CHARLESTON -- This could be a history-making season for Kanawha Valley schools in the Class AAA playoffs - for all the wrong reasons.
With five weeks remaining in the regular season, schools in Kanawha and Putnam counties have some climbing to do in the SSAC playoff ratings.
Only George Washington (4-1), last year's state runner-up, appears in decent position as far as capturing a postseason berth. The Patriots stood eighth in AAA before last weekend (their bye week), and figure to rise after three teams ahead of them suffered losses on Friday.
Other than that, no one else seems anywhere near a lock to make the 16-team AAA field. And if GW is the lone ranger for the Kanawha Valley come playoff time, it would mark a first.
Since the SSAC expanded its playoffs to a 16-team format in 1991, at least two area teams have qualified every year (see chart). At present, the fewest to ever advance was two, set last year (GW and Hurricane). In 13 of the past 21 seasons, at least four Kanawha Valley teams made it to the tournament.
Here's the road ahead for the other playoff contenders:
It doesn't take much guesswork to figure that several - or all - of those teams could wind up at 5-5, which this year most likely would mean no playoffs.
Desperate times, apparently, dictate desperate measures. Perhaps that's why Jeremy Taylor, Hurricane's first-year coach, went for it on fourth-and-6 from his own 24 with 4:44 left against Capital on Friday while trailing 20-17.
"The way I look at it - there's 41/2 minutes to go in the game. Now a smart man would have punted, but no one's ever accused me of being real smart,'' Taylor said. "I thought their defense had held, held and held, but I thought, 'Man, we're gonna break one.' I thought we've got to go for it. [Receiver] Koi [Turner] said he could hit that 3 route, and he did. He caught it. If it's in his hands, it's caught.''
After that conversion on a 17-yard pass to Turner, Hurricane continued its 80-yard drive for the decisive touchdown in a 23-20 victory, which quarterback Austin Hensley scored on a 1-yard sneak with nine seconds left.
"Hopefully this builds momentum rolling into the next week,'' Hensley said. "All of those games [remaining] are going to be tough games, so we'll see how it goes.''
Taylor and his team realize that despite Friday's thrilling win, nothing is guaranteed for the Redskins.
"They're a good football team - a very good team,'' Taylor said of the Cougars. "But if we don't win that game, we're 2-3 and we've got some tough teams coming up. In this [MSAC] conference, it's always tough - even teams some people think aren't very good.''
Capital coach Jon Carpenter, who saw his squad lose a second straight nail-biter (the Cougars fell to SC 20-17 the previous week), was disappointed at the outcome but not displeased.
"It's hard when you're this young,'' said Carpenter, who starts several underclassmen. "That's what worries you [players losing focus], but that wasn't the case. We had guys giving effort. I think everybody here knows our time is coming.''
Not even GW is assured of a cakewalk to a playoff berth.
The Patriots resume their schedule Friday against rejuvenated Spring Valley (3-2), which has lost only to No. 1 Cabell Midland and No. 5 Huntington. After that for GW, it's Riverside (1-4), Capital (3-2), St. Francis de Sales from Columbus, Ohio (3-3) and Parkersburg (4-2).
Double-A: All on the bubble
Unlike the Kanawha Valley's situation in Class AAA, everyone appears to be in the game as far as the double-A playoffs.
With five weeks left in the regular season, it's hard to eliminate more than a handful of teams for one of the 16 available spots in Class AA. The reason? A supersized middle class.
Following Friday's games, in which 13 of the top 24 teams in the AA rankings lost, only 13 schools remained with four or more wins. Just one other team has a winning record (3-2 Mingo Central).
That means a horde of teams are still very much vying for two or more positions at the bottom of the AA postseason bracket. Currently, there are 10 teams with 3-3 records and five more at 2-3, including Sissonville.
One of the season's top games could be contested in Madison Friday night as Cardinal Conference rivals Wayne (5-0) and Scott (6-0) collide.