— By Wes McKinney

GAMES TO WATCH

CLASS AAA

No. 10 Huntington at No. 7 George Washington

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last Week: George Washington rallied for a 20-16 win over rival Capital to secure a first-round home game. Huntington was unable to complete its own second-half comeback. After trailing 19-0 at halftime, the Highlanders stormed back with 11 straight points against Spring Valley, but a last-second throw to the end zone was batted away. 

“In the first half we couldn’t do anything offensively, played pretty poorly on defense and lost the field position game,” Huntington head coach Billy Seals explained

“And to look up and it’s 19-0. Second half, we do a great job of shutting them down. I think they had 12 yards and no first downs, won the field position battle, won the turnover battle, won special teams and moved the ball on offense.”

Why It’s Important: This will be a rematch from a week three shootout between the two teams in which George Washington made enough plays late to squeak out a 31-30 win over Huntington — also played at Steve Edwards Sr. Field. 

“If you look at that early game, both teams are much improved from that time period,” Seals said. 

They are really dynamic on offense and it all runs through R.T. Alexander. It’ll come down to which team makes fewer mistakes. That night we made a ton of mistakes, hopefully we’ve fixed those, and can go out Friday night, get a victory and get to 1-0 in these playoffs.”

Even though Huntington enters the playoffs having lost two of its last three games, Seals believes his team is playing well at the right time to make a third straight trip to the Class AAA quarterfinals. 

“I know we lost two of three games, but we’ve played pretty good football,” Seals said. 

“We had Cabell Midland, 7-7, with two minutes to go in the third quarter. Last week, we’re on the 15-yard line with about a minute left to go in the first half with a chance to go in and tie it up. We go to Parkersburg and beat a good Big Reds team convincingly.”

Who to Watch for Huntington: The Highlanders shutout a powerful Spring Valley team in the second half of last week’s game while also holding the Timberwolves to 12 yards in the third and fourth quarters. Huntington will need a similar defensive effort this week. 

Who to Watch for George Washington: Back to Alexander who threw for four touchdowns in the first game with Huntington , but the offensive line are the ones making plays in front of the signal caller. 

“The biggest thing I saw between GW this year and GW in the past is I think they are really good on both sides of the ball up front,” Seals said. 

“In years past, we’ve kind of had our way up front with them. I think they are much improved there and that’s the catalyst behind their football team — is being able to protect RT Alexander and allowing him to throw the football, but also being able to run the football.”

No. 14 Hurricane at No. 3 Spring Valley

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Last Week: Hurricane downed St. Albans, 38-12, to assure a playoff spot. Spring Valley held off Huntington’s rally to secure a 19-11 win and a top four seed in the postseason. 

“It was a physical football game,” Spring Valley head coach Brad Dingess said. “It was a good one and we were just happy to come out of there with a win against a really good team.”

Why It’s Important: Hurricane and Spring Valley are very familiar with each other. The Timberwolves topped the Redskins, 28-7, in Week 2.

“We can’t look at the record,” Dingess said of Hurricane’s 4-6  record. “There’s nine schools in the MSAC that made the playoffs. Everyone kind of beat up on each other and everybody is pretty close. It’s all about matchups and they can create a matchup problem for us.”

And the Redskins are capable of winning on the road in the playoffs after upsetting then fifth-seeded University in the 2016 postseason. 

“We have to take care of the football and not get behind the chains on offense with some penalties,” Dingess said. “We have to limit their big plays and try to make them drive the field on our defense.”

Who to Watch for Hurricane: With the loss of Austin Womack, a lot of Hurricane’s success falls on the shoulders of running back Christian Hill. 

“We have to stop the run first with anyone we play,” Dingess said. “He’s not had the numbers he’s had in the past, but he’s dangerous and if he gets rolling it’ll be a long game for us.”

Who to Watch for Spring Valley: With the run-heavy Timberwolves, quarterback Nate Ellis could become a key weapon to help make Spring Valley a two-dimensional during its stay in the playoffs. 

“We’re not a big throwing team, but I think he’s been playing well as far as throwing the football,”  Dingess said. “He’s getting better and we pick and choose when we do it. He can run and throw, so that adds another dimension to us.”

No. 15 Riverside at No. 2 Cabell Midland

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Last Week: Riverside fell at home to Greenbrier East, but was still able to make the playoff field. Cabell Midland, meanwhile, wrapped up its third undefeated regular season in school history and the first since 2015 with a 62-21 win at South Charleston. 

“10-0, it’s a good feeling,” Cabell Midland head coach Luke Salmons said. “Winning the conference for a third time shows you a lot about our team. We were hungry and played well on Friday. We get to be at home and that’s huge in the playoffs.”

Why It’s Important:  The Knights haven’t played a home game since the middle of October, but will remain at home throughout the duration of the first three rounds of the playoffs. One of the final home games of the season for Cabell Midland was a 45-8 win over Riverside on Oct. 4. 

“Riverside is capable of beating a lot of teams,” Salmons said. “We have to know we’re on borrowed time. We’re not guaranteed anything other than 10 games in the regular season. That’s our approach this week, that’s our approach if we keep winning.”

Who to Watch for Riverside: Veteran running back Caden Easterling and his running mate, quarterback Javante Elzy, were slowed in the first meeting this season.

“Easterling is a good player. He runs hard, he runs tough. It seems like he’s been there forever,” Salmons said. 

“We just have to tackle well. If you tackle, some of his big plays are eliminated. The quarterback can make plays, but we have to do a good job of corralling him. Everyone need to do their job and win their individual battle.”

Who to Watch for Cabell Midland: J.J. Roberts and Jakob Caudill will be looking to get their playoff campaigns off to strong starts. 

CLASS AA

No. 10 Mingo Central at No. 7 Shady Spring

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last Week: Mingo Central solidified its spot in the playoffs with a resounding 55-20 win at Winfield. The Class AA Champions from three years ago enter the playoffs flying under the radar despite not losing since the end of September. 

Shady Spring will host its first home playoff game in nearly a decade after it locked up home field advantage with a 35-12 win over Raleigh County rival Liberty in the final week of the season. 

Why It’s Important: Other than a state championship in 2016, the Miners have won just one playoff game away from Miner Mountain — a 2015 quarterfinal round win at Bluefield — so Mingo Central will be out to prove it doesn’t need the distinct home field advantage of Miner Mountain. 2015 was also the last time Mingo Central ventured into southern West Virginia for a postseason contest. 

The Tigers will be looking to show their 9-1 regular season was no fluke as they go for their first playoff victory since 2011 when they made a run to the Class AA semifinals. Eight years ago was also the first time Shady Spring was in the postseason. 

Who to Watch for Mingo Central: Quarterback Daylin Goad and his receiving corps will test the stingy Shady Spring defense that has pitched four shutouts this season, and has only allowed more than one touchdown three time in 2019

Who to Watch for Shady Spring: The dangerous backfield of quarterback Drew Clark and running back Haven Chapman have been the driving force behind the success of the Tigers this season. 

No. 13 Man at No. 4 Bluefield

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last Week: Man not only snapped a two-game losing streak last week, but the Hillbillies claimed a spot in the final field of 16 in Class AA and made the playoffs for the first time since 2015 with a 33-8 win over Chapmanville. The victory also gave Man bragging rights in Logan County for the year. 

Bluefield cruised into the playoffs with a 48-15 win over Woodrow Wilson to run its win streak to seven games entering the postseason. 

Why It’s Important: This particular group of Hillbillies will be at a disadvantage in terms of experience when it comes to the postseason as the whole roster will be fresh to the postseason. Meanwhile, the Beavers have plenty of postseason experience including several players that were instrumental in a 2017 state championship. 

Who to Watch for Man: The Man defense has been an integral part of the Hillbillies appearing in the postseason as it has only allowed more than 20 points once this season, a week eight win over Wyoming East. 

Who to Watch for Bluefield: The Beavers have playmakers all over the field, but none are perhaps more dangerous than running back J.J. Davis who is capable of breaking a long run at any time. The powerful Man offensive line will also have its hands full with defensive lineman Sean Martin.

CLASS A 

No. 10 Wheeling Central Catholic at No. 7 Tolsia

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Last Week: Central Catholic defeated Magnolia, 52-6, to gain some momentum heading into the playoffs after dropping two of its previous three games. Tolsia also picked up a win with ease as it downed Hannan, 42-6, last week. 

Why It’s Important: The Maroon Knights have been here before, winning a state championship as a 10 seed in 2017. Tolsia will be looking to make some noise in the playoffs for the first time since its run to the 2015 state championship in Class AA. 

Who to Watch for Central Catholic: With quarterback Curtis McGhee lost for the season, the attention has turned to defensive star Adam Murray to help carry the Maroon Knights back to Wheeling Island Stadium. 

Who to Watch for Tolsia: Quarterback Tanner Copley will be tasked with trying to solve the impressive Central Catholic defense. 

No. 12 Tug Valley at No. 5 Williamstown

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last Week: Tug Valley had its backs to the wall in week 10 of the season, and prevailed 20-12 over Man to finish up a nine-game schedule and sneak into the playoffs. Williamstown was also off in week 11 after falling into season finale against Doddridge County, 20-7 two weeks ago.

Why It’s Important: Tug Valley will be no stranger to the pressure of the postseason as the Panthers have essentially been playing elimination games since picking up their fourth loss of the season on October 4.

However, Williamstown is waiting in the wings with its only losses coming to two of the more talented teams in Class A — Doddridge County and Wheeling Central Catholic. 

Who to Watch for Tug Valley: Quarterback Ethan Varney has helped carry Tug Valley through to the postseason, and he will need another outstanding performance for the Panthers to advance. 

Who to Watch for Williamstown: Williamstown will look to keep its offense humming as it enters the playoffs having scored 3o or more points in seven of its last eight games.