No. 14 Spring Mills (5-5) at No. 3 University (10-0)
The Hawks have 21 seniors on the roster and this group has helped the team improve from a 2-8 season back in 2015 to an undefeated group this year. UHS went 8-2 in the regular season last year, but lost to Hurricane in the first round of the playoffs.
“The credit goes to this group for staying with the process,” said University coach John Kelley. “They are a talented group and they take to coaching. They are also very respectful. We’ve managed to rebuild with this group and I’m very happy for these seniors for sticking with it and doing things the right way.
University had its week off during Week 11 following a MoHawk Bowl victory over rival Morgantown High that closed out just the second 10-0 regular season in school history. Now the focus is on earning the first playoff win since 2014.
“We were flat for that first playoff game (in 2016) and it really hurt us early,” said Kelley. “We got off to a slow start and fell behind. We came back, but ended up losing at the end.
“These kids have to realize that it’s the playoffs,” Kelley continued. “You can’t afford a bad quarter or a bad half or you’ll be collecting equipment on Monday. These teams in the playoffs are just too good.”
The Hawks have had senior defensive back Kobe Turlington and sophomore fullback/linebacker Logan Raber return to the lineup in recent weeks. Senior running back/linebacker Trevor Barnhart is expected to return for the playoffs. Barnhart was leading the team with 493 yards and 11 touchdowns on offense. He was also the leading tackler on defense prior to his ankle injury at the midway point of the season.
“We’ve got everyone on the field that is capable of playing,” Kelley said. “We are as healthy as we can be in terms of personnel. Not everyone is at 100-percent, but we’ve got all of our players for the first time since week one.”
This will be the first meeting between University and the five year old Spring Mills High School. Spring Mills uses two quarterbacks Trent Kerns and Evan Hurt. Running back Daquan May has also caught the coaches attention.
“Both kids they play at quarterback are really good,” Kelley said. “The running back is a combination of power and speed. They’ve got good receivers but they won’t attack down field like we do.
“They’ve got speed,” Kelley concluded. “They are as fast as we are on defense. They are good at taking the ball away.”
The Spring Mills defense has forced 22 turnovers and the team is +6 in turnover margin. That is also something the Hawks do well as they are +10 in turnover margin.
No. 15 Morgantown (4-6) at No. 2 Martinsburg (10-0)
This is the 9th straight season Morgantown has met Martinsburg in the regular season or the playoffs. The teams have matched up in the post season the last two seasons and five times in the last nine seasons.
“They are a familiar opponent that we’ve played a lot,” said Morgantown coach Matt Lacy. “We know they are a top team and we know it’s going to be an extremely difficult challenge but it only takes one game to change your season.”
Morgantown has worked quarterback Logan Holgorsen back into the lineup in recent weeks, but injuries have taken a toll on offense as top running backs Ty Konchesky and Javohn Moore are out injured.
“We’ve got to find a way to score some points which has been a problem in recent weeks,” Lacy said. “That’s what we’ve struggled with. Defensively we’ve played OK.
“We’ve been all over the map on offense changing things scheme-wise,” Lacy admitted. “We’ve had to make changes adapting to injuries. We’ve been in the single wing and now we’ve focused on running the spread with Logan back. That’s probably what we’ll continue with moving forward.”
AA No. 16 Robert C. Byrd (6-4) at No. 1 Mingo Central (10-0) Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
RCB lost a 20-8 lead in the second half as they fell 21-20 to Philip Barbour in the regular season finale last week. The lost caused the Eagles to fall to #16 and it will force them to travel 210 miles to Matewan for a first round playoff game.
“I’m not looking at it so much as win or lose but we’re going down to compete,” said Robert C. Byrd coach Josh Gorrell about taking on the defending state champion. “The kids need to understand what to expect and what we need to do in the off season to take it up toward a championship level. That’s the big thing.”
Gorrell has his defense geared up to face Player of the Year candidate Jeremy Dillon who is coming off a performance where he had 460 total yards and eight total touchdowns in a victory over Winfield last week.
“We’ve played good competition all season long,” Gorrell said. “But he is the best quarterback we’ll face. We know he’s a special talent and we are not going to hold him scoreless. We need to be able to run the football and keep him off the field a little bit.”
The RCB offense can score as well. The Eagles averaged 42.6 points per game over the second half of the season.
“I’ve said all year that we’ve got a great offensive line and some kids that can run the ball,” Gorrell said. “The unity is key. The line has really come together and done their assignments. That’s allowed us to become a pretty good offensive football team.”
No. 14 Weir (7-3) at No. 3 Bridgeport (9-1) Saturday 1:30 p.m.
Bridgeport coach John Cole says the emergence of junior running back Jake Bowen was a key factor with the Indians having another great regular season.
“We knew with five seniors up front we would be solid at the line,” Cole said. “We knew what we had with (Quarterback) John Merica. “Bowen’s been a pretty good surprise. We knew he was an athlete and that he worked hard, but he has really come through.”
Bowen wrapped up the regular season with a 220 yard rushing performance in a victory over Lincoln. Bowen has rushed for 1,353 yards now heading into the playoffs.
“9-1, I wasn’t so sure about,” Cole said. “We had some inexperienced areas on defense and we’ve played a pretty tough schedule. Credit these kids. They’ve had a great season.
“You tell your seniors every year that it’s up to them,” Cole continued. “They’ve taken it and ran with it. They’ve used their experience to get us where we are.”
Bridgeport and Weir have played a couple of common opponents in Keyser and Fairmont Senior. Both teams lost to the Polar Bears. Bridgeport beat Keyser while Weir lost a close one on the road to the Golden Hurricane.
“I think Keyser is a similar team to us,” Cole said. “It helps a little bit in preparation to see how they attack a team like that. It gives you a little bit of a gauge on what might work and what won’t work.”
No. 13 Keyser (7-3) at No. 4 Fairmont Senior (9-1)
Fairmont Senior hopes to begin a push toward getting to Wheeling for the second consecutive season. To get there, the Polar Bears defensive unit will have to continue to dominate. Fairmont Senior has held nine of its ten opponents to 20 points or less this season.
“We have responded on that side of the ball,” said Fairmont Senior coach Nick Bartic. “We lost two key, all state players from that unit last year but our group this season has truly improved each and every week.
“We’ve been very disciplined and the guys have played to the rules of our defense all season,” Bartic continued. “We’ve had opponents bust very few big plays. We just haven’t had many letdowns. We’ve been as fundamentally sound as possible.”
Bartic says it’s important not to look at Keyser’s record or seeding when heading into this first round playoff game. Keyer’s losses are to No. 3 seed Bridgeport and two very good teams out of the state of Maryland.
“This is the third time for our seniors facing Keyser,” Bartic said. “We know what they are about. We know it will be a very physical game and a very difficult game.”
No. 10 Philip Barbour (8-2) at No. 7 Point Pleasant (8-2)
Philip Barbour has improved from 0-10 a year ago to eight wins and the No. 10 seed for the playoffs this season.
“The biggest thing we’ve had to do is to get the kids to believe in themselves and believe in what we are doing,” said first year Colts head coach Russ Collett. “I think the schedule really helped. Every time we won, we got a little more confident and then by the end of the season we were playing some high level competition. The kids responded to that.”
Philip Barbour has won six in a row following a 2-2 start to the season. the Colts wrapped up the regular season with a thrilling 21-20 victory over playoff qualifier Robert C. Byrd. The Colts blocked two punts in the second half helping them rally from a 20-8 deficit. They then blocked an RCB field goal attempt on the final play of the game to preserve the win.
Following that win, Collett doesn’t believe focus will be an issue.
“We had an emotional night,” Collett said. “The players were jumping up and down and saying ‘we did it’ and we did. Playoffs were a goal, but were not finished. We have to, again, mature to another level.
“For the coaches it’s year one, I’m looking at year three, four, five and six and how we can grow and sustain the success. I’m just proud of how everyone has come together on this team and on the outside to support these boys. The players have committed to each other and committed to this team.
“It’s a tidal wave that is rolling now,” Collett continued. “From a program perspective, it’s a chance to play a playoff game and play another game. What a great opportunity if we continue to mature and play well.”
No. 9 Nicholas County (8-2) at No. 8 Liberty (8-2)
Liberty gets to host a playoff game for the first time since 2005.
“We are very excited,” said Liberty coach A.J. Harmon. “This was our biggest goal coming into the season, getting to host a game at our school and our field.”
Liberty lost two of its final three regular season games following a 7-0 start.
“We’ve just got to put that behind us,” Harmon said. “We’ve got an experienced team with a lot of seniors who have built up to this. I think everyone understands how big a playoff win would mean. I think we’ll be able to put everything else behind us and begin a playoff season Friday night.
Liberty has just one previous playoff win in school history.
A No. 15 Richwood (6-4) at No. 2 South Harrison (9-1)
This first round playoff game will take place at Robert C. Byrd High School.
“The kids came to me and said they want to finish the season on turf,” South Harrison coach Brad Jett said Sunday when the game site decision was announced. “As hard as this group of seniors has worked, I wasn’t going to tell them no.”
South Harrison will be locked in to hosting second and third round games at RCB as long as they continue to win.
South Harrison played its regular season finale at home, beating Liberty 54-7 last week.
“Fast Freddy in the mud,” Jett said following Freddie Canary’s 181 yard rushing performance.
Canary had a 57-yard touchdown run on South’s first play from scrimmage to set the tone — even with playing a cast on his broken hand.
“He’ll have to play with that cast,” Jett said. “He’ll play hard offensively, defensively and on special teams for us.”
South Harrison will have to make its playoff run without fullback/linebacker Cam Barnette who is out for the season with a knee injury.
“I still can’t find the words,” Jett said on the disappointment of losing Barnette. “He is still a leader. He was the last one to speak to the team before we went out (last week). He’s still a huge part of this team.”