By Wes McKinney for WVMetroNews.com
Class AAA No. 16 South Charleston (4-6) at Class AAA No. 1 Huntington (10-0) – 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Huntington trailed in the second half of a game for just the second time this season as it found itself down 14-13 against Cabell Midland, but scored two unanswered touchdowns to finish off an undefeated regular season with a 27-14 win.
“Anytime you play a rivalry game, you’re going to get the other team’s best effort,” Huntington head coach Billy Seals said. “To win by a couple of touchdowns, it’s a positive. We felt like we controlled the ball game. Cabell Midland went on a little three-minute spurt in the third quarter, but overall we felt like we controlled the game.”
Quarterback Luke Zban was multi-dimensional as he accounted for a rushing touchdown.
“We’ve been limiting it when he pulls in the read option throughout the year,” Seals said.
“But he did a nice job of reading it and seeing the read guys was bailing hard inside to try to cut off Jadon Hayes, and he did a nice job of pulling it and running for 70 yards. It was huge in the run game because now you have to account for Luke.”
The last time the Highlanders went 10-0 it entered the playoffs as the number one seed and advanced all the way to the state championship game.
“It validates our program to do it twice in four years,” Seals said of the perfect regular season. “Our kids worked really hard and all the credit goes to them. They’ve focused every week and executed the plan every week—it’s more props to them. We have a similar make up to our team like we did in 2013. It’s a senior-dominant team that has a lot of kids that are three-year starters.”
Now, the Highlanders will see an old friend in South Charleston—a team that Huntington played just three weeks ago and the same team that eliminated Huntington from last year’s postseason.
“It’d be nice if you could play somebody else outside of your conference, but here we are playing South Charleston again,” Seals said. “We played them last year in the playoffs, played in the semifinals in 2014 and we play them in the regular season every year.”
A late stop by the Black Eagles kept the Highlanders from advancing in last season’s playoffs. But Huntington got a 23-0 victory over South Charleston this season.
“We controlled the line of scrimmage,” Seals said of the earlier win. “You look at our wins that’s what we’ve been able to do on both side of the ball—win the game up front. We felt like we controlled the game and limited their touches a little bit on offense.”
Class AA No. 16 Robert C. Byrd (6-4) at Class AA No. 1 Mingo Central (10-0) – 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Mingo Central found itself down 36-28 at the end of the third quarter last week on the road at Winfield, but the Miners used eight touchdowns from Jeremy Dillon to outscore the General 56-50.
“Winfield is a very, very talented football team,” Mingo Central head coach Joey Fields said. “They do a lot of things that give you fits with all the sets and personnel they bring into the game. It was hard for us to line up with the right guys in the right spots at times. Our guys battled, and that’s the second game we’ve been in like that this season.”
Though the Miners enter the postseason with a 24-game winning streak and the number one seed, Fields and his team understand the pressure that comes with defending a state title.
“Our kids understand who we are and where we’re at,” Fields said. “I told them you got Point Pleasant and Winfield’s best punch. They understand that they play a lot harder against Fairmont Senior in the state championship game than I probably did against Poca and Nitro.”
Mingo Central welcomes Robert C. Byrd to Buck Harless Stadium to open up the playoffs.
“Robert C. Byrd has tradition behind it,” Fields said. “They’ve had good football coaches at that school. The kids around that program have been exposed to some good football. They’ll be ready to play—I like what I see on film.”
The Flying Eagles have been known for some stellar skill players, but it’s the offensive line that makes this particular Robert C. Byrd offense fly.
“They are very well coached along the offensive line,” Fields said. “They do some high-level football stuff as far as their zone blocking schemes. They have running backs that fit into that scheme. They’ll run formations that exploit your weaknesses. They’ll run the football right at you, and they throw it well enough to keep you guessing.”
Class AAA No. 12 Cabell Midland (5-5) at Class AAA No. 5 Musselman (8-2) – 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Cabell Midland took advantage of a couple of Huntington miscues to briefly lead Huntington on the road last week.
However, the Knights couldn’t close things out against the Highlanders in a 27-14 defeat.
“Our kids battled back early to make it a game,” Cabell Midland head coach Luke Salmons said “I thought we played a lot better defensively. Our kids are excited because they have played a tough schedule. We’re excited about the opportunity.”
Cabell Midland will have the furthest trip of any playoff team, going nearly 350 miles from the western edge of the state to the eastern panhandle for its first round matchup against Musselman.
“They are the high seed for a reason,” Salmons said.
“They are a good football that’s big and physical. They do some unconventional things on offense with shifting. They seem to play extremely hard and tackle well on defense. I’m sure they’ll be excited to host a playoff game. It’ll be a different, but kind of neat to travel there for a game.”
The Knights are thankful to be in this situation after seeing a slew of injuries slow things including both running backs—Isaiah Duncan and Ivan Vaughn missed time this season.
“We’re excited about getting into the playoffs after all we’ve been through this year,” Salmons said. “Now we get our chance to do something.”
Class AAA No. 13 George Washington (5-5) at Class AAA No. 4 Spring Valley (8-2) – 7:30 p.m. Friday
Spring Valley put an exclamation point on the end of its season with a 68-13 win over Greenbrier East at the Wolves’ Den.
“We went in and took care of business and were able to rest some kids,” Spring Valley head coach Brad Dingess said. “Everyone got to play. It was ideal for the last week before you go into the playoffs.”
Since a 41-21 loss to Hurricane in the last week of September, the Timberwolves have been firing on all cylinders, scoring at least 35 points in every game including scoring 50 or more in three of the five contests.
“We’re just in a groove,” Dingess explained. “We’ve simplified everything. We don’t have just one guy back in the backfield. We have about four of five guys that can carry the ball—it’s worked well for us. I guess a light switch went on for us. We’ve been progressively getting better and better each week.”
Spring Valley will host a rematch of a week four matchup against George Washington. The Timberwolves won 28-7.
“It’s not an exciting matchup—I don’t think,” Dingess said.
“You play all year in the MSAC and kind of hope to play somebody different—I at least do. It’s somebody we played a tough game with earlier this year. They have a Division I quarterback. They have a stingy defense. Everybody talks about Grant Wells, but you look at their defense it’s a top five defense in terms of points allowed in the state.”
This time when the two teams get together the circumstances will be much different for the Patriots who lost longtime head coach Steve Edwards, Sr. over the weekend.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with them—Coach Edwards, his family and the whole GW community,” Dingess said.
“He was a rock in that community. He’s been around that program around for years. I know he had given up the head coaching duties, but he was still involved a lot. All those kids know who he is. They are going to be playing with heavy hearts and very inspired. They want to win this game for him and the whole community. You can’t put into words what he meant.”
Class AA No. 12 Sissonville (7-3) at Class AA No. 5 Wayne (9-1) – 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Wayne scored 54 points two weeks ago, and then followed it up with a 56 points in a 56-24 win over Poca to close the regular season.
The Pioneers will enter the postseason winners of eight in row.
“I think the big thing is the speed at which we had some inexperience guys have matured and understand what we want,” Wayne head coach Tom Harmon said after his team missed the playoffs the last two seasons. “You can have all the knowledge, but until you have the work to go with it you feel good about it.”
Wayne has rolled to the 9-1 record thanks in part to outscoring opponents 171-61 in the second half of games this season.
“If they rolled a bench press out on the 50-yard line during any game we would probably get beat—it’s not for lack of work,” Harmon said. “I think a lot of it has to do with getting familiar with our scheme and what we want them to do—understanding there’s going to be hiccups here and there. We’ve been fortunate that the ball has bounced our way a few times.”
The Pioneers have only turned the ball over six times at home this season which has also paid dividends in the second-half surges.
“There’s certain things you do to help you win and one of them is taking care of the football and playing the whole game—we’ve been able to do that,” Harmon said.
Wayne just squared off with Sissonville during week nine of the regular season in a game the Pioneers won 30-27.
“Games that took place previously aren’t going to amount to anything during this game,” Harmon said. There’s a little bit of questioning yourself if they are going to change something, and you question whether you should change anything.
“I’ve learned through the years that when times are tough teams go back to the things that got them in playoff position to begin with,” Harmon continued. “We have a whole lot of respect for Sissonville because we’ve had some great battles with them throughout the years. I don’t think this game will be any different.”
Class AA No. 10 Philip Barbour (8-2) at Class AA No. 7 Point Pleasant (8-2) – 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Point Pleasant had its bye week during the final week of the regular season, but the Big Blacks scored 75 points in a win over Westside in their final game.
“We did a good job of throwing the football that night,” Point Pleasant head coach David Darst said.
“Our passing game was on. We mixed that in with the run and kept them off balance. It was Senior Night and the kids were excited about playing. The defense gave us some opportunities and handled their offense.”
Friday will mark the second straight season that Point Pleasant welcomes a team from north central West Virginia to Mason County after outlasting North Marion last season to begin the playoffs.
While the postseason is nothing new to the Big Blacks, the Colts will be making their first playoff appearance since 2008 under first-year head coach Russ Collett. In fact, PB hasn’t had a .500 season since 2012 before an 8-2 mark this season.
“Philip Barbour is a real good defensive team,” Darst said. Hunter Mason just makes plays all over the field. He’s definitely a playmaker. They are very physical defensively. They like to get up field and play man coverage. They run a four-man front. Coach Collett seems to be building his program with his defense first which is always a good idea.”
Some other matchups around the state are rematches from the regular season, but this will be the first time Point Pleasant will play the Colts in school hstiory.
“Philip Barbour and some other teams in that area are a tradition power running football program,” Darst said of the unfamiliarity of Philip Barbour.
“We see more spread teams in this area. We’ll catch a few teams like Bluefield running it out of the I-formation. It’s a little different thing to prepare for. It’s exciting for us to play someone we’ve never played before.”
Class A No. 9 Sherman (8-2) at Class A No. 8 Madonna (8-2) – 7:30 p.m. Friday
The Sherman football program was revived in 2016 as the Tide made the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Sherman followed up its magical year last season with another eight-win campaign in 2017.
Now, the Tide will go after their first postseason since 2009 when it was a member of Class AA, and downed Chapmanville.
For the second consecutive season, Sherman will invade to the northern panhandle. Last season, the Tide lost 45-8 in the first round to Wheeling Central Catholic.
Madonna’s two losses are to two private schools, Wheeling Central and Steubenville Central Catholic.
The Blue Dons are making their first playoff appearance since 2013—their state championship season.
Class A No. 13 Pocahontas County (7-3) at Class A No. 4 Tug Valley (9-1) – 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Tug Vallry enters the Class A playoffs as one of the hottest teams not only in the small schools division, but throughout the entire state.
The Panthers have won seven straight and have done it with defense, not allowing more than two touchdowns in any contest since a 36-21 win over Tolsia during the fourth week of September.
Additionally, TV is only giving up 10 points per game this season.
Tug Valley will be seeking to make the postseason quarterfinal for the third time in four years after coming up short last year against Tolsia, 26-20.
The Panthers have not faced Pocahontas County since bumping down to Class A.