AAA newcomer Point Pleasant faces tradition-rich Morgantown
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After a trip to last year's Class AA state championship game, Point Pleasant made its debut in the AAA ranks this season, going 8-2 and earning the No. 12 seed in the playoffs.
But for all intents and purposes, the Big Blacks may just now be about to get formally introduced to the state's highest classification of high school football.
It's hard to think of a school with a richer Class AAA tradition than Morgantown, and it's the No. 5 Mohigans and a 166-mile drive that await newcomer Point today. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at Pony Lewis Field.
Morgantown (8-2) has history on its side, but both coaches know anything can happen on any given Friday or, in this case, Saturday.
"I think they were a top-10 team in any classification last year and just ran into a buzz saw in Wayne," Morgantown coach John Bowers said of Point's run last year. "Point Pleasant is a great program. It's a tradition-rich area. Football is very important in that neck of the woods. It's a great school and when you have great coaching and great players like [Point coach David] Darst has, the product you put out on the field is going to be pretty good."
"We're just trying to find something they don't do well," Darst laughed. "They're big, strong and well coached. We're going to have to play solid defense."
That certainly hasn't been a problem thus far for the Big Blacks, who have given up just 13.1 points per game, and even that is inflated by back-to-back 34-point outbursts from Brooke and Oak Hill, resulting in Point's only two losses.
Morgantown's Chazzy Thomas dislocated and broke his ankle against University in the next-to-last regular-season game after rushing for 1,503 yards and 20 touchdowns in 81/2 games.
The injury didn't immediately hurt Morgantown as Shane Commodore ran for over 100 yards in a win over Brooke in the season finale.
Still, against a defense as stout as Point's has been, it could prove to be a major factor.
"What happens now is that the guys that were your depth are now your starters," Bowers said. "Chazzy is a great player and a great kid. It was a devastating blow, but it wasn't a death blow."
Darst said no matter who's playing, his team will have to play a great game on both sides.
"If you look at us statistically, we're one of the top defenses in Class AAA," Darst said. "To have any shot at all, we're going to have to come out really quick and be solid on that side of the ball. Offensively, we're very capable of putting points up. We can get you in some mismatches and get you into some things that will be in our advantage."
While Thomas carried a big load for Morgantown, Point is most likely one of the most balanced teams in the state.
Marquez Griffin leads the team in rushing with 751 yards, Tylan Campbell has run for 544 and Teran Barnitz 505. The trio has combined for 22 touchdowns on the ground.
Meanwhile, sophomore quarterback Aden Yates has really come on in the second-half of the year and has thrown for 1,296 yards and 17 touchdowns against only four interceptions, all while completing 74.1 percent of his passes.
"They're very disciplined in their wing-T," Bowers said. "They do some things that are very different. You have to play sound, fundamental football and play your assignments."
Darst said Yates has been the biggest difference in the Big Blacks cruising through their final four games after losing two and winning two close ones over Lewis County and Winfield by a combined five points.
"Honestly, the biggest reason we've rolled is because our quarterback has really come on the last five weeks," Darst said. "I mean he's come alive. We know we've got a special player. We had a good one last year [Eric Roberts] who set all the school's passing records. Well, this one is going to break those before he's done."
Morgantown quarterback Mark Johnson has thrown for 780 yards and 11 TDs on 64-of-100 passing. Jalen Thomas (606 yards, seven TDs) and Alex Weidman (347 yards, eight TDs), along with Commodore, will attempt to pick up the slack in the rushing game left by Chazzy Thomas' injury.
The winner plays in next week's quarterfinals against the survivor of the No. 4 Huntington-No. 13 Elkins contest.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.