Wolves better now than in September
SPRING VALLEY — Early in the season, Spring Valley was a really good football team, but the late-season Timberwolves are better.
Teams expect to improve as the season progresses, but No. 2 Spring Valley (13-0) enters Saturday’s noon Class AAA state championship game with top-seeded Martinsburg (13-0) at Wheeling Island Stadium significantly better than it was in September. For instance, the Timberwolves defeated Capital 21-13 on Sept. 28, but routed the No. 3 Cougars 56-14 Friday in the playoff semifinals. The Spring Valley squad that took on Capital early was more of a one-dimensional team that heavily favored the run over the pass. No longer. The balanced Timberwolves have become a dangerous pack.
“This game showed how versatile our team is,” assistant coach Billy Malashevich said of the semifinal triumph. “We have a lot of weapons on offense and a lot of guys who can step up and make plays for us, running the ball, catching the ball, throwing the ball. We’re as versatile as we’ve ever been on the offensive side.”
How would Malashevich, who played on similar high-powered teams at Marshall University in the late 1990s, defend Spring Valley, which ran for 216 yards and passed for 162 on Friday?
“I don’t even want to try to think about it,” Malashevich said, with a laugh.
Some seasons the Timberwolves didn’t pass for 162 yards, never mind in a single game. The insertion of senior Will Adkins as the nearly full-time starter at quarterback, however, has led to a versatile, unpredictable offense where first-down passes have become the norm in a program that once saved throwing the ball for third-and-long situations.
Former quarterback Nate Ellis remains dangerous as a wide receiver and also as a running quarterback who can throw. Adkins is a passing quarterback who can run, as evidenced by his trampling of a linebacker for a 19-yard gain early in the second quarter Friday. Wildcat formation quarterback Graeson Malashevich, Billy’s son, also lines up and quarterback and is excellent running or passing.
“We’ve gotten better,” Timberwolves head coach Brad Dingess said. “We continue to go to work and I think we’ve been progressing every week. We’ve opened it up a little bit. Will’s come along. When we can do both run and throw, we’re pretty balanced. We can be dangerous on either end.”
Spring Valley didn’t fully strike that balance, however, until about one month into the season. Dingess said it took a while for his team to learn what it was capable of achieving.
“We lost a lot of good football players from last year,” Dingess said. “We had to get guys in position and we’ve come along. We’re playing pretty good football right now.”
The Timberwolves have hit their stride at a good time. Martinsburg has beaten Spring Valley 49-7 and 44-16, respectively, in the last two state championship games. The Bulldogs have won six of the last eight state titles and come in averaging 53.9 points per game and giving up 9.2. The Timberwolves average 41.3 and allow 11.5.
“Heading into the state championship, we’re playing our best ball right now,” Dingess said. “We’ll go up there and give ourselves a chance.”