By Eric Little

It’s once again time to fire up those Friday Night Lights. One area team is going to get a 24-hour jump start on the rest. Mid-Ohio Valley teams are ready for big things in 2019, but can they deliver? 

GAMES TO WATCH

CLASS AAA

No. 9 Parkersburg South (0-0) at Ripley (0-0) 

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last Year: Parkersburg South won six straight games midseason on the way to a 7-3 season and its first home playoff game in more than a decade. South was upset by Hedgesville in the opening round after losing a 21-point advantage. The Patriots beat Ripley 27-7 in last year’s season opener. Ripley then won nine straight to earn a home playoff game. After winning that game, the Vikings fell to Musselman in a state quarterfinal.

Why It’s Important: Expectations are high for both teams, but for different reasons. For Ripley, it’s about what’s next under head coach Eddie Smolder. Last year, in Smolder’s fourth season at the Ripley helm, the Vikings made their first trip to the playoffs since 2009. 

For South, expectations are high at the start of a season that might’ve once been thought to be a rebuilding year. Gone are quarterback Brayden Mooney, running back Nick Yoho and head coach Mike Eddy. 

Mooney and Yoho combined for the lion’s share of points and offensive yards (and a pretty good chunk of the defensive production, as well), while Eddy led South to the playoffs for the second time in his tenure. But that tenure ended over the winter when Eddy resigned to take the same position at Logan, Ohio. 

Thus begins the Nathan Tanner era on Parkersburg’s southside. Tanner comes to Parkersburg South after stops in Summers County and the Martinsville, Virginia area. The Concord graduate was able to recruit the hallways and convince talented athletes known best for other sports to give football a try this fall, and participation is up in South’s program.

Who to Watch for Parkersburg South: Brandon Penn will step in as quarterback, having served as a backup and sometimes starter in each of the last two seasons. The athletic Penn served as a top receiving target and playmaker in each of those two seasons and is more than ready to shoulder the load. Devin Gaines will get a lot of carries for the Patriots, and Williamstown transfer Donathan Taylor will make his presence known primarily on defense and in the return game, at least in the early going.

Who to Watch for Ripley: Dalton Myers figures to find a more prominent role in the running game, while Austin Rhodes looks to plug the middle of the Viking defense. Ripley also replaces experience in the defensive secondary, so attention must be paid to those who step up and fill those spots. 

No. 8 Morgantown (0-0) at No. 10 Parkersburg (0-0) 

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last Year: Parkersburg lost three of its first four games, but finished strong to earn a playoff spot with a 6-4 record. The Big Reds defeated Wheeling Park on the road in an opening round contest, before dropping a quarterfinal decision to eventual state champion

Martinsburg. The Mohigans finished 5-6, with two of those losses coming by fewer than 10 points. Morgantown, who saw its season end with a first-round playoff loss at Capital, defeated Parkersburg 45-35 at Pony Lewis Field in last year’s opener.

Why It’s Important: Both of these teams want a better 2019, after injuries to key players made it difficult for both teams to meet expectations last season.

Who to Watch for Parkersburg: With the team trying to find leadership at quarterback following the graduation of Jake Johnson, expect the athletic Braeden Mason to play a multi-faceted role in the PHS offense. The Big Reds may look to get him the ball in a number of different ways, including through direct snaps as QB. 

Defensively, Gage Fiore is a player who head coach Mike Byus says, “isn’t afraid to get in a teammate’s face” if someone is stepping out of line. In addition to locker room leadership, Fiore was the leading Big Red tackler a year ago. 

CLASS A

No. 2 Williamstown (0-0) at No. 1 Wheeling Central (0-0) 

When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. on the MetroNews Channel

Last Year: These two teams met twice to bookend the season. In the season opener in Williamstown in late August, Wheeling Central blanked the Yellowjackets 33-0 in a game that was close until costly Williamstown mistakes allowed the Maroon Knights to run away with the win. In December, Central picked up its second win of the year against Williamstown with a 44-15 rout in the Class A title game.

Why It’s Important: It’s a rematch of last year’s state championship, and a duel between the top two teams in the MetroNews Class A preseason poll. These two schools have had a long history of tight matchups in the last decade-plus, so this will go a long way toward writing the next chapter in one of the state’s best small school rivalries.

Who to Watch for Williamstown: With Taylor playing across Wood County for Parkersburg South, look for Ty Moore, Jarrett Frazier and Caleb Stansbury to shoulder the load of the carries for the Yellowjackets this season. The running game will be emphasized this year, with Williamstown replacing a quarterback this season, so expect some extra attention on offensive line play.

Seven starters return on both sides of the ball for Williamstown. Eric Brown will be one of the first hats to the football on defense for the Yellowjackets.

Speaking of quarterback, Brayden Modesitt and Trevor Oates have been competing for that spot all summer, in a battle that will likely go down to the wire before a starter is selected. 

Hannan (0-0) at No. 8 Parkersburg Catholic (0-0) 

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last Year: In the regular season finale for Parkersburg Catholic, and the second-to-last game of the season for Hannan, Parkersburg Catholic handed Hannan a 43-0 loss — the only shutout Parkersburg Catholic’s defense pitched all season. After a winless 2017, Parkersburg Catholic went 9-1 and earned a playoff meeting with Sherman, in which the Crusaders fell 44-8 in their first playoff appearance since 2011. Hannan stumbled to an 0-9 mark in Kellie Thomas’s first season.

Why It’s Important: Lance Binegar’s Crusaders were one of the state’s breakout teams last season, and a good start will be crucial for a team that now has a large target on its back.

Who to Watch for Parkersburg Catholic: The reason hopes are high for the Crusaders is that they return everyone but Ty Sturm and Aiden Stotts from last year’s team. While those were two key pieces to the puzzle, Jeb Boice will provide leadership and productivity on both sides of the ball. Plus, Parkersburg Catholic returns an intact offensive line for a third straight season — almost unheard of in high school football.

Tyler Consolidated (0-0) at Ritchie County (0-0) 

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last Year: Under first-year head coach Rick Haught, the Rebels made their first trip to the playoffs since 2013 with a 7-3 record. Ritchie County fell 34-14 to Mount View in the opening round of the playoffs. Tyler Consolidated went 6-4 to make the playoffs as a No. 16 seed. It was head coach Ryan Walton’s third playoff appearance in five seasons at Tyler Consolidated. The Silver Knights fell 61-30 to eventual state champion Wheeling Central. In the season opener between Tyler Consolidated and Ritchie County last season, the Rebels squeaked out 24-22 win over the Silver Knights.

Why It’s Important: After trips to the playoffs last year, both of these teams expect big things in 2019 and are eager to start strong. Plus, both have difficult schedules full of toss-up games, so it’ll be important for both to tally up wins wherever and whenever possible. 

Who to Watch for Tyler Consolidated: Both Mark Rucker and Gage Huffman return for the Silver Knights, with Rucker emerging as both a running and pass-catching threat last season.

Who to Watch for Ritchie County: The Rebels boast a deep stable of running backs, but keep an eye on quarterback Dakota Wayne. He won the spot outright after sharing it much of last season, and now, Ritchie County wants to open its playbook and be more balanced on offense through a stronger passing game.

Roane County (0-0) at St. Marys (0-0) 

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last Year: These teams battled through a long lightning delay before Roane County ended a 22-game winless streak with a 28-17 win over St. Marys. The Blue Devils finished the season 3-7, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Roane County also finished 3-7.

Why It’s Important: Both teams want bigger and better things this season after sub-.500 finishes last year. 

Who to Watch for St. Marys: Quarterback Brennan Boron enters his second year at the position for St. Marys. Expect Lucas Lipscomb to replace the graduated Anthony Wince as Boron’s top target. 

Who to Watch for Roane County: Josh Huffman and Danny Bush project to be solid contributors on both sides of the ball this year for Paul Burdette’s Raiders.

Paden City (0-0) at Frontier, Ohio (0-0) 

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last Year: Frontier, Ohio went just 2-8 in the first year of head coach Russ Morris’s second stint on the Cougar sidelines. Paden City equaled that mark. These two teams didn’t play one another last year.

Why It’s Important: At just 23 years old, Paden City head coach Zach Heasley is the youngest head coach in the state. Heasley wants to get his tenure started on the right track and has injected positive energy into the program and the community. The Wildcats haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001, but with a strong start, there are winnable games on the schedule that could point this team in the right direction.

Who to Watch for Paden City: Quarterback Ethan Cross — whose brother was a high school teammate of Heasley’s — returns under center. The Wildcats will also need a solid effort from running back Clayton Thomas, who fills gaps on the other side of the ball as a linebacker.

Other Games: Wirt County (0-0) at Calhoun County (0-0) ; Ravenswood (0-0) at Wahama (0-0) 

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