomas said. “We moved him up to varsity when he was a freshman, and our starting running back broke his leg during Jacob’s freshman season, and halfway through he got cast into the starting running back role and really never looked back.
“This year, Jacob is just one of those kids that he’s not the flashiest player in the world and he’s not going to get out in open space and juke people. He has a good amount of speed … but he’s just tough, man. He’s going to run with his head down and he’s going to run forward. He’s going to get you 4 or 5 yards every time her touches the ball.”
In addition to Northcraft, the Applemen have utilized the talents of the freshman Hartman this year to propel an offense that has outscored opponents 395-221.
“He’s a 1,000-yard rusher and he’s our leading receiver this year,” Thomas said of Hartman. “He has almost 500 yards receiving. I think he leads our conference in interceptions with six, and three of them have been returned for touchdowns. The kid is just such an outstanding player.”
Hartman, Northcraft and Fox will all need to be at the top of their games as they face a 5-5 Cabell Midland team that has faced a very tough schedule this season. Cabell Midland’s five losses have come at the hands of Huntington, Spring Valley, Belfry, Kentucky, Capital and Anderson, Ohio.
Three of Cabell Midland’s five wins this year are over playoff teams as it’s defeated South Charleston, Hurricane and Parkersburg this season.
Musselman is looking to bounce back after getting shutout in the first round of the playoffs in 2016, losing 36-0 to Jefferson.
Cabell Midland also bowed out in the first round a year ago, falling, 28-7, to Capital.
The winner of this game will take on the winner of No. 4 Spring Valley and No. 13 George Washington.
No. 9 Hurricane at No. 8 Hedgesville
Joey Yurish and the No. 8 Hedgesville Eagles earned a Week 11 win over Spring Mills on the road last week, securing a 7-3 record and earning the right to host a playoff game at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Their opponent is the ninth-seeded Hurricane Redskins, who will bring their 6-4 record a long way across the Mountain State with a spot in the second round on the line.
After falling to Musselman and Martinsburg in weeks 7 and 8, the Eagles have bounced back, winning their last two games to close out the regular season.
Not only did last week’s win over the Cardinals, which saw quarterback Jason Plotner throw for 224 yards and four touchdowns, give the Eagles a chance to host in the playoffs, but also gave Hedgesville its only win of the season over a team in the WVSSAC playoffs.
A year ago, Hedgesville lost in the first round of the playoffs as a No. 16 seed while Hurricane earned a win over University.
The winner of this game will face the winner of Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. contest between No. 1 Huntington and No. 16 South Charleston.
No. 13 Keyser at No. 4 Fairmont Senior
In Class AA, the Keyser Golden Tornado overcame a difficult schedule to earn their way into the Class AA playoffs with a 7-3 record and a No. 13 seed.
The three losses for Keyser have come at the hands of Maryland powerhouse Fort Hill, Bridgeport and Allegany, Maryland. The Golden Tornado’s lone win over a playoff team this year came in a 21-18 triumph over Weir.
For the third time in five years, the Golden Tornado will head to the Friendly City to take on the No. 4 Fairmont Senior Polar Bears, who eliminated Keyser from the playoffs in 2015 and 2013.
There’s a high level of familiarity between the two teams, and FSHS coach Nick Bartic doesn’t expect things to be much different than they have been the last two times these teams have played.
“They are physical,” FSHS coach Nick Bartic said. “That’s their trademark. They like to do a lot of misdirection stuff and try to get you to bite off play action.”
Behind quarterback Brady Ours and running back Christian Ravenscroft, the Golden Tornado will look to pick up that elusive win over FSHS Friday at 7:30 p.m. at East-West Stadium.
The winner of this game will face the winner of No. 5 Wayne and No. 12 Sissonville.
No. 16 Williamstown At No. 1 East Hardy
Prior to the start of the 2017 season, East Hardy’s Clay Skovron took over the reins at quarterback as he looked to get his team back to Wheeling Island.
“I definitely had some shoes to fill coming in behind Corey McDonald,” Skovron said. “But we knew that in order to get back, everybody had to step up and take roles and become a big part of the team and all join together.”
Skovron filled those shoes well, putting together a stellar season both through his statistics and leadership.
On the year, Skovron has passed for 2,260 passing yards with 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions, with 597 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, with wide receiver Brett Tharpe being his favorite target.
“The chemistry between me and Brett took off running from the beginning of the season,” Skovron said. “From the first game of the season right out of the gate we just kind of took off.”
Behind Skovron and Trarpe, the Cougars are the top seed in Class A at 10-0, and will host No. 16 Williamstown in the first round of the playoffs.
“We start off every season with the goal of ending the regular season having the homefield advantage all the way to Wheeling Island,” Williams said. “With some of the games we’ve had this year, obviously we’ve cut it pretty close, but I’m really proud of the boys for yet another 10-0 season.”
The Cougars have made the state title game the last two years, losing to Magnolia in 2015 and St. Marys in 2016.
Skovron hopes that he can lead his team back there once again, but he and his teammates are focused on winning just one week at a time.
“It would be more than amazing to make it back there a third time,” Skovron said. “But we know that we just have to take it one game at a time to get there.
“We’ve kind of thought about it, but there’s four games that lay ahead of us that we need to win to get back there.”
Friday’s 7 p.m. matchup will be a rematch of last year’s quarterfinals, which East Hardy won, 20-14.
Williamstown finished the regular season 5-4, winning their last three games to earn their playoff berth.
The winner will move on to face the winner of No. 8 Madonna and No. 9 Sherman.
Other teams’ final records:
Berkeley Springs (6-4)
Pendleton County (3-7)