MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — ​Shady Spring and Mingo Central have returned to the very competitive Class AA playoff bracket after falling in the first round last season. Shady went 9-1 this fall after the Tigers answered a major offseason question mark with solid play on the line.

“With our line, that’s probably where we lost more people,” said Shady Spring head coach Vince Culicerto. “If they stepped up, we had some really good players in key positions coming back. The line did step it up.”

Shady’s defense is firmly established as one of the best units in Class AA. They have allowed an average of nine points and just 175 yards a game.

“We have a great defensive coordinator, who is my brother (Phil Culicerto). He does a super job,” Culicerto said. “He has been unreal with them. Once you have a couple good defensive shows, nobody wants to mess up. They like to take pride in it.”

The Tigers best victory came on the road in week seven. They defeated Wyoming East 27-20, handing the Warriors their first loss of the season.

“That was huge,” Culicerto said. “The kids really wanted that game. They marked that down as one they wanted.”

93 miles away in Mingo County, the Miners of Mingo Central have posted their second consecutive 8-2 regular season. Their offensive numbers are some of the best in the state. The Miners average 42 points and 305 passing yards per game with junior Daylin Goad running the show. A deep receiving core is led by senior Drew Hatfield. In four years in a Central uniform, Hatfield has racked up 5,093 receiving yards, 64 touchdowns and a state title in 2016.

“He is getting double-covered and triple-covered but he is still finding ways to get open and get the ball in his hands and make plays,” said Mingo Central head coach Josh Sammons. “He is a blessing to have. I am glad he is on our side and we are not having to play against him and scheme against him.”

Last fall, Mingo’s youth showed up on defense as they allowed over 29 points per game. This year, the Miners have shaved eleven points a game off that total.

“The experience for those guys, getting games under their belt is the main thing,” Sammons said. “We were young last year. But now they are improving week-to-week. I think that is one of our strong points right now.”

Contrasting strengths should make this opening round matchup one of the best on the board Friday night. “I have been a part of offenses like that too at Shady Spring,” Culicerto said. “They seem like they can get you anywhere they want. Defense is our specialty.”