CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the second straight season, a newcomer will play in the Class AAA Super Six finals at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Huntington and Wheeling Park, who lock up in a playoff semifinal tonight on the Highlanders turf, get to decide just which one makes that visit. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Bob Sang Stadium.
The top-seeded Highlanders (12-0) have never made it this far since old Huntington High consolidated with Huntington East in 1996, while the No. 5 Patriots (11-1) have been to the state finals just once - 22 years ago when it was held at Laidley Field, losing to Capital 15-14.
The Super Six was moved to Park's own Wheeling Island Stadium in 1994. Last year, Cabell Midland made its first trek to the championship game, falling to Martinsburg. So whomever wins tonight earns its initial appearance in the 20th Wheeling Super Six.
Obviously, both coaches consider tonight's game an opportunity to mark a milestone.
"It would be huge for our program,'' said Highlanders coach Billy Seals. "If we're fortunate enough to come out with a win, the opportunity to play in a state championship is what we wanted for our program. It's something I want to shoot for every year I'm here - to be a constant contender for the state championship. I think it would be tremendous for our community and for our school.''
Patriots coach Chris Daugherty likewise realizes what a win would mean tonight.
"I think it's something every high school coach and every high school kid starts talking about when they sign up for football,'' Daugherty said, "and start banging weights around in July.
"For this group of seniors, they talked about it their freshman year because of the talent behind them. They knew it was a goal of ours and they've done a great job of staying focused and working toward this. When some of our [current] juniors and sophomores came into this program, those seniors let them know right away this was a goal. We're excited about being one of the last four in the state, but at the same time we're not satisfied. These guys have a goal of playing in front of a home crowd for the state championship.''
One of game's focal points is how well Park's potent offense - which cranks out more than 40 points per game - does against Huntington's staunch defense.