MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Here is everything you need to know about Saturday’s Class AAA state championship game between defending champion Martinsburg and 2017 runner-up Spring Valley.
The game will be broadcast on AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh and on the MetroNews Channel at wvmetronews.com.
For the third consecutive season, two schools that are separated by many mountains and a six-hour drive will play for the Class AAA state championship. No. 1 Martinsburg and No. 2 Spring Valley both bring perfect records and sterling resumes to Wheeling Island. The Timberwolves have four quarters to avenge back-to-back defeats against the Bulldogs.
“I don’t care if it was the (Green Bay) Packers, we would be excited to play somebody,” said Spring Valley head coach Brad Dingess. “Deep down, you come up here and you have gotten your tail kicked two times in a row in a state championship game, you want to try to avenge those losses. But it is a different team.”
Spring Valley is coming off perhaps their most impressive performance of their 13-0 season. They rolled over No. 3 Capital 56-14 in the semifinals. “That was better than what I was hoping for,” Dingess said. “We played really well. We caused some turnovers and it kind of snowballed there.”
State player of the year candidate Graeson Malashevich is the most dynamic player on an offense that averages 46 points a game. Combining his rushing and receiving totals, the senior has scored 25 touchdowns with 1,744 yards from scrimmage. Owen Chafin and Isaac Howard each have a dozen rushing touchdowns. Traditionally a power running team, senior quarterback Will Adkins has thrown for seventeen scores.
“He’s a big, strong kid that has a live arm,” Dingess said. “It opens up a whole lot for us, stuff we have never been able to do.”
The Timberwolves’ front line contains three future division one players in Doug Nestor, Zach Williamson and Wyatt Milum. A strong challenge awaits Martinsburg in the trenches. “They better want it (the challenge),” said Martinsburg head coach Dave Walker.
“They have their work cut out for them. They are very impressive. They are big. Their kids play really hard. Our kids are going to have to play really hard or they are going to be in for a long day.”
The Martinsburg machine has gone virtually unchallenged this season. Only Sherando, Va. has been able to stay within three touchdowns of the Bulldogs. Martinsburg owns the state’s longest win streak at 41 games and head coach Dave Walker has become the state’s all-time winningest coach with 289 victories. Elevated annual expectations have not phased the Bulldogs. “We don’t talk about it,” Walker said. “We try to go at each day and get better, working on what we are supposed to do.”
“Coming up here years ago when we were losing (in the championship) and we weren’t real successful, everybody kind of rooted for us but now that we have been winning, everybody wants us to be done with it,” Walker said.
Martinsburg’s depth has been on display this season on their offense, which is statistically the state’s best across all three classes. When starting tailback Dewayne Grantham suffered a foot injury in week five, sophomore Naieem Kearney stepped up in a big way, rushing for over a thousand yards. Grantham returned to the lineup when the postseason began.
“I am really happy for Dewayne,” Walker said. “It has been a tough senior year for him, getting injured and losing all that time. But we are happy to have him back. He means a lot to us. He gives us some more toughness running the ball and defensively. I like the way he and Naieem work together. They complement each other well. It is a good mix for us.”
The Bulldogs have utilized a two-quarterback system to perfection. Senior Grant Harman has thrown for 23 touchdowns while junior Elijah Banks has added a dozen more. Harman is one of the many senior leaders for MHS. “You are not going to find a nicer kid,” Walker said.
“He has a 4.5 GPA. He does everything the right way. He works hard and he is a really good athlete. He is one of the last of the three-sport guys. He is a standout basketball and baseball player as well. He just leads by example.”
Despite impressive credentials, Spring Valley remains the challenger entering Saturday’s matchup. But they are looking forward to stepping in ‘the ring’ one more time.
“If you are going to get to the state championship, you want to play the best,” Dingess said. “They are the best. Ric Flair said, ‘to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.’ They are the man right now. We have to prepare and stay healthy and hopefully get some breaks and have some big plays and go up there and try to beat them.”