Plenty of fresh faces in Class AAA semifinals
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- New blood is set to spice up the Class AAA playoff semifinals this year.
Martinsburg, the three-time defending state champion, is joined in the final four field of teams by Wheeling Park, Capital and Huntington - all relative newcomers to this semifinal stuff.
The Patriots haven't made it this far since 1991, the Cougars since 1999 and Huntington has never advanced to this round since old Huntington High and Huntington East consolidated in 1996.
One semifinal game has been set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Park at Huntington) and the other for 1:30 p.m. Saturday (Capital at Martinsburg).
Martinsburg seeks to become the first school to ever capture four straight AAA crowns since the division began in 1958.
"The first thing I told our kids,'' said Capital coach Jon Carpenter, "is that the way everybody thinks about [Martinsburg] is what everybody thought about Capital 15, 20 years ago.
[Martinsburg] has earned that spot. To say they'll keep it forever? Well, they might. But we told our kids if you want to be mentioned in the same sentence with those guys, you've got to compete against them. The kids are excited.''
The Highlanders, meanwhile, have now beaten seven playoff teams in 12 games and have allowed a total of just 16 touchdowns against some of the state's highest-scoring teams.
They edged George Washington 17-13 Friday, scoring on a 9-yard Charles Crawford run with 40 seconds left.
"It feels amazing,'' Crawford said of his team's semifinal spot. "For the first time in history. We've got to win this game now, and then we're off to Wheeling. It's big.''
GW coach Steve Edwards Jr. thinks the Highlanders are capable of representing the Mountain State Athletic Conference very well the rest of the season.
"They've got a good football team,'' Edwards said. "They've got enough to win it. They've got enough to make some more noise. Being undefeated's to their credit. They do a nice job with it, and that's hard to do. You've got to give credit where credit's due.
"They get to play another day, and we've got to wait a whole 'nother year. I'm proud of my seniors. I'm as happy with this bunch as anybody [we've had].''
Wayne, the Class AA kingpin, keeps creeping closer to history as it extends its winning streak.
The top-seeded Pioneers, who face Robert C. Byrd in the semifinals on Friday at Huntington High School, have now claimed 35 straight victories, one short of the record set by Class A Ansted from 1970-73. Ansted was swallowed up in the consolidation that formed Midland Trail.
A victory this weekend would equal Ansted, and if Wayne wins its third consecutive title during the Super Six weekend in Wheeling, the state record would come with it.
One curveball in Wayne's bid came when its home base, Pioneer Field, became so chewed up during Friday's 48-7 victory over Sissonville - which came following three days of rain - that the Pioneers were forced to move this week's semifinal joust to Huntington High.
The other AA semi finds No. 3 Bluefield (10-2) at No. 2 Bridgeport (11-1) on Friday at 7:30.
The Class A semifinals feature a couple lower-seeded teams in one bracket and the two highest-seeded remaining teams in the other.
No. 14 Magnolia (8-4) travels to No. 7 Greenbrier West (11-1) for a 1:30 p.m. Saturday kickoff in a duel of giant killers. West knocked off No. 2 St. Marys Saturday, while the Blue Eagles have tamed No. 3 Valley Fayette and No. 6 Moorefield.
Dark horse Magnolia's four losses have come by a total of 17 points to teams with a combined record of 35-10.
In the other bracket, No. 4 Williamstown (10-2) travels to Weir High for a 7:30 Friday tilt with No. 1 Madonna (12-0).
Madonna exorcised one past demon on Saturday with a wild 77-50 victory over visiting Wahama, a game played in a steady snowfall in Weirton.
Blue Dons quarterback Ross Comis scored six touchdowns in the game and threw for another score. It was enough to take down the defending champion White Falcons (10-2), who got six scores from Kane Roush - three TD runs and three more on kickoff returns. Running back Elliot Nero added four scores for Madonna.
It made amends for a 43-42 overtime loss to Wahama in last year's Class A finals at Wheeling Island Stadium, but Comis downplayed the revenge factor.
"We talked about it,'' Comis said, "but I made it a point that this is nothing about revenge or anything. It was another step we had to take to get to the ultimate goal that we failed on last year.''
Wahama coach Dave Barr thinks the Blue Dons, who have been held below 33 points just once this season and average 49.2 points, will be a tough test for anyone the rest of the way.
"I told coach [Doug] Taylor I just think they are an excellent staff,'' Barr said, "and an excellent program. They've got great design offensively with Ross Comis and Eliott Nero.
"Nero deserves a lot of credit. He's a fantastic football player, too, and they're very big and they're very quick. All the right things at the right time for that program.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.