Brooke (4-1) at University (6-0)
The Hawks have been severely challenged over the last two weeks as they won close games on the road at Hedgesville and at home over Fairmont Senior. Last week, it took three blocked kicks to preserve a 14-13 win over the Polar Bears. UHS senior Demetrius Dixon blocked a first half field goal attempt. Then Hawks junior Karl Gall blocked a field goal attempt in the second half. Gall then preserved the lead by blocking a 4th quarter extra point attempt that would have tied the game.
Now the attention turns to a Brooke team that beat University twice last season en route to a trip to the state championship game.
"They are an incredible football team," UHS coach John Kelley said. "They are extremely physical. They have multiple weapons."
Brooke has averaged 240 yards rushing and 127 yards passing per game during a 4-1 start. The loss came at the hands of Ohio power Steubenville. Senior Ryan Lazear leads the team with 539 yards while senior Ian Morris averages 8.1 yards per carry. Senior receiver Joey Dinardo is a big play threat with 14 catches and an average of 17 yards per reception.
Sophomore Alec Buchmelter has stepped in for the graduated Cotey Wallace at quarterback. Buchmelter has thrown for 461 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 237 yards and four scores.
"This will also be the most physical defensive team we will have played by far," Kelley said. "They are big and physical up front. And those guys move around a lot. Then Lazear (at linebacker) is there to clean everything up.
"This is a better Brooke team that last year," Kelley said. "And, of course, we all know they went to the state finals last year."
Brooke beat UHS twice in 2009. The 27-0 loss at Brooke in the regular season was on a muddy field and it the worst setback for the Hawks in three years. Lazear and Wallace combined for all four touchdowns as they rushed for two each.
Then on that same field one month later in the state semi-finals, Brooke won 32-15 after jumping out to a quick 20-0 lead. Dinardo had three touchdown receptions in that one. Wallace rushed for 118 yards and threw for 186. University turned the ball over five times in the playoff game.
"But this is what you play for," Kelley said. "I’ve told our guys that we are 6-0 and we are at home. We need to take advantage of that.
"My guys want to be good," Kelley concluded. "My guys want to win a state championship. You have to go through teams like Brooke to get there. Hopefully, we can get a win. If not, you evaluate things knowing what kind of game you have to play in order to beat a team like Brooke in the post season."
Liberty (5-1) at Bridgeport (4-1)
Liberty is one of the top stories in AA football in the state as the Mountaineers have reeled off a five game winning streak following a 14 game losing streak that had bridged three seasons. The Mountaineers went 1-9 in 2008 and 0-10 last season.
"To see the kids who have put the time and effort in the program have success is very gratifying," Third year Liberty coach Bob Shields said. "There are a lot of kids who have really been loyal and stayed the course. It is starting to pay off now."
Shields has a three year starter in quarterback Shay Noss who is having a great season, but he says the winning streak is a result of what is happening on the other side of the ball.
"Defense," Shields said simply when asked what the difference is this year. "And we have some strength now. We didn’t have a weight or conditioning program a few years ago. Most of the kids stuck with us during the last winters in order to get bigger and stronger."
And how about playing one of the top AAA programs in the state this week in rival Bridgeport?
"It will be a good gauge," Shields said. "It needs to be treated like just another game. You have to be strong physically and mentally in order to handle what they give you.
"A lot of people put a lot of emphasis on this game, but we can’t let the rest of the season go south," Shields said. "We’ve got big games after this one."
Ironically, Shields teaches and coaches baseball at Bridgeport while coaching football at Liberty. First year Bridgeport coach Josh Nicewarner, meanwhile, teaches at Liberty.
"I have a lot of fun with the guys over here," Shields said of spending his days at Bridgeport. "They won’t talk to me this week. I asked them if coach Nicewarner put a gag order on them and they just laughed about it."
Preston (0-5) at Lewis County (4-2)
Preston coach Ralph Wilson has experienced nothing by tough luck and bad luck since a 2008 run to the playoffs. The Knights started the 2009 season with 46 players and finished with 26 as injuries and attrition ate away at the roster. Preston lost a couple of close games early; then things went south quickly.
"We started out this season with another close loss against Hampshire then the injuries started again," Preston coach Ralph Wilson said. "Those are not excuses, but when you have limited numbers and limited experience, it definitely makes a difference."
Lewis County blanked Buckhannon-Upshur 26-0 in Big 10 Conference play last week. Anthony Werner had two long touchdown runs and C.J. Rahming returned a punt for a score. The Minutemen got back on the winning track following a loss to Nicholas County the week before.
Morgantown (5-1) at North Marion (3-3)
The Huskies have won three in a row following an 0-3 start. Last week in a 46-24 win over East Fairmont, Taylor Gum led the Huskies with 158 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Shaun McCoy threw for a touchdown and rushed for another.
North Marion now begins a key stretch of three consecutive home games as Morgantown, Nicholas County and Elkins all will visit during the month of October.
Morgantown coach John Bowers was pleased to turn his defense loose during a 57-6 win over Preston last week.
"We let our kids get after it a little bit last week," Bowers said. "We dialed up some pressure and I think the kids like to play that way. The results certainly speak for themselves with the number of sacks and negative yardage plays we had."
Morgantown also continues to experiment with different formations on offense. The Mohigans have used receiver Chris Glover at quarterback in their "Apache" formation. A new wrinkle was added last week as leading rusher Joey Musick took snaps in another variation of the wildcat formation.
"It is another way to put pressure on the defense," Bowers said. "It is another wildcat formation. We are going to keep building that. Glover has his niche. Musick is another play maker you can get the ball to."
East Fairmont (0-6) at Robert C. Byrd (4-2)
RCB had a four game winning streak snapped after allowing 46 unanswered points in a loss to Nicholas County. The only highlight for the Eagles was a 40-yard punt return for a touchdown by Mo Hython. The Eagles need a convincing win at home this week in order to get back on track and get back in the playoff race.
Fairmont Senior (3-2) at Buckhannon-Upshure (1-5)
The Polar Bears had unbeaten University on the ropes last week as the Fairmont defense had the Hawks defense bottled up. The Polar Bear front four–led by senior ends Woody Taylor and Colby Besedich–pressured UHS quarterback Travis Maraney all game long. Linebackers Alex Joseph and Frankie Wilson also played strong games. University blocked three kicks–two field goals and an extra point–to pull out the win. But the Polar Bears should draw confident from the performance last week as they certainly looked like a playoff team again.
Fairmont will play its final road game of the season this week. The Polar bears will play their final four games at home. There is just one team remaining on the Polar Bear’s schedule that currently has a winning record.
Clay-Battelle (2-3) at Valley (2-3)
The Cee-Bees had their season split by a bye week. Clay-Battelle will begin the second half of the season with a stretch of three games against opponents with a combined 2-14 record.
Other games around the region:
Philip Barbour (2-3) at Elkins (2-3)
Madonna (4-1) at Notre Dame (2-3)
Parkersburg Catholic (4-2) at South Harrison (2-3)