— By Wes McKinney
No. 7 Huntington (8-3) at No. 2 Spring Valley (11-0)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Last Week: Cabell Midland may have won the regular season meeting against Huntington and took The Shield, but Huntington got the last say as it eliminated the Knights 14-7 last week in the first round of the playoffs. Brocton Blair and Diallo Mitchell scored first-half touchdowns as Huntington was in control throughout.
“We came out and ran our flexbone offensive set,” Huntington head coach Billy Seals said. “We haven’t been in that formation in about four years. We felt like it allowed us to control the line of scrimmage and it allowed us to get out to an early lead. We went on a couple of long drives.”
Spring Valley overwhelmed Spring Mills in a 77-7 win to emphatically roll into the second round of the postseason.
“We had a lot of big plays and three interceptions on defense,” Spring Valley head coach Brad Dingess said. “Spring Mills kept throwing the ball, so we had a lot of possessions in the game. It happened real quick.”
Why It’s Important: The two rivals met in the final week of the regular season as Spring Valley won 28-16 on the strength of two defensive touchdowns. Huntington and Spring Valley also played in the semifinal round of the postseason last year and the Timberwolves also won that matchup 10-7.
“This is a semifinal game more than a quarterfinal game,” Dingess said. “The whole game will come down to four or five plays.”
Seals couldn’t agree more.
“We don’t field a punt and they down it on the 1-yard line. The next play they get a strip sack for a touchdown,” Seals said eluding to the regular season meeting between the teams. “So there’s seven points there. We get stopped on the half-yard line late in the game, so there’s another seven points. Coach Dingess hit the nail on the head, you take two or three plays out of each ball game that we play, whoever makes those plays usually wins the game.”
Players to watch for Huntington: With the Highlanders running the flexbone offense in last week’s win, it gives Huntington more options in the backfield including the return of Ty Wilcoxon to the lineup. Having those ball carriers in the stable could be key against the Spring Valley front seven or eight.
“It helps us to have that number of bodies that can run the football for us, but it all starts up front on the line of scrimmage,” Seals said. “Whoever is able to control the line of scrimmage is going to win Friday night.”
Players to watch for Spring Valley: Dingess is counting on his defense to disrupt the Huntington offense and allow his own offense to get the ball in good spots.
“The key to beating Huntington is putting pressure on them and turning them over,” Dingess said. “We have to control the line of scrimmage and win field possession — that’s the big thing we have to do this time. When you get to this round of the playoffs, everyone is good.”
No. 8 Point Pleasant (9-1) at No. 1 Fairmont Senior (11-0)
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Last Week: Point Pleasant busted up a 29-29 tie at halftime, outscoring Mingo Central 36-7 in the second half on its way to a 65-36 first round win over the Miners.
“The first half was a tight ball game,” Point Pleasant head coach David Darst said. “We played each other really hard. We made some really nice adjustments at halftime on defense. I think we held them to 90 yards of offense in the second half.
“For us offensively, we were rolling on a couple of things and just continued to do that in the second half,” he continued.
While the defense held Mingo Central at bay in the second half, the Big Blacks’ offense put on a show throughout as they rolled up over 600 yards of offense, led by quarterback Cason Payne’s 256 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
“He did a good job of being able to handle the offense,” Darst said of his senior signal caller. “He knew when he needed to make a play, did a good of throwing the ball–putting it where it needed to be.”
Fairmont Senior advanced to the second round of the playoffs as it jumped out 50-0 on Lewis County en route to a 56-6 win.
Why It’s Important: Point Pleasant bowed out in the quarterfinal round last season as a seven seed when it fell on the road to Bluefield. It would appear the Big Blacks are playing some of their best football of the season, but Point Pleasant will face its toughest test of the year in the explosive Fairmont Senior offense.
“We’re still a young group on the defensive side of the ball,” Darst said. “We’ve gotten to play a lot of ball this year and they’ve gotten to play in some close games. They are learning to adjust — sometimes with young kids it can be hard for them.”
Meanwhile, Fairmont Senior is trying to navigate its way through the Class AA playoff field and make it back to the state championship game for a third consecutive year. “They are going to put so much pressure on our defense,” Darst said. “Fairmont Senior is still good on defense though. They are going to get in a 3-3 stack. We will have to have a good week of preparation to get ourselves ready.
“Our kids are going to have to be familiar with everything Fairmont Senior is going to throw at us,” he continued. “Fairmont Senior is ranked number one for a reason — you can definitely see it on film.”
Players to watch for Point Pleasant: This quarterfinal matchup will pit two of the best quarterbacks not only in Class AA, but in all of high school football against each other in Payne and Fairmont Senior’s Connor Neal.
Some of Payne’s best games have come in the biggest spots — engineering two fourth quarter, game-winning drives against Mingo Central in the regular season and Pikeville, Kentucky as well as last week’s performance.
Players to watch for Fairmont Senior: Neal had four total touchdowns in last week’s win over Lewis County as he continued to add to his magical season.
“Neal has a tremendous arm on him,” Darst said. “He runs it pretty well. I’m not sure he wants to be a big running quarterback, but he when escapes the pocket you better know where he’s at. He has great vision downfield and he finds his receivers, but his receivers do a good job of coming back to him when he’s in trouble.”
No. 7 Sherman (10-1) at No. 2 Midland Trail (11-0)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday at Greenbrier East High School
Last Week: For a second straight season, Sherman won its opening round playoff game, this time defeating Parkersburg Catholic 44-8. The Tide defense continued its strong play this season and Sherman received a balanced effort on the ground as Timmy Harper, J.T. Hensley and Seth Rinchich all rushed for more than 100 yards in the game. Sherman held Parkersburg Catholic to minus-11 yards rushing in the first half.
Why It’s Important: Last season, both teams were knocked out in the quarterfinal round as Sherman lost a road game to East Hardy, and Midland Trail fell at home to Summers County. While the game will be played at Greenbrier East, the Patriots will be the home team, trying to avoid a home playoff upset for a second straight season.
This game will feature two of the top defenses in the Class A. Midland Trail has held its last two opponents, Roane County and Tucker County without a touchdown. Overall, the Patriots have given up one touchdown or less in seven of 11 games.
Sherman has similar numbers, posting three shutouts during its 10-game winning streak and holding opponents under 10 points seven times.
Players to watch for Sherman: Harper and Hensley have been mainstays in the Sherman backfield throughout the season, but Rinchich had a breakout performance in the win over Parkersburg Catholic.
Players to watch for Midland Trail: Morgan Ferris and Chris Vines each scored a touchdown in the Patriots’ 14-2 win over Tucker County. Vines filled in at quarterback for Austin Isaacs, who exited the contest with an injury and is likely to miss the game against Sherman.