Notebook: Intriguing matchups are plentiful on quarterfinal weekend

(Note: All quotes below are from guests on the Sunday, November 13 edition of CityNet Statewide Sportsline or the Wednesday, November 16 edition of High School Sportsline.)

Twenty-four high school football teams will be in action Friday or Saturday with the common goal of extending their season into Thanksgiving week and playing in a state semifinal.

A closer look at some quarterfinal contests:

Class AAA

Bridgeport braces for another shot at Martinsburg

A year ago in what was Tyler Phares’ first season as Bridgeport’s head coach, the Indians went to Martinsburg for a state semifinal and fell to the Bulldogs, 21-0.

The next week, Martinsburg won its ninth state championship over the last 12 years.

This season, the two teams meet again in the playoffs, albeit one round earlier than in 2021. It’ll be the last of 12 quarterfinal games after Bridgeport opted to play Saturday night for a second straight week following its 41-13 opening-round victory against Cabell Midland.

“It’s a battle right now trying to find charter buses and other things as well, so a lot of logistics are going into this,” Phares said. “It isn’t just show up and play unfortunately. We have some things that we have to cover. We had a pretty physical game with Cabell Midland, so we have some injuries we’re trying to get healed up. We’re a proponent of what we always do. Our kids want to keep a routine. Playing Saturday night at 7:30, we’re used to it now, so we’re going to roll with it.”

The sixth-seeded Indians (9-2) are riding a three-game win streak, while the No. 3 Bulldogs (9-2) are winners of four straight.

MHS has one of the state’s most explosive offenses keyed by a prolific passing attack and quarterback Ezra Bagent. 

Murphy Clement, who also sees action behind center, is more of a running quarterback and missed last season’s game against Bridgeport when he was sidelined with an injury.

“He’s a little bit of a different aspect,” Phares said. “He’s a special player and he can do a lot of things. We know we have a little bit of a different look coming at us there. Bagent has gotten much better from last year. He’s thrown the ball very well and throws it on time. We know we have a different beast coming at us this year.”

 

Jefferson heads back to Huntington

For the second straight week, No. 10 Jefferson has a six-hour trip to Huntington.

After earning an impressive 34-14 victory at Spring Valley last Saturday, the Cougars will clash with No. 2 Huntington at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Bob Sang Stadium.

“It’s going to be tougher,” JHS head coach Craig Hunter said. “They’re a team that was in the state championship last year and if you take a couple things away, they’re in that game. They return a lot of kids from that team and they’re No. 2 in the state for a reason. We told the kids that they’re going to play almost the same defense that we saw last week, but a little bit more athleticism with those linebackers. They can get in space a lot faster and close the space a lot faster. 

“The game plan is going to have to change a little bit. But the game plan for us and every team is to get the ball to the best guys in space and let them do work. They have some great corners, really good linebackers and they’re big up front and fast.”

On the flip side for the Cougars is the task of trying to slow one of the state’s top signal-callers in Highlanders’ quarterback Gavin Lochow.

“Gavin is a great player and great athlete,” Hunter said. “He’s one of the best in the state. The game plan for us is to try to make sure we keep him corralled up and when we get a hold of him, tackle him. He’s really tough to tackle. He does what our QB does and extends plays and those athletes they have will find open spaces and he’ll get the ball to them. It’s going to be a challenge for our secondary. We’re pretty deep there. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out.”

Jefferson is seeking its first trip to a state semifinal in the school’s 50-year history. A year ago, the Cougars came up a win short of accomplishing that when they were beaten at Bridgeport in a quarterfinal.

 

Class AA

North Marion set for first matchup with Roane County

Two years after they were scheduled to square off in the regular season, No. 6 North Marion and No. 3 Roane County meet with the stakes much higher.

Back in 2020, the Huskies and Raiders were unable to battle during a season that became somewhat of a scheduling nightmare as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Marion coach Daran Hays. (Photo by Teran Malone)

While NMHS and RCHS have a two-year series in the works in the near future, the first meeting between the schools Friday night in Spencer will have plenty at stake.

“They’re extremely physical and really well-coached,” Huskies’ coach Daran Hays said. “It’s a great environment to play in. A couple coaches and I went to Spencer on Saturday because I think there’s still some validity to being able to see the game live as opposed to just on film. They come off the ball so well. Their pad level is great. They play with great energy and effort and their fans are really rallying behind them. They have an awesome community there. It ought to be a great football game.”

The Huskies (9-2) will look to hand the Raiders (11-0) their first loss and Hays believes they must hold their own at the line of scrimmage to have a chance.

“Our defensive line has been one of our strong suits, but we tend to be a lot more physical when we’re in space against a Lincoln or Fairmont Senior when you’re not getting as much 31 personnel where they’re coming straight at you,” Hays said. “The one time we got it was Frankfort and we kind of failed miserably. That’s going to be mentioned throughout the course of the week. Our guys look forward to an opportunity to prove that we’re not real soft. We don’t have the size they do. We’re not tiny by any stretch, but we’re going to have to do it with toughness, sacrifice and letting our linebackers make some plays and get in the mix.”

 

Independence looks to get even with Fairmont Senior

Veteran Independence coach John Lilly figured one way or another, the Patriots would have to get through Bluefield and Fairmont Senior to win Class AA.

What Lilly didn’t bank on, however, was his team having to do just that in consecutive weeks to start the postseason, particularly after the No. 2 Patriots (10-0) finished the regular season unbeaten.

“We didn’t expect to play Bluefield and Fairmont back-to-back, but that’s the way it fell,” Lilly said.

One week after being significantly challenged in a 20-12 victory over the Beavers, Independence will welcome Fairmont Senior on Friday night. It’s a rematch of last year’s AA title game won by the Polar Bears 21-12, which allowed FSHS to notch its third state championship since 2018.

A year ago, FSHS won the title as a No. 16 seed. This time around, the Polar Bears (8-3) are a No. 7 seed.

“[Fairmont Senior offensive coordinator Mark Sampson] does a great job,” Lilly said. “He’s going to spread you out and maneuver around to try and find something, and when he finds something, they’ll ride it. That’s what great coaches do. Last year, he caught us in a coverage and busted us once. It’s very hard to defend them. You can’t bracket one guy, because they have three guys. Dylan Ours, when they put him in the backfield, it’s like tackling a tank. It’s an enormous challenge for us and they do such a good job of trying to get their fast guy on your slow guy.” 

 

Class A

Wheeling Central to clash with Wahama

Wheeling Central Catholic defeated Man, 41-7 (Photo by Robert Ovies Sports Photography)

One week after it had the luxury of staying home in an opening-round win over Man, No. 5 Wheeling Central (10-1) hits the road for a second-round matchup at No. 4 Wahama.

The White Falcons (11-0) enter unbeaten and fresh off an impressive 52-21 victory against St. Marys. While much of the talk has rightfully been on a high-powered offense, Wahama’s defense forced seven turnovers — four interceptions and three fumble recoveries — against the Blue Devils.

“Especially as the weather gets cold, snowy and rainy, ball security and time of possession are huge,” Central coach Mike Young said. “You can’t be turning that thing over. When you turn it over that many times, that means they’re playing pretty good defense. They say offense wins games and defense wins championships and I don’t know how much truth there is to it. I think it’s a combination of both.”

Outside of a 27-22 win over South Harrison, Wahama has scored at least 47 points in every other game, making it an equally, if not more imposing challenge for the Maroon Knights’ defense.

“They’ve put 60 and 70 points up every week,” Young said. “That’s a credit to their kids and staff. We have our work cut out for us to stop them. We’ll put together a game plan, try to execute and play defense the best we can.”

 

James Monroe and Greenbrier West meet again

Of the 12 quarterfinal contests across the state, three are three regular-season rematches and one in each classification.

In Class A, that happens to be top seed James Monroe (11-0) against No. 8 Greenbrier West (10-1). 

When the teams met back on October 7, the Mavericks had their way in a 27-0 victory — one of five shutouts this season for JMHS.

However, James Monroe head coach John Mustain is not putting much stock into the regular season result.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s all new,” Mustain said. “It’s a totally different season. If you make the playoffs, you have two seasons. We’ve been fortunate enough the last couple of years to get there. I’m sure there’s adjustments that they’ve made, just like there are adjustments we’ll try to make. We didn’t exactly shutdown [Cavaliers running back Ty Nickell]. He had about 150 yards against us that day. He’s such a great running back. They’re very similar to us and they have a lot of other weapons as well. 

The Cavaliers finished the regular season with seven shutouts themselves and recorded an eighth last week in an opening-round victory against South Harrison.

“It could come down to a defensive battle or it could come down to a shootout,” Mustain said. “There are so many similarities between our team and coach [Toby] Harris’ team. I just hope we’re up for the occasion and I hope our kids come in with focus.”





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