North Central Region Preview Part One
With the season rapidly approaching, Coalfields and Co. will be putting out an eight part series (four regions- two parts each) to preview the upcoming season. From the top teams to the dark horses that are looking to break into the playoffs, we will attempt to cover mostly every team that the Mountain State has to offer. In our series, we divided the state into four regions. Covering each corner of the state and letting you know about players and stories that you need to keep an eye out during the 2017 season. Without further to do, here is part three: the North Central Region.
The North Central is the largest region out of our four. Running along the outskirts of the Valley and bordering the Coalfields and Panhandle on the south and east, respectively. This is a polarized region producing the state’s top teams and bottom teams with very few lingering around .500. A home to a bulk of the county schools and a lot of big cross town rivalries. Many traditionally excellent schools set up shop here and state title contenders are plentiful.
Big Times in the Big Ten
The opposing force of the Cardinal Conference in AA football is a conference that has stuck together through classification changes along with addition/subtraction constantly of programs during its existence. It is almost a guarantee- each year a title contender will come out of this conference. A lot of this success comes from Bridgeport and their success over the past 20 years, but there is plenty of quality coming out of this conference. The conference rivals the MSAC for the amount of Division 1 signees tallied over the years and will rival them this year.
The amount of sustained success is profound, and the depth of quality teams is impressive. While some of these teams ride the rollercoaster of talent, a select few are constant athlete pools. As in previous years, the two big dogs going into 2017 are area rivals Bridgeport and Fairmont Senior. Both teams fought two hard, physical, and intense battles last season. Bridgeport stumped the Polar Bears 17-14, seeming to have their number yet another year. However, the two powers would meet again in the semifinals of the AA playoffs. This meeting would go down as a classic. In Double OT and after a highly controversial play, Fairmont Senior would finally get past the Indians and into the State Championships. The two forces will play again this season having a large impact on the conference and state.
From the conference, we see teams that rise up via talent and become contenders, and it happens often. Lincoln last season made noise in the playoffs- scoring a first-round victory. With Kobie Carpenter back at QB, they could make another run as well. Grafton has been down recently, but won the 2008 state championship. Robert C. Byrd is a team that rides waves of talent as well. Some years they will be 5-5 and the next they will be 10-0- that’s dangerous when making predictions for the upcoming season. Lewis County was a regular in the AAA playoffs and is always a disciplined, tough team to play against. They started the season out last season very strong but tailed off at the end; they will be one of our teams to watch this upcoming trying to sneak in the playoffs. Word on the street is Liberty and Philip Barbour are both sporting very solid squads and their schedules work out in their favor, mostly.
The conference is fun to watch from top to bottom and will be exciting to see how it all plays out. They could easily have 5 or 6 teams make the playoffs next season, and they will probably be facing each other early in the playoffs. One last team that will leave a mark this season is the boys from Sutton and the Braxton County Eagles. Led by Heath Cottrill, the Eagles have the talent to win a bulk of their games this upcoming season. Staying healthy is always key, and their schedule is manageable. Braxton County’s toughest game will probably be the last one of the season when they face the #4 pre-season team in AA (Sissonville). They have 4 or 5 games that can be considered swing games. If they are for real, like we think they could be, they can easily have a pretty good record going into that last game. They will be a quiet team this season, and they will sneak up on people in AA. Is the Big Ten the best conference in AA? That’s debatable for sure, but this is setup for a great season for the conference and will give people in the NCWV region a good show on Friday nights.
The Road for the Mohigans
Scheduling tough has always been a pride and tradition for the Morgantown Mohigans. A program who has dominated high school football in the North Central region for many years. With the recent classifications absolutely flipping the division on its head, it left teams like Morgantown struggling to find competition. It would be nice if there were set rules in place to make sure that teams are forced to schedule each other if they are in the same region. It would be make life much easier and not put teams into tough scheduling situations. Morgantown has fallen victim, if not the worse victim, from these recent difficulties.
The Mohigans open up with arguably the toughest two opponents that you could possibly ask for. Morgantown will travel to Pittsburgh powerhouse North Allegheny and will welcome one of the top teams in Ohio in Steubenville. Now who in the world scheduled those games should be questioned for sanity especially in back to back weeks. The next two games are no cake walks with both Brooke and Parkersburg South being playoff regulars. That set ups the annual matchup with the Bulldogs from Martinsburg, a team that beat Morgantown last season 52-0 in the semifinals of the playoffs. After that, Morgantown will play Musselman and Wheeling Park, the #3 ranked team from 2016 and the 2015 State championship team. The “light part” of their schedule has the dark horse of the state with Riverside, and a John Marshall team who has improved over the past few seasons. The season caps off with the Mohawk bowl against the pre-season ranked #5 team in the state, University.
Now my heart and tradition point to the fact that Morgantown has been better than most of these teams. Morgantown has talent as well and the loss of Logan Holgerson won’t hurt as bad as people might think. This isn’t a plea or a beg to give the Mohigans a chance, this is saying don’t sleep on this team. They still are very talented and possess a great coaching staff. The schedule is brutal and one that can wear on a team very quickly. It’ll make every game they play this season incredibly important, but don’t give up on this team yet, they’ll be around.
Quiet Small Rumbles
This region has given us a number of storylines coming out of the small school division in the state. Coming out of the pre-season polls that we had, the region has a number of teams that will be making rumbles this next season. These can be hard to predict but the hype around these teams can be real. The first team on the list are the Cameron Dragons, and they will be hard to really figure out. The Dragons finished 10-0 last season before getting knocked off by Pendleton County in the playoffs. The Dragons return an absolute playmaker at QB in Colby Brown. Brown finished last season with over 2,000 yards in the air, 24 passing TDs on only 2 picks with another 15 scores on the ground. The same question is being asked of the Dragons from last season, how good are they? There isn’t a game on their schedule that will test their level of transcendence so our answer won’t fully be answered until the postseason.
The Bulldogs of Doddridge County are next and while their first two games on the schedule are tough, the rest of it set ups rather nice. This team is big and physical- a team that will come to punch you in the mouth. You can tell from their film that they play with an attitude. The question is if they have enough firepower to make a deep run in Single A. That first game against South Harrison is going to be a huge game, and one that will tell us a lot about both teams. South Harrison is a team from the region who is also on high alert. They might have the best two-headed monster in Single A. With Freddy Canary and Cam Barnette in the backfield, they’ll be very difficult to stop. Barnette is bigger with a bruiser style while Canary is electrifying talent using his speed. Their schedule is not easy, however, they have big games with Doddridge, Steubenville Catholic, Tolsia, St. Mary’s, and East Hardy. They will be tough as any team in Single A, but will they be able to handle the schedule, health wise, to make a run?
A school in the region that would be difficult to not say anything about would be Wheeling Central Catholic. A squadron that is always in contention within Single A- they’ve now added even more talent due to the closing of Bishop Donahue. Everyone knows about Wheeling, but we have one last school from the region that could make some noise that would be the Knights from Sistersville in Tyler Consolidated. They came into the playoffs last year as a 16 seed and would lose to East Hardy in the 1st round. We see them being in one of those situations again but possibly taking another step in the right direction.
It’s hard to touch every team in a region so sometimes we have to wrap it up in a sentence or two going into the season. So, North Central? Tyler Komorowski and the Weir Red Riders are trying to build on a solid outing last season- can they push to the state championship? Will Williamstown assert itself as a power once again or will Jaiden Smith and St. Mary’s run ship again? Liberty (Harrison) led by Broderick Lantz and Roane County both had above average season in 2016, can they improve? The CB Cee-Bees from Blacksville went 7-3 last season but nothing else cooked up in their stew. Elkins has sat around 5-5 for several years and it’ll be interesting to see if they progress up, down, or stay the same. North Marion has a sharp set of uniforms and shouldn’t hang their heads after falling to Point Pleasant by 3 in the first round last year- they should build on their 6-4 record. Notre Dame has a talented quarterback by name of Ryan Laasmar, but he only has three wins under his belt from 2016. Which recent pushover who suffered 7 or more losses will push back in 2017- Madonna, Preston, Tygarts Valley, Hundred, Paden City, Ritchie County, Parkersburg Catholic, Calhoun, East Fairmont, Magnolia, or Wirt County. Gilmer had a great 11-1 run last season before being thumped by St. Mary’s in the second round. Ravenswood and area rival Ripley both went 4-6 even though Ripley capped that off with a 66-0 swamp against their rivals. And a big question mark is placed on historic powerhouse Parkersburg who went 5-5 the past season though several of their losses came close against top AAA’s in the state. Brenton Strange is the returning headliner for the Big Red. Oh yeah, there’s team called Wheeling Park with a QB named Cross and a RB named Rennie- and they know how to win state championships. The North Central is a polarized area with the best of the best… and some of the worst of the worst. It’ll be a great year for some football.
Brooke @ Parkersburg South (October 6th) – For the Bruins, this will be a key game for their playoff push. This is the same for Parkersburg South. Brooke faces the harder stretch of their schedule in the beginning of September, but the 2nd half is where they can make their run for the playoffs.
Preston @ Hedgesville (September 29th) – We haven’t talked much about the Knights of Preston, and we will hit on Hedgesville another day. Both of this teams are fringe AAA playoff teams, and with points being as valuable as they are, this will be important for both teams. With four AA teams on the schedule for Preston, they need the full point total, and the same can be said for Hedgesville playing in a tough region.
University @ Wheeling Park September 15) – A battle of two top 5 pre-season teams with division 1 talent all over the field. This could be a game that will put teams in home field position not only in the first round of the playoffs, but further on than that.
Fairmont Sr. @ Bridgeport (September 15) – Unfortunately, this game is being played the same date as the one above, but this annual battle of two powerhouses from the region is one that you should try to watch. The stakes in this game are similar to the game above, and it could have huge implications of who has to go through who in November. This rematch of the semifinal classic from last season will be fiery and heated and should be a great game.
Lewis County @ Elkins (September 8th) – Two teams that will be fighting for position in AA and both will need the points. Taking a look at each of their schedules, this could be a key game to give them each momentum through the meat of their schedules.
South Harrison @ Doddridge County (August 25) – Spoken above, but worthy of mention again. Possibly the Single A game of the week and will be a battle of two very good teams. We will find out a lot about Doddridge County and whether or not they are for real. For South Harrison, they play a tough schedule and need big wins when they can get them.
South Harrison @ St. Mary’s (October 20) – Late season matchup against two of the top teams in Single A. The defending state champs might have their biggest test when South Harrison rolls into town. This game will see if South Harrison is a State Title contender or a playoff team.
Magnolia @ Tyler Consolidated (October 20) – Both of these teams will need to win this game to make the playoffs in Single A. Tough schedules for both teams will make this game the determining game for their season.