Class AAA No. 6 Capital (8-3) at No. 3 University (11-0)
This game features quarterbacks who have put up staggering numbers. Kerry Martin Jr. of Capital has thrown for 2,151 yards and has rushed for 1,074 yards while accounting for 45 total touchdowns.
“He runs the offense so well,” University coach John Kelley said. “They have gem with him because he is fast and he makes the right decisions.”
Senior Clay Bailey of University, meanwhile, has thrown for 2,108 yards, rushed for 510 while accounting for 25 total touchdowns. Bailey is the first 2,000 yard passer that Kelley has had in 31 seasons as UHS head coach.
“He’s the best quarterback I’ve had,” Kelley said. “He’s a tough kid and he has the ability to self-correct his mistakes. His ability to keep plays alive has been a real key this year.”
Kelley knows the key for his team is to possess the football and keep it out of the hands of Martin and that explosive Capital offense.
“The teams that beat them or who were competitive managed to run the football,” Kelley said. “Ideally, the more we have the football the less their offense is on the field. We have to minimize the time their players get the ball in open space. If their guys get free, we can’t compete with them.
“That’s easier said than done because they are huge up front (on defense) and those linebackers are as good as advertised,” Kelley said.
The Hawks have a perfectly balanced offense averaging 186 yards rushing and 193 yards passing per game. Capital has allowed an average of 175 yards per game.
“Bottom line is we have to keep the ball,” Kelley said. “We need to have long drives to score and we can’t turn it over. We’ll need to get some breaks to win this one.”
Breaks could come in the form of turnovers. University’s defense has forced 24 turnovers and the Hawks are +11 in turnover margin. Capital’s offense has turned it over 18 times and the Cougars are -2 in turnover margin.
“I like being at home and I think our guys will rise to the occasion and make this a football game,” Kelley said. “I don’t think this will be like the last time we played them.”
The Hawks and Capital last played in the 2013 playoffs with Capital winning 65-14 at University of Charleston Stadium.
Class AA No. 8 Liberty (9-2) at No. 1 Mingo Central (11-0)
Liberty earned just the second playoff win in the 45 year history of school beating Nicholas County last week in round one.
“Very exciting,” said Liberty coach A. J. Harman. “I am extremely proud of our kids and the growth of our program.”
Broderick Lantz had the biggest play of the game for the Mountaineers as he returned a kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown moments after Nicholas County had scored to take a 7-0 lead.
“That was huge,” Harman said. “We were back on our heels a bit because Nicholas County converted on a fake punt to keep that scoring drive alive. But Broderick really picked our team up like he has all season. We were able to take and keep the momentum.”
After that first ever home turf playoff win, Liberty makes the long trip for a second round game against the top seed and defending Class AA champs.
“You notice (QB Jeremy) Dillion right away because of his size,” Harman said. “They can run it or throw it. They have very good weapons all over including at receiver.”
Liberty is hoping it can continue to run the football successfully as Mingo Central has allowed 90 points in the last two games. The bad news for Liberty is that the Miners have scored 132 points as Dillion has thrown for 2,598 yards and 39 touchdowns. He has rushed for 1,086 yards.
Class AA No. 11 Winfield (8-3) at No. 3 Bridgeport (10-1)
Junior Jake Bowen got Bridgeport off to a flying start in the first round as he returned the opening kickoff 88 yards en route to a 35-12 win over Weir.
“It’s huge to start games fast,” Bowen said during High School Sportsline Wednesday night. “The return team did the work opening a huge hole in the middle. I was able to run through pretty much untouched.”
Weir took that opening blow and settled in. Another Bowen big play on a 56-yard touchdown run in the second quarter kept Bridgeport in the lead 14-9 at the half.
“The seeding (No. 14) really didn’t’ show how good a team they were,” Bowen said of Weir. “It was a close game, but we made some adjustments for the second half. We came out physical and we were able to pull away.”
The Bridgeport running game — led by Bowen and five senior starters on the offensive line — Bridgeport rushed for in excess of 200 yards in the Weir victory.
Bridgeport now faces a Winfield team that played top seed and unbeaten Mingo Central within a touchdown back on Nov. 3 during the final week of the regular season. Winfield rushed for 364 yards in a 29-0 first round win over James Monroe.
“We had to work hard on defense in practice this week,” Bowen said. “Winfield comes out with different formations. They switch in and out, if the run isn’t working they can try something else. They run it and pass it very well.”
Winfield quarterback Andrew Huff leads a balanced Winfield offense that averages 46 points per game. Huff has thrown for 1,739 yards and 27 touchdowns.
This will be the first meeting between Bridgeport and Winfield since 2004.
Class AA No. 5 Wayne (10-1) at No. 4 Fairmont Senior (10-1)
Fairmont Senior led wire to wire during a first round playoff win over Keyser.
The Polar Bears took the lead on their first drive on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Connor Neal to JD Smith. It was the first of three touchdown passes by Neal on the night. He now has 25 touchdown passes on the season without an interception. Fairmont Senior got off to a great start defensively as well, holding Keyser to just 58 total yards in the first half.
“I was really proud of our defense,” said Fairmont Senior coach Nick Bartic. “We were very physical and that’s been the story most of the season. We rely on the defense to set the tone.”
Senior Bryson Gilbert has supplemented the passing game led by Neal. Gilbert went over 4,000 career rushing yards during last week’s playoff win.
“We’ve had outstanding running backs over the years at Fairmont Senior,” Bartic said. “For him to be the first to get to 4,000 yards really says something. His talent is obvious, but he is really team oriented. As many touches as he gets, he is often the decoy guy which opens up other options. He’s just as happy when someone else makes a big play or scores a touchdown.
“Wayne is a storied program and we’ve got a little experience playing them,” Bartic continued. “These guys who are seniors now remember facing them in the playoffs as freshman a few years back.”
Wayne won 43-40 over Fairmont Senior in the first round of the playoffs back in 2014.
Class A No. 10 Wheeling Central (7-4) vs. No. 2 South Harrison (10-1) at Robert C. Byrd
South Harrison’s Freddy Canary set a first round playoff record with 368 rushing yards in a 58-19 win over Richwood. Canary scored five touchdowns.
With Canary locked in, South Harrison fell just shy of the Class A single team playoff rushing record. The Hawks finished with 521 yards. Meadow Bridge had 554 rushing yards in a game against Parkersburg Catholic back in 2010.
Now it’s a second round date at home with a Wheeling Central team that has won five games in a row. The Maroon Knights have averaged 50 points per game in their last three.
“They’re a physical team. They like to run the ball and they like to throw it a little bit – we like to play like that,” said South Harrison senior lineman Nick Rush. “Practice has been good and we’ve been watching film. We’re just waiting for kickoff now.”
Sophomore quarterback Curtis McGhee has thrown for 1,165 yards and 16 touchdowns. He leads a balanced offense. In fact, he led the team with 168 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a playoff win over Cameron. Senior Dawson Wear leads the Maroon Knights for the season with 851 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns.
“We’ve played them once since I’ve been here,” said South Harrison coach Brad Jett. “We played them in 2002 at Wheeling Island Stadium back when they had grass on that field. We had beaten Wahama from Point Pleasant the week before.
“They are a turf team now and we’ve been used to playing on the turf with a couple of games this season including our first playoff game.”
South Harrison and Wheeling Central have a pair of common opponents this season in top ranked East Hardy and Steubenville Central our of Ohio.
Wheeling Central played them both in the first two weeks of the season, losing 35-14 to Steubenville Central and 10-7 to East Hardy. South Harrison beat Steubenville Central 48-14 during week three of the regular season.
East Hardy handed the Hawks their only loss of the regular season 41-20 back on Oct. 27.