No. 1 Martinsburg, No. 2 SVHS look to shatter unbeaten records
Both teams in the Class AAA game sport superb credentials this season, as both No. 1 Martinsburg (13-0) and No. 2 Spring Valley (13-0) carry unbeaten records and a long line of one-sided games.
Martinsburg’s defense has allowed only 17 touchdowns in its 13 games (six of those coming in a 50-45 win against Sherando, Virginia), and Spring Valley has permitted just 23 overall touchdowns, which includes nine games against state playoff teams.
Vanquished opponents around West Virginia like the chances of the teams they’ve seen first-hand.
“Martinsburg, they’re just too good,″ said Hedgesville coach Joey Yurish of his Eastern Panhandle neighbor. “Coach (Dave) Walker, he was my high school coach and a great mentor for me. What they’re doing, they’re just a machine over there. They reload year in and year out.
(Walker) says it the best: The depth they have is what enables them to win the way they are. Anytime you take your ones out and compete against anybody in the state with your twos, it shows the development of the program he has in Martinsburg.
“It’s an example of what everyone else in the state wants to be. A lot of speed everywhere, maybe not as big up front as last year, but more aggressive.″
Martinsburg has played eight West Virginia AAA teams this season and beaten them by an average score of 57-5.
Meanwhile, teams that have played Spring Valley rave about the Timberwolves’ defense, which is allowing just 182 total yards per game.
“Defensively, I’m impressed by them because I coach offense,″ said David Darst, coach of AA quarterfinalist Point Pleasant. “I love the way they attack and get to the football. I watched them play against Capital, and they’ve done a good job there.″
Jon Carpenter, coach of No. 3 seed Capital, whose team suffered its only two losses this season to Spring Valley, gives the Timberwolves a chance to beat the dynasty of the two-time defending champion Bulldogs, who have captured six of the last eight AAA crowns and have beaten Spring Valley in the last two AAA finals.
“Oh yeah, I think this is their best team,″ Carpenter said of the Wolves. “Two good teams. It’s going to be a good one.″
CLASS AA TALK: If there’s one team that figures to have its eye on the weather forecast for the Super Six, it’s Fairmont Senior. The Polar Bears will arrive in Wheeling for the Class AA championship game against Bluefield with veteran quarterback Connor Neal and one of the most pass-happy teams in the state. But with the vagaries of late-November weather in northern West Virginia, there’s a good chance they’ll have to play in wet weather, which isn’t always kind to teams that like to throw the ball.
The forecast for Wheeling on Friday calls for a 60 percent chance of showers with highs and lows in the mid-40s and light winds. Kickoff between the Polar Bears and Beavers is 7 p.m.
If it does rain, Fairmont Senior coach Nick Bartic doesn’t think the conditions will hamper his team. Not after the season they’ve gone through.
“It seems like it’s rained almost every game at some point in the evening,″ Bartic said. “A couple times, we had heavy rain the whole game, but the North Marion game was the only real downpour, and we threw for (almost) 400 yards in that game. Two other games it rained a lot, and we had wet balls and stuff, but we still threw it pretty well and our guys were catching it. It hasn’t affected us too bad. The wind would probably be worse if that happened.
“Sure, we like to throw the ball and obviously with our passing game, (rain) would make it more of a factor. But our guys have done a pretty good job of handling that. Another thing we really try to stress to our guys is that both teams have got to play in it. They also have to play pass defense in the rain, and that’s going to make that more difficult.″
Neal comes into Friday’s AA title game with 3,432 yards passing and 45 touchdown throws, vaulting himself into the conversation for the Kennedy Award as the state’s top player. The Polar Bears, who get more than 61 percent of their offense passing the ball, have ridden Neal’s left arm to 13 straight victories and their third consecutive trip to the state finals.
Bluefield coach Fred Simon doesn’t expect that rain will affect Fairmont Senior’s ability to throw.
“I don’t think it will,″ he said. “I think what helps them is that they have a complementary running game with some good backs -- (Caleb) Walker and (Breeden) Gilbert and (Rhett Heston). They have a nice running game and a solid line, anchored by (Zach) Frazier. I think the difference is probably the quarterback. It looks like he’s worked hard and gotten better, and that could be a problem for us.
“I think they’re as good as advertised. What makes them different is that you often don’t have a lot of time to prepare for teams that run the spread, which is all fine and dandy, but not with the quarterback that they have. That makes them what they are. You don’t get too many quarterbacks like him very often. He may be the best quarterback we’ve ever faced, and we’ve faced some good ones. ...”
NO MORE MOOKIE: Like AAA, the Class AA game pits teams that met just a year ago at Island Stadium, and perhaps even more players return on both sides, as Bluefield and Fairmont Senior each lost just five regulars from their 2017 squads.
One big exception, though, is Bluefield tailback Mookie Collier, last year’s Kennedy Award winner who now plays at Marshall University. Collier started and ended last year’s title game with a bang -- ripping off a 60-yard touchdown run early and then batting away a fourth-down Polar Bears pass at his own goal line with 1:10 left to preserve a 29-26 Beavers win. Collier finished the game with 199 yards on a season-high 26 carries.
Simon was asked if this year’s players want to prove they’re still as good as they were with Collier.
“I hope so,″ he said, “but again, you don’t get too many Mookies. I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a better back, and I’ve coached some pretty good ones. If they do an adequate job, I’m good with them. I expect them to play well. There’s not a Mookie in our stable this year, but we’ve got a lot of guys who are going to try their best.″
GRANTHAM’S BACK: Martinsburg’s offense got a jolt of good news with the return two games ago of senior running back-linebacker Dwayne Grantham, a WVU commitment. Grantham missed much of the regular season because of a leg injury.
On the first carry after his return, Grantham broke off a 57-yard touchdown run and had nearly 200 yards and two quarterback sacks on defense. He ran for 248 yards and two scores in those two games.
His return gives the Bulldogs a wealth of talent in the backfield, as sophomore Naieem Kearney has run for 1,136 yards and 19 touchdowns as the featured back, averaging a little more than 10 yards per carry.