WHEELING, W.Va. — It took No. 3 Martinsburg more than a quarter to find its footing Saturday afternoon in the Class AAA title game against No. 5 Princeton at Wheeling Island Stadium.
When the Bulldogs did just early in the second quarter, they began to impose their will, and in turn, cruised to a 10th state championship.
Martinsburg scored four touchdowns in a span of seven offensive plays during a 28-point second quarter, allowing the Bulldogs to overcome a sluggish opening quarter and handle the Tigers, 57-13.
“We had a couple penalties in the first quarter that killed a couple drives,” MHS head coach David Walker said. “We just needed to settle in and play. Once we did that, we started clicking on all cylinders and things started rolling for us.”
The Bulldogs (13-0) improved to 10-4 all-time at the Super Six and have won 10 straight appearances in title games dating back to 2010.
The teams traded punts to start the contest, before the Tigers (12-2) struck first on Chance Barker’s 44-yard touchdown pass to Dom Collins, which left PHS with a 7-0 lead at the 7:34 mark of the opening quarter.
Making their first Super Six appearance, the Tigers’ strong start continued when they forced a turnover on downs on the second MHS possession.
Another exchange of punts followed, though the Bulldogs gained an advantage when Tyion Jacobs’ boot went 55 yards and was downed at the Princeton 6.
From that point forward it was all Martinsburg, which forced a punt to start its fourth series at the Tigers’ 40-yard line. Three plays later, Bulldogs’ quarterback Murphy Clement rushed for a 31-yard touchdown, though the point-after try was no good, leaving Princeton with a 7-6 lead 8:24 before halftime.
“We just didn’t come off the bus how we wanted to,” Clement said. “They showed up too and they wanted a championship just as bad as we did. We knew we had to basically grow up and finish the game out how we wanted to.”
Princeton elected to keep its offense on the field on fourth-and-1 from its own 29 on the ensuing possession, but Bulldogs’ defensive lineman Xerxees Yancey brought down tailback Marquel Lowe for a 4-yard loss.
Two plays later, Clement tossed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Kashez Gedeon, and the Bulldogs were on top to stay 4:43 before halftime. Koi Fagan’s successful 2-point run allowed MHS to lead 14-7, and Clement’s 48-yard rushing TD 31 seconds later enabled MHS to double its lead.
“The touchdown pass to Kash in the corner turned the game and helped us seal it the rest of the way,” Clement said.
Following another Princeton punt, Martinsburg needed three plays to produce its fourth touchdown, which came on Fagan’s 29-yard run and left the Tigers trailing by 21 with 1:48 to play in the half.
“It’s a big stage. We have a sophomore quarterback and a lot of sophomores out there playing,” PHS head coach Keith Taylor said.
Barker’s 51-yard touchdown pass to Collins on fourth-and-4 with 7 seconds left in the first half made it 28-13, which is where things stood at halftime after the Bulldogs blocked the point-after attempt.
“Dom Collins is a good player and we knew he’d make a few plays,” Walker said. “We wanted to try to minimize him and I wish we’d have done a little better job.”
While that gave the Tigers momentum heading into the intermission, it was short-lived when the second half began.
On the Bulldogs’ third offensive play of the second half, Clement ripped off a 45-yard touchdown run for a 35-13 lead.
Buzz Dover’s interception of a Barker pass enabled MHS to start at the PHS 12 with 8:42 to play in the third quarter, and three plays later, Fagan broke off a 12-yard touchdown run and ran in the 2-point conversion to make it 43-13.
Clement’s 15-yard TD run with 4:21 to play in the third left the Tigers with a 37-point deficit.
“He’s a great player and really showed it today,” Walker said of Clement. “He’s been really good all year, but today he really showed up ready to play. He’s a great kid that’s going to have a really good career somewhere, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for him.”
Clement’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Gedeon on the third play of the fourth marked the game’s final scoring play.
Martinsburg finished with all seven sacks in the game, leading to a loss of 56 yards for the Tigers. As a result, Princeton finished with 6 rushing yards on 24 attempts.
“We knew it was going to be tough to run the ball on them and we’re used to being able to run the ball at will,” Taylor said. “They kind of beat us up upfront. That was the biggest thing — their defensive line really dominated us and it put us in a bad situation.”
Clement rushed for 210 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries. Nicholas Busky added 106 rushing yards on six tries, while Fagan accounted for 77 yards and a pair of scores on six totes. That trio was largely responsible for the Bulldogs rushing for 409 yards on 28 attempts.
Barker completed 15-of-32 passes for 262 yards, while Collins caught seven passes for 169 yards and was responsible for both Tiger touchdowns.
Clement was 6-for-13 with 82 yards. Gedeon totaled 67 receiving yards on four catches, half of which were TDs.
Rashad Reid had two sacks and three tackles for loss in the win, while EJ Hendrix also had two sacks.
Martinsburg finished with 11 TFLs to Princeton’s three.
“We’re good up front. It’s no big secret,” Walker said. “Those guys have played well all year. They’ve worked hard and I was glad to see them do well today.”
(Postgame “Round of Sound”)