Mid-Ohio Valley Report

 It’s never a bad thing to be playing high school football on the day after Thanksgiving. Two schools in the Mid-Ohio Valley will have that opportunity as Ravenswood and Wirt County will have their respective chances for a berth in the Super Six on Friday night. The move to the state semifinals may represent an entrance into uncharted waters for both programs, which is kind of fitting on Thanksgiving weekend. Just as the Pilgrims traveled on the Mayflower to traverse waters largely uncharted to Europeans – those of the Atlantic Ocean – two area high school programs will have their shot to explore new frontiers and experience thrills previously unknown and unseen.  Most would say things worked out pretty well for the Pilgrims; along the way, they provided the inspiration for this fine holiday that we celebrate this week. A hunch tells me that win or lose, both Ravenswood and Wirt County will also emerge from this weekend as stronger programs that are more battle-tested than ever before.

With warmest wishes to you and yours for a Happy Thanksgiving this week, we take a look at both games:

A No. 4 Wirt County (10-2) at A No. 1 Wahama (12-0) at Point Pleasant High School – Friday 7:30 p.m.

A storybook season for the Wirt County Tigers continued last Friday with a 13-10 win over Little Kanawha Conference rival Williamstown – Wirt County’s second win this season against the Yellowjackets. In one of a few great finishes last Friday that was overshadowed on the statewide scene by an ugly brawl in the Hurricane-South Charleston game, the Tigers got the go-ahead touchdown on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Campbell to Alex Trembly with less than two minutes to play.

The touchdown drive was impressive enough on its own, given that it came after Williamstown had just scored their first touchdown of the game to take a 10-7 lead with six minutes on the clock. What made it more impressive was the fact that the pass-and-catch play for the game-winner occurred on a 3rd and 15 that came after the Wirt offense was docked five yards for a delay of game infraction. Most impressive still? The fact that Trembly hauled in the game-winning TD pass at the five yard line…with one hand. Head coach Jason Hickman knows his Tigers have made their share of incredible plays this season and understands that great players need to step up and make great plays for a winning team to become a championship team.

 “We have definitely made some amazing plays to get to this point, and that’s something that can certainly be said for any team that’s made it this far.” Hickman said. “You’ve got to be good, but you have to have a little luck or destiny on your side.”

Coming into this season, the Williamstown Yellowjackets hadn’t lost a game to a Class A LKC foe since 1999 and they hadn’t lost to the Wirt County Tigers since 1997. Now, Wirt County has vanquished Williamstown twice in the same season – a task that Hickman and his staff knew would be difficult from the get-go.

“Both present their challenges. Trying to prepare for Williamstown again was definitely difficult.” Hickman remarked. “They’re a really good football team and we knew that trying to beat them twice in the same season wasn’t going to be easy. We didn’t change much against them; they didn’t change much against us. It was just two good football teams going at it and we happened to make one more play than they did.”

The key to both victories for the Tigers was winning the turnover battle. Against a Williamstown team that usually protects the ball better than most in the area, the Tigers were able to force a whopping ten Yellowjacket turnovers between the two contests, including four on Friday night.

“Our kids were definitely able to force them into some mistakes in both games.” Hickman said, in regards to his team’s ability to create turnovers against Williamstown. “We needed that because when you’re playing a good team like that you’re going to have to win the turnover battle.

The Tigers will need to sharpen their claws once more for a similar effort if a win is in store against top-seeded Wahama on Friday night.

“We’ll have to take that same tenacity and pack it in our bags and take it on the road this week because we’re going to need to cause some turnovers against an offense that put 73 points on the board last week.” Hickman said.

After a slim 19-0 win against 16th seeded St. Marys in the opening round of the playoffs, Ed Cromley’s Wahama White Falcons lit up the scoreboard with greater authority in their 73-38 dismantling of East Hardy on Saturday afternoon. All 19 points in Wahama’s first round game were scored in the first quarter. Although he can probably also credit a stern refocusing effort in practice last week, Cromley cites an exploited weakness in East Hardy’s defense as the cause for the offensive explosion.

“I think they played a simplistic defense that let us get to the outside pretty easily and St. Marys didn’t do that.” Cromley said in regards to his opponent last weekend. “I think that was the difference.”

With an offense that emphasizes the run, but can throw the ball as well, the White Falcons also utilized special teams in a total team victory in the quarterfinal round.

“I think what happened on Saturday where we had three touchdowns and snapped the ball once, special teams came into play too.” Cromley remarked in regards to his team’s win over East Hardy. “I think we’re a pretty solid team all the way around. Our goal always at Wahama is to get better from week to week and practice to practice and that’s continuing through the year.”

After joining the Tri-Valley Conference this season – a conference based primarily in Southeastern Ohio – Wahama has played just as many games against West Virginia opponents in the postseason as they have in the regular season. As a result, some cynics have questioned the White Falcons’ strength of schedule. Cromley doesn’t see a difference in his opponents’ strength – good or bad – on either side of the river.

Buffalo was a playoff team and we’ve seen two other playoff teams.” Cromley said, referencing his opponent in Week 11 of the regular season. “So the teams we see, they’ll be up and down – it’s a variety. I can’t see any difference between Ohio schools and West Virginia schools in terms of quality of play.

Wirt County’s Hickman has been impressed by Wahama’s ability to execute at every position, a trait that becomes even more crucial in the postseason.

“Their kids execute everywhere from their line to their backs to their wide receivers. Everyone blocks really well.” Hickman said of his opponent. “It’s not a matter of being surprised by anything, it’s a matter of being able to stop what they’re going to give you.”

As is often the case in football, Cromley feels the game will be decided not by the skill players, but the guys up front – on both sides of the ball.

“I think it’s going to be a battle of the lines, which offensive and defensive lines will rise up and control the game.” said Cromley. “I really think what happens between tackle to tackle will be the difference on Friday night.”

For the Tigers, they know that if a trip to the Island is in store for them next week, the great plays and tenacious defense that got them to this point will have to stay a part of the game plan on Friday night.

“I like the attitude that our kids have had so far this week. They’re loose, relaxed and trying to make some of those plays.” Hickman said. “We’re going to have to make this thing just like last week – get it into the fourth quarter and find a way to win it.”

The game will air locally on V96.9 FM.

AA No. 4 Bluefield (11-1) at AA No. 1 Ravenswood (12-0) – Friday 7:30 p.m.

Folks in Ravenswood will experience something out of their Red Devils this holiday weekend they’ve never seen before – a 13th game for their high school football program.

“For the first time in our school history, we’re playing 13 games.” Ravenswood head coach Dick Sturm remarked. “We went 12-0 and won state championships in the 1970’s, but we’ve never played 13 games.”

Thanks to a 48-20 win over a Roane County team they defeated by just four points in the regular season, the Red Devils are one win away from the Super Six. The big difference for Ravenswood in last week’s rematch was the presence of quarterback Cole Starcher, who didn’t play on offense in the week three meeting between the Red Devils and the Raiders. Starcher ran for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage on Friday night as part of his 192-yard effort in the win against the Raiders.

“They weren’t the same team we played in week three and we weren’t the same team that played them in week three.” Sturm said. “As far as our kids’ execution, we’re peaking at the right time.”

Next up for the Red Devils comes the Bluefield Beavers – last year’s state champions in Class AA. For the first time this postseason, the Red Devils face an opponent they didn’t see in the regular season. Not only is it the first matchup this year between Ravenswood and Bluefield, it’s the first matchup in recent memory between the two schools. Despite the lack of familiarity, Sturm and his staff have the utmost respect for Bluefield head coach Fred Simon and his program.

“Obviously Coach Simon and his staff have done a tremendous job at Bluefield.” Sturm commented. “They’re a perennial power, a perennial playoff team and as far as I know we’ve never played them, so it’ll be interesting.”

Sturm realizes that his Red Devils are a single part of one of the strongest ever playoff fields in state history at the Class AA level. With a combined record of 47-1, it’s a field that doesn’t claim a loss against a West Virginia school. The strength of these teams is a testament to the quality of football being played in Class AA.

“I think it’s pretty tough in the state of West Virginia. Any one of those top teams – one through four – is capable of knocking one another off.” Sturm remarked. “That’s the design of the playoff system, the further you go the tougher it gets. The cream rises to the top.”

For the Red Devils, it’s a chance to continue an adventure into new territory. For Sturm, each playoff run is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to accomplish something few others have done in the history of Ravenswood high school football.

“It’s an exciting time of year for West Virginia football. Regardless of how many times you’ve been there, each trip is special.” Sturm said. “Being in uncharted waters just adds to the excitement.”



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