Class AAA playoff picture remains clouded
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Most years, Class AAA coaches would set six victories as the goal for their teams. That magic number meant an almost-certain spot in the playoffs.
But this year, who knows?
What figures to be a glut of seven- and six-win teams could cloud the playoff picture heading into the final week of the regular season. As many as 10 teams could still finish at 6-4 in AAA, and would likely be vying for only a few spots in the 16-team bracket.
And then there's the Elkins situation, which could jumble the ratings even more depending on what the SSAC, Randolph County schools and possibly the judicial system decide this week about the status of running back L.J. Lawrence.
Lawrence, who leads Elkins with nearly 1,500 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, was declared ineligible by the SSAC last week because of residency requirements, forcing the school to forfeit its seven wins and (at that point) a No. 8 ranking in Class AAA.
But the special circumstances surrounding Lawrence, who can technically be considered homeless, have prompted legal action on his part. A motion for a temporary restraining order has been filed in Randolph County and a judge is set to rule on the request today.
Thus, followers of state high school football have been left with two sets of playoff ratings - one with Elkins 7-2 and still eligible for the postseason and one with Elkins 0-9 and ineligible. Capital, for instance, coming into Friday's game, was No. 13 in the SSAC's official ratings (before the Elkins forfeits) and No. 15 in the other listing (figuring in the forfeits). The SSAC releases its weekly ratings on Tuesday afternoon.
It's been 13 years since a Mountain State Athletic Conference team finished with six wins and didn't make the AAA playoffs (Nitro, 1999).
So what does all that mean to Capital coach Jon Carpenter, whose team knocked off its second straight top-10 opponent with Friday's 35-14 win over Woodrow Wilson to get to 6-3?
"Now, we've got to have seven [wins],'' Carpenter said.
The Cougars travel to Huntington Friday to face the state's No. 3 Highlanders (8-1), whose stingy defense has allowed just 11 touchdowns in nine games.
"We're going to practice hard this week,'' said Capital running back James Richmond, who ran for 100 yards for a fourth straight game. "We're going to go out to Huntington this week and beat them. We're really confident.''
Among other Kanawha Valley contenders, George Washington locked up a spot in the AAA bracket with a 49-20 win over Columbus DeSales (Ohio), which put the Patriots at 7-2 and probably back in the No. 4 slot following a loss by previous No. 4 University. GW hosts Parkersburg (4-5) on Friday.
Hurricane (6-3) could be jostling with Capital for the No. 8 spot when the new ratings come out, but the Redskins finish up with No. 1 Cabell Midland (9-0), the lone unbeaten remaining in AAA.
South Charleston (6-4), meanwhile, can only sit and await the outcome of this week's games, since it's completed its regular season. Some projections have the Black Eagles holding at No. 17, one spot out of the playoffs.
The team SC could be sitting right behind is Woodrow (6-4), which finished in that same No. 16 slot last year and earned a first-round trip to defending champion Martinsburg.
Flying Eagles coach John H. Lilly, whose team concluded its regular season at Laidley Field with Friday's loss to Capital, is another of those teams in limbo this week. In between the uncertainty of how this week's games will shake out involving the other contenders and the legal cloud looming over the Elkins situation, Lilly realizes just how much things can change in the next week.
"I don't know if we're in or not,'' Lilly said, "but I'm sure the Elkins thing will make life rough for lots of people this week. You like to see things earned on the field - and I'll just leave it at that.
"It should always be what you do on the field, and not what you do in court. We saw that debacle a couple years ago. As usual, we have a tendency to punish a whole lot of people for one person.''
Lilly was referring to the fight at the end of the SC-Hurricane quarterfinal game in 2010 that left four ejected Black Eagles players ineligible for the playoff semifinal. A court injunction later permitted those four to play, but the Supreme Court ultimately overturned that decision following the semifinal, causing SC to forfeit its win over Brooke and putting the Bruins into the AAA title game.
The Kanawha Valley's other playoff hopefuls also have demanding tasks ahead this week.
Sissonville (5-4) could be locked in a playoff play-in game with visiting Braxton County (5-4) in Class AA. Depending on the Elkins situation, the Indians figure to be just out of the mix when the next rankings come out (perhaps 18th) and the Eagles barely in at 15th.
Some of the teams directly ahead of Sissonville in the ratings face tough games on Friday - Clay County (5-4) against Tug Valley (7-2), Westside (5-4) against River View (5-4), Summers County (6-3) against Valley Fayette (8-1) and Wyoming East (6-3) against Liberty Raleigh (5-4).
The other area team chasing a postseason spot, Class A Buffalo (7-2), figures to drop a couple places from seventh following a last-second 21-20 loss at Symmes Valley (Ohio).
The Bison has no time to mourn, however, since it closes the regular season at unbeaten Wahama (9-0), which was ranked No. 2 last week.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.