— By Sean McNamara, Times West Virginian, for WVMetroNews.com
The Super Six has arrived, and once again Martinsburg and Spring Valley have earned their way to Wheeling to compete for a Class AAA state championship.
Second-seeded Martinsburg earned its spot with a 49-28 win over Capital, while No. 4 Spring Valley knocked off No. 1 Huntington 10-7.
Aside from Martinsburg, the final team left competing from the Eastern Panhandle was East Hardy, which lost a 27-21 matchup at home against St. Marys last week in Baker.
No. 2 Martinsburg vs. No. 4 Spring Valley, noon, Saturday
After 13 weeks of high schoo football, the state title game comes down to the Bulldogs and Timberwolves – the same two teams who reached this spot a year ago.
Martinsburg, winners of 27 straight, look to defend last year’s title and will do so with many of the same kids who won it all at Wheeling Island Stadium a year ago.
“We had a lot of guys coming back, and we lost a couple of pretty good players, as well,” coach Dave Walker said. “On paper we should have been pretty good, but there’s no substitute for hard work and doing the things that you need to do.”
Throughout their march to the final Martinsburg was only truly tested twice — against Sherando in a 31-28 win, and last week against Capital in a victory that was tied 14-all at halftime.
“I was concerned because sometimes it looks too easy,” Walker said. “People don’t realize that you still have to work hard each day and do those things Monday through Thursday. And they have.”
Capital stayed toe-to-toe with Martinsburg through a half as Quisean Gray scored two touchdowns.
Martinsburg got first-half scores on touchdown passes from Tyson Bagent to Jarod Bowie, but the Bulldogs were knotted up in a close game for the first time since early October.
“We didn’t make a lot of adjustments,” Walker said of what he and his staff changed at halftime. “We just did a couple of things different in the secondary in the second half. But offensively we didn’t really (change) anything.
“At halftime it shouldn’t have been 14-14. We should have been in control. But we gave up some big third downs and had some penalties and put those guys in scoring position.”
In the second half the Bulldogs turned it on with Bowie scoring his third touchdown, Dwayne Grantham scoring twice and Mikey Jackson and Teddy Marshall each finding the end zone.
Bagent completed 17-of-20 passes for 372 yards and four touchdowns, bringing his season total to 2,986 yards, 39 touchdowns and four interceptions with a 72.33 completion percentage. He has six more touchdowns on the ground.
“Tyson does what Tyson does,” Walker said. “He’s a phenomenal player, and probably the best we’ve ever had at that position.”
While the Martinsburg-Capital semifinal affair was a high-scoring effort, the other half of the bracket saw Spring Valley knock off Huntington in an old-school football affair.
“There were a lot of loud pads popping that night,” Spring Valley coach Brad Dingess said. “You look at some of those ‘Rocky’ films of just Rocky taking it and throwing punches back and forth, and it was a slobberknocker.”
Isaac Howard scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, and Mitchell Hall connected on a 22-yard field goal for Spring Valley.
The difference in the game, however, came by shutting down Huntington running back Jadon Hayes and forcing two Highlanders turnovers. Hayes was limited to 22 yards on 13 carries and one touchdown.
“Both teams played well,” Dingess said. “We played well defensively, and to hold Jadon Hayes and that offense to under 100 yards is unbelievable. They made two mistakes, they had two turnovers, and we scored 10 points off those turnovers. That was the different in the game.”
Spring Valley quarterback Derek Johnson ran the ball 13 times for 60 yards.
Now, Dingess and his staff are tasked with figuring out a way to slow down a Martinsburg team that has rarely been tested all season.
“You try to figure out how to stop them, (because) nobody’s been able to stop them,” Dingess said. “I think we just have to play sound defense and make the plays we’re supposed to make.
“Hopefully they make some mistakes, and we’ve got to be able to capitalize on it. … There’s no recipe to beat them, because nobody has.”
As he looks top to bottom on the Martinsburg roster, Dingess sees a group loaded with talent.
“There’s no weak spots,” Dingess said. “There’s no down people. They’re so solid in everything they do, from offensive line play to defensive line play to special teams and skill position kids. It’s a really tall task for us.”
While Martinsburg got the best of Spring Valley last year, 49-7, the Timberwolves are a new team this year, following the graduation of 22 players from a year ago.
Led by Howard, Johnson and linemen Doug Nestor, Dingess is pleased with not only the group of young men that he has, but the way that they play the game.
“We don’t have the big offensive stats, and we’re probably not the most exciting team to watch play, but we’ve got some real gritty kids – kids who play hard, play physical and play until the whistle blows,” Dingess said. “You talk about destiny and all that, but we just tell our kids, ‘One week at a time. Just go out there and play hard.’”
Walker has seen how talented the Timberwolves are, particularly a defense that allows 13 points per game and held high-powered Huntington to just seven points.
“They do a great job down there,” Walker said. “Their kids are big, strong and scary looking. They come out and get after you. They play hard, and defensively they’re just very physical, and teams have had trouble moving the ball on them.”
As the teams prepare to do battle for state supremacy, Walker is confident that both teams in the game deserve to be there: “I think you’ve got the two best teams playing for the state championship this year.”
Saturday’s game will kick off at noon with a radio broadcast on MetroNews affiliates across the state, along with a live, HD broadcast at the MetroNews Channel of WVMetroNews.com.