No. 15 Lewis County (7-3) at No. 2 Martinsburg (10-0)
Lewis County will make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in school history as the Minutemen take the long trip to Martinsburg for a Friday night game in the first round of the playoffs. Lewis County tied the school record with seven regular season victories on the season.
"The eighth win would have been nice," Lewis County coach Eddie Vincent lamented. "The regular season didn’t end like we wanted it to, but making the playoffs in consecutive years is what this group will be remembered for. Lewis County had been to the playoffs just once previously (in school history) so they will be remembered as that special group of guys."
Lewis County had a four game winning streak snapped in a loss to a desperate Robert C. Byrd team on the final week of the regular season. RCB had to have the win to get into the playoffs.
"All three games we lost were close," Vincent said. "One play here or there could have changed the outcome of any of those games.
"Still, we didn’t tackle well in the games we lost," Vincent continued. "We had too many missed assignments and too many missed tackles in those games."
Lewis County must have another great game from senior running back C. J. Rahming in this one to have a chance. Rahming had 211 yards and a touchdown in the RCB loss last week. Rahming has 1,536 yards and 12 touchdowns for the year. He has rushed for over 4,000 yards in his high school career.
"We can’t turn the ball over and we have to play with great effort," Vincent said. "And then hope they make some mistakes"
The RCB loss knocked Lewis County down to the 15th seed for the second consecutive season.
"Last year we thought we drew the best team in the field in the first round," Vincent said of the 2009 match up with South Charleston. "I’m not sure we didn’t do the same thing this year. Martinsburg certainly has enough talent to win it all."
Martinsburg has a dominating ground game led by senior running back David Gladden who recently set a school record with 302 rushing yards in a game. Gladden is also a dangerous kick returned as witnessed by his performance during a week nine win over Jefferson. Gladden returned both a kickoff and a punt for a score in that game. Bulldogs quarterback Brandon Ashenfelter has also had a solid, consistent season.
The Martinsburg defense has allowed a total of just 91 points all season.
"We chose to go with our regular routine," Vincent said of the decision to make the long trip to Martinsburg on Friday. "We’ll stay on our normal schedule for the most part. The guys will get out of school a little early and we’ll get a big send off from the school. That part is exciting."
No. 14 Robert C. Byrd (6-4) at No. 3 Morgantown (9-1)
Veteran Quarterback Adam Secret ran for two first-half touchdowns and passed for two more in the second half to lead RCB to that must have 34-26 victory at Lewis County last week.
"We are happy to be there," first year RCB coach Josh Gorrell said. "That is the first step in the right direction, getting back to the playoffs."
RCB started 4-1, but a mid season slump of three losses in four games put that playoff position in peril heading into the final week.
"We had some injuries but we also had some lapses and some things happened that were out of our control," Gorrell said. "But we overcame that and we got back to where we want to be."
The junior Secret has thrown for over 1,700 yards while adding an additional 300 yards on the ground. Secret leads the offense and is part of a young nucleus that will gain invaluable experience with this playoff appearance according to the coach.
"We are extremely young," Gorrell said. "It was important for us to get in this year so these young kids can participate and see what it’s all about."
And playing Morgantown on the road?
"That’s a big task," Gorrell said. "They are big, strong and quick. Hopefully we can go down there prepared and if everything goes right, it can be a ball game.
"On the other hand, if we turn the ball over and have penalties and make stupid mistake, it can get ugly quick. We know that going in, so we better be right."
Morgantown had the week off following a 27-6 win over rival University in the MoHawk Bowl.
"We got healthy for one thing," MHS coach John Bowers said. "We were able to re-examine and re-visit some of the fundamentals."
In the MoHawk Bowl win, Morgantown rolled up 316 yards rushing as they relied almost exclusively on direct snaps to seniors Joey Musick and Chris Glover.
"We have evolved as an offense," Bowers said. "We started out as a more traditional offense. Now we are basically running a single wing with the two Wildcats we run. We have tried to add a new run or pass wrinkle to the base each week to compliment the package."
No. 11 Fairmont Senior (7-3) at No. 6 Capital (8-2)
Fairmont Senior has kept its playoff tradition going under first year head coach Jared Mileto.
"It has made it nice going around town," Mileto said. "Especially after beating East last week and having beaten North Marion earlier in the season. The playoffs are the next goal. But we can’t be satisfied by just this.
"Once you get into the playoffs, you want to make some noise."
Mileto says a couple of offensive leaders have emerged on his team in junior quarterback Trevor Malnick and senior receiver Marcus Jacquez.
"It started with the Wheeling Park game," Mileto said of the week eight shootout where the Polar Bears rallied from a 22-3 deficit to win 53-52. "Trevor had the mindset that we were not going to lose. And that just spread to everybody.
"Jacquez has really stepped up during the second half of the season," Mileto said. "It’s just like a basketball player with the hot hand. We just keep getting Marcus the ball and he keeps making plays."
Stopping the run will be the key for the Fairmont Senior defense against a Keion Wright led Capital offense. Wright has 1,844 yards and 24 touchdowns.
"He is a hard, hard runner," Mileto said. "We just have to try to hit him hard and tackle well.
"Defensively, we’ve been led all season by (senior linebacker) Alex Joseph, Malnick and (Senior linebacker) Franklin Wilson," Mileto said. "We’ll just have to show up and see how it goes Friday night at Laidley Field."
No. 10 University (8-2) at No. 7 Bridgeport (9-1)
The Hawks have had great success in the playoffs on the road in recent seasons as they have advanced to the final four in AAA three straight seasons and four times in the past five seasons. The Hawks won at Spring Valley and Fairmont Senior last season before running into Brooke. UHS has three road playoff wins in the last two years and five in the past five seasons.
"I’ve had people come up to me after the MoHawk Bowl and say ‘well coach, you had a great season." UHS coach John Kelley said. "Our season isn’t over yet. The kids have incorporated that to say ‘we’ll go a little further than you think.’
"And there is a little bit of tradition now," Kelley continued. "We know we can have success in the playoffs. We were the 13th seed last year and went all the way to the final four."
Kelley has the utmost respect for the tradition and the success of the Bridgeport program.
"43 years without having a losing record is unmatched in this state," Kelley pointed out. "18 straight playoff appearances is very impressive. They have a great community, great pride, great tradition and a great stadium.
"Not to mention a lot of good, tough football players."
Bridgeport tuned up for the post season with a 55-28 win over North Marion last week. Corey Wagner and Garrett Parker combined for 378 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Wagner has 1,818 yards and 18 touchdowns for the season.
"We are playing our best football now," First year Bridgeport head coach Josh Nicewarner said. "We started off slow but we’ve gradually improved each week."
Nicewarner says the improvement can be traced directly to an offensive line anchored by a pair of seniors. The coach says the improvement of the juniors on that line have been the key.
"Garrett Stanley is spear heading the line right now," Nicewarner said of the junior tight end. "He is by far our biggest lineman and he is my guy that I can block one-on-one with.
"We are starting to make the right calls and adjusting to what the defense is throwing at us."
University will be among the more balanced teams the Indians have played. Hawks senior Micah Wilson has rushed for 1,084 yards and 11 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Travis Maraney has thrown for 980 yards and six touchdowns.
"We are going to have to read our keys," Nicewarner said. "Read the linemen standing up or coming off on run blocks.
"They’ve got skill guys all over the place, but I believe we match up pretty well." Nicewarner said.
University earned one of its road playoff wins at Bridgeport back in 2005 as the Hawks jumped up 28-3. UHS held on to win that game 28-24.
"Getting that quick start is key," Kelley said. "If you fall behind them, you’re doomed because they’ll take seven, eight, ten minutes off the clock at a time. This is certainly one team you can’t fall behind."
No. 9 Nicholas County (9-1) at No. 8 Brooke (8-2)
An 18 member senior class has led the Grizzlies to the playoffs in back to back years.
"They are the big reason we are where we are and they were a big reason why we made it last season," Nicholas County coach Gene Morris said. "It took a little bit of time and a lot of work to build the program up. It’s great to see these kids have success and get to the playoffs."
Quarterback Zach Mayes is one of those seniors who has made a major impact. Mayes has accounted for over 1,500 yards of total offense and over 20 touchdowns.
"Our offensive line may be undersized, but they’ve protected well and they’ve played hard," Morris said. "Defensively, we are not really big, but they hustle and get to the ball very well."
Morris says he is proud of where the football program has arrived.
"We’ve done it in steps," Morris said. "It’s been more of a community achievement. They have given us support and they’ve given us a beautiful place to play.
"The athletes keep coming to the weight room. They’ve made the commitment to keep working hard. My staff and the community have all worked hard to allow this thing to build."
AA No. 13 Liberty (7-3) at AA No. 4 Bluefield (9-1)
Liberty qualified for the playoffs one year after going 0-10 in 2009.
"I thought there was a chance," Liberty coach Robert Shields said. "We lost the opener to Lewis County, but the kids recovered well and then we just got on a roll."
Liberty won five straight before falling to AAA playoff team Bridgeport. After that, key victories over South Harrison and Grafton down the stretch sewed up the playoff spot.
Now the reward is a trip to perineal power Bluefield.
"It seems to follow a Liberty pattern," Shields said. "This will be the fifth time in six playoff appearances that Liberty has had to face Bluefield.
"We have to have a good start," Shields continued. "Bluefield is rolling right now. We can’t be overwhelmed in the first few plays.
"We’ve got a bunch of senior leaders and I think they’ll convey the message that we have to just keep plugging along no matter what happens.
"It bodes well for years to come," Shields said of the 2010 breakthrough. "We’ve got a good feeder system in place now. We will be going into a new stadium next year and that should add some life. I think things are going in a good direction now."