— By Wes McKinney

GAMES TO WATCH

CLASS AAA

No. 6 Cabell Midland at St. Albans

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last year: Cabell Midland won three straight games to surge into the postseason in 2018 with a 6-4 mark, but the Knights fell to rival Huntington in the first round of the playoffs, 14-7. 

“We lost a good group last year but this group is ready to step up,” Cabell Midland head coach Luke Salmons said. “They’ve been part of our success and now they are ready to succeed.”

Among the losses for Cabell Midland was the program’s all-time leading rusher Ivan Vaughn.

Why it’s important: Friday night will be the second time that Salmons squares off against former assistant Nick Watts, who spent time on the Knights’ sideline before inheriting the St. Albans program right before fall camp in July 2018. 

“Coach Watts understands what it takes to win from the time he spent on our staff at Midland,” Salmons said. “They are going to do things the right way.”

Who to watch for Cabell Midland: Though the Knights lost Vaughn, Ivan’s little brother, Isaiah, has seen meaningful carries in the Cabell Midland option attack in the past. Additionally, the Knights saw the emergence of fullback Jacob Caudill midway through 2018. 

“In this offense, Jacob Caudill is perfect — he squats 500 pounds, strong and tough,” Salmons said. “Isaiah Vaughn has experience in this offense and he’s shown that he’s good. We have the pieces to do what we want to do. We have four really good wing tailbacks, two or three good fullbacks and two good quarterbacks.”

Who to watch for St. Albans: Caden McCoy was an all-state selection in 2018 and will be a key member of Watts’ second Red Dragons team.

CLASS AAA VS. CLASS AA

No. 2 AAA Spring Valley at Wayne

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m. 

Last Week: Spring Valley made a third straight trip to the Class AAA championship game before falling to Martinsburg yet again. 

“Last year, we didn’t play our best game,” Spring Valley head coach Brad Dingess said of the title game. “When you get to that point, you want to be able to lay your head down and feel like you played your best. It was motivation in the offseason.”

After starting the season 0-2, Wayne rattled off eight straight wins to earn a spot in the playoffs in 2018, but the hot streak ended with a 28-8 loss at Keyser in the first round of the Class AA postseason.

“I’ve found that there’s only three teams that end the previous year the way they want,” Wayne coach Tom Harmon said. “We were proud to be in the playoffs, but the object is to get there and stay there.”

Why It’s Important: The Timberwolves and Pioneers will meet for the second straight season to open up the campaign after Spring Valley won 49-8 last season. 

“Things went south in a hurry,” Harmon said. “We had two or three turnovers early on and didn’t give ourselves a chance to compete. Things snowballed early on. They had a steamroller of a team and we weren’t ready to play that game at that time.”

But this particular Wayne team has something bigger to play for in 2019 after the tragic loss of Colt Adams, their teammate, in the offseason. 

“They’re going to play with a lot of emotion because of some of the difficulties that community has dealt with in the offseason,” Dingess said. 

And Harmon knows the circumstances has brought his team closer. 

“This is a tight-knit group that’s been through some adversity,” Harmon said. “That tells us that we have a team.”

Who to Watch for Spring Valley: The Timberwolves will have to replace co-captains of the Class AAA all-state first team in Graeson Malashevich and Doug Nester, along with 26 other seniors. 

Wyatt Milum will look to anchor the offensive line with the loss of Nester, the current Virginia Teach Hokie. Meanwhile, Dingess will expect others to take on expanded roles at the skill positions. 

“David Livingston is going to have to pull double duty and play free safety and tailback,” Dingess said. “A lot of people forget about Nate Ellis. He was 10-0 as a starter at quarterback before we made the switch going into the playoffs. I feel real good about those two guys.”

Who to watch for Wayne: Gunner Harmon leads the way for the Wayne offense while he is joined in the backfield by fellow senior Jon Chinn at running back. 

But what concerns Dingess the most is the size the Pioneers possess. 

“Wayne might be bigger than us up front. Anytime you have to deal with size, that’s a concern,” Dingess said. “All Wayne’s players have been in the same system since they were 6 years old.” 

CLASS AA

Chapmanville at Sissonville

When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

Last Week: Last year was a roller coaster ride for head coach Rob Dial and Chapmanville. The Tigers lost their first two games of 2018 before ripping off five wins in a six-game stretch. But two late losses,, including an 18-14 defeat in the season finale against rival Man, kept Chapmanville out of the playoffs. 

“With a few exceptions, we have a lot of fresh faces on the field for Friday nights,” Dial said. “With the newness comes some new energy and excitement. I think that’s going to allow us to leave last season it the past.”

Why It’s Important: “We’ve been behind the eight ball the last couple of seasons with a loss to Sissonville,” Dial said eluding to a 41-13 loss last season and another 25-16 setback in 2017. 

“It’s important for us to start fast in Class AA football,” Dial continued. “You used to be able to get in (to the playoffs) with six wins, but with the gluttony of teams in Class AA you need to find a way to win seven games.”

Who to Watch for Chapmanville:  The Tigers hope to start fast with their experience at quarterback as Chase Berry begins his third season under center for Chapmanville. 

“We really trust him in both the pass game and him being able to help us running the ball some,” Dial said of Berry. “We have three returning starters on the offensive line and the new faces are guys we really like. Hopefully, we can find some guys that can run the ball behind our offensive line.”

Who to Watch for Sissonville: Chapmanville was unable to slow down the Sissonville attack last season that was spearheaded by quarterback Will Hackney. The do-it-all signal caller has graduated, but two of his top targets Cole Hughart and Gavin Shamblin return to the lineup. 

“Sissonville is using two quarterbacks,” Dial explained. “Parker Shamblin is a left-handed kid that throws the ball pretty well and they have a transfer from Ripley, Jackson Foster, that’s a good runner. We have to prepare for both guys to get snaps in the game. 

“The bottom line is we need to take care of ourselves,” Dial emphasized.

No. 4 Mingo Central at Pikeville (Ky.)

When: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

Last Week: The Miners finished 8-3 last season and made a return to the Class AA playoffs, but lost in the opening round in a regular-season rematch against Point Pleasant. 

Why It’s Important: This will be a chance for Mingo Central to make an early statement against one of the best teams in eastern Kentucky as the Miners go away from opening with Point Pleasant after back-to-back classics between the two sides to open the season in 2017 and 2018.

Pikeville has a leg up on the Miners having defeated Bardstown, 47-25, to open play last week in Kentucky

Who to Watch for Mingo Central: After not having varsity experience last season, Daylin Goad stepped in and didn’t miss a beat replacing Jeremy Dillon as the Miners’ quarterback. Goad has the luxury of having the Hatfield brothers, Devin and Drew, at receiver.

Who to Watch for Pikeville: Speaking of receivers, Pikeville has one of the best in the state of Kentucky in Jackson Hensley who has several Division I offers including Ivy League schools Columbia and Harvard. 

CLASS AA VS. CLASS A

Logan at Man

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last Week: Logan finished 2018 with a record of 4-6, but was just 1-4 away from home last season. Meanwhile, Man posted a mark of 6-4, winning three of its last four games. However, the Hillbillies missed out on the postseason.

Why It’s Important: Logan has won three straight games in this Logan County rivalry, but barely nipped the Hillbillies last season 20-14. The 2019 meeting between

Logan and Man will be the 81st all-time.

Who to Watch for Logan: Wildcats head coach Jimmy Sheppard is settling into year two at Logan, and will look to a two-quarterback system to build off of last season’s 4-6 record. Both Jordan Hayes and Aiden Slack are expected to see time under center in the season opener.

Who to Watch for Man: All-State lineman Brock Muncy anchors the front for Man while the Hillbillies also return rusher Zach Frye to lead the Man ground game.

CLASS A

Clay County at No. 7 Sherman

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last Week: The Tide made a run into the Class A state quarterfinals a season as they concluded the regular season 9-1, knocking off Parkersburg Catholic before falling to Midland Trail in the second round of the playoffs. 

Why It’s Important: Sherman has won nine straight regular season games and 12 of its last 13 regular season contests, dating back to week nine of the 2017 season. On a different note, the Tide will look to replace the production and void left by Class A First Team All-State selection J.T. Hensley. 

Who to Watch Clay County: Clay County will be led by lineman Andrew Stutler who was an all-state selection last fall.

Who to Watch for Sherman: Head coach Michael Showalter is tasked with replacing five of his six all-state players from the 10-2 2018 Sherman club, but returning all-state lineman Hunter Bowling anchors the offensive and defensive lines for the Tide. 

Other games: Lincoln County at Shady Spring; Tug Valley at Hurley (Va.); Van at Meadow Bridge; Herbert Hoover at Scott; Tolsia at Fairland (Ohio); Hannan at Class A No. 8 Parkersburg Catholic

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