Valley 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 five: the Valley Region.
The Valley region is the smallest geographically region out of the four. Don’t let it fool, the bulk of talented teams comes from here. Kanawha County alone produces a ridiculous amount of schools and players. Teams in the State Championship are almost guaranteed to come from the Valley. A different brand of football is held in the Valley- one derived from intense competition. Something we’ll see again in 2017.
A Long Road Back
From the ultimate of lows to now darlings of the state, the Riverside Warriors have become the sweethearts of the 2017 football season. The majority have the Warriors making big moves this season and being a team that will attend the 16 team playoff for AAA. The Warriors finished last season 4-6 after winning three games total from 2012-2015. A span where the Warriors had the longest losing streak in the state. It was the darkest of times for an area that historically has strong traditions on the gridiron. Tingles of pride resonated more and more last season as progression was evident.
This is a new year, however, and the hype train for the Warriors is through the roof. The upward trajectory comes from the amount of positivity coming out of the Warriors’ camp. Players that played young and developed over time under Coach Davis’s care are put into position to succeed. What can we really expect from the Warriors? They are still in the MSAC, a conference that has become even more vicious as the classification changes have set in effect. There is no escaping playing the big dogs anymore; there are no more weeks off to recover; it’s just a brutal schedule. Still on their schedule is Capital, South Charleston, Spring Valley, Morgantown, and George Washington. They will need to win one of those to make the playoffs next year. Their opening against Woodrow Wilson, a fellow MSAC team trying to make ground, will be monumental for getting quality points not mention has developed into a heated rivalry.
What will the Warriors do exactly? That is the ultimate question that really needs to be asked. All state talent returns such as lineman Ben Billanti and quarterback Mark Scites. They have momentum, and they have become the dark horse of the state. It’s an exciting time for not only Riverside but the entire state. When Riverside is good, it adds something really special to the field. With an area that has such a rich tradition in being successful on the field, it really doesn’t feel completely right if they aren’t a force in AAA football. Is this the year they are fully back? Possibly.
The Cardinal Conference
The Cardinal Conference has grown to be one of the best conferences in high school football in the state. While that might be a bold statement or a hot take, we really don’t believe it’s that far off from the truth. When you look at the quality of teams in this conference, you can really tell from top to bottom they are one of the best. While in our camp, there has been debate on whether they have overtaken the MSAC as the top overall conference in the state; the consensus was not quite yet. It’s gaining speed, however, teams year in and year out are competing at the highest of levels in the state. Wayne was a powerhouse team that would always make their way towards Wheeling. While they have fallen off a bit, the word is that they are making a resurgence very quick. Will they be contenders this year? Possibly, but the sure fire bet is that they’ll make a run next season.
Sissonville, Logan, and Herbert Hoover are three long standing stalwarts of the Cardinal Conference. Sissonville had a great season last year and is our preseason #4 team in AA. Logan and Herbert Hoover are two teams that are always on that line of AAA which gives them a small advantage of population over the majority of schools in AA. They are still teams that can sneak up on you though- they have the tendency to fly under the radar at times. Both schools are right there when it comes to AA contention. Winfield and Nitro come down from AAA where they each participated in the MSAC conference. Battle tested for sure, both squads were more than prepared for their Cardinal Conference debuts last season. Winfield has been noted as one of the teams that could be a dark horse for the state this season because of QB Andrew Huff and lineman Grant Dickson. Nitro struggled in their first season in AA, but look to gain footing quickly in the conference.
How can the conference take the next step and overtake the MSAC as the premier conference in the state. Overall talent, it’ll be incredibly tough for them to ever pass the quality of athletes that come out of the MSAC. From overall competition from top to bottom, they might be able to come close. Losing Tolsia to the last round of classifications hurt as the Rebels were coming off a State Title Game appearance. Picking up an outlier in Point Pleasant would help the conference make that push as well. You add Tolsia, Point Pleasant, and possibly one more team to the fray, they will make a strong run at that title. This year is still going to be greatly competitive, with 4 teams from the conference making the preseason top 10. It’ll be a dog fight till the very end, and we can’t wait to see it all play out.
The MSAC can be a very difficult league to navigate. Each team is a top caliber AAA program; each team would be a playoff caliber program, and each team on its own merit has historic value in the state. Teams that go 3-7 or 2-8 could very well be above .500 if in any other conference. Football drives the MSAC for sure and one look at the historic values over the years it is proven to be true. Once squads begin conference play- the season literally goes week by week. No coach would even dare to look too far ahead. The margin for error in the MSAC is so minimal that it can be decided by one bad call or one bad play. If you get that big win against Huntington, congrats, next week you have George Washington. There is zero break in the MSAC. If you blink your eyes you have Ripley beating South Charleston and you’re out of the playoffs.
Preparations for the MSAC schedule begin in the off season and summer ball. You must develop your second team as hard as the first because the schedule will cause injuries and you can not have a big dip in performance. Coaches know this and that is why the MSAC staffs use the Summer sessions vigilantly. Off season programs are a little more intense in that they know that the #2 team is going to play a lot. In all reality, no team right now can complain about their schedule because each one is brutal. The non-conference schedules can make the difference and even some schools elect to play a pure MSAC schedule. Some have had to play out of State schedules because teams in their own region refuse to play them. This in itself makes the conference even more intense. The scheduling can really hurt teams sitting around .500, but it can also push them into the playoffs with quality points.
Teams at the top will be given wealthy seed placement. Looking ahead we have several conference contenders. Capital returns plenty of recognizable names: quality QB Kerry Martin Jr., transfer Quisean Gray, skill players Anthony Pittman and Keiron Martin, and Chase Goldsmith and Breece Hoff on the defense. They lost twice last year to Spring Valley- anchored by three D1 prospects: Doug Nester, Jacob Cassidy, and Owen Porter. They also return their QB, Derek Johnson. Huntington matches Nester with Darnell Wright (OT), and a slew of all state skill players: Jadon Hayes, Shymeik Burger, and Mikal Dawson. Cabell Midland comes off a very non-Cabell Milandlike season in 2016 with junior and reigning first-team all state back Ivan Vaughn accompanied by the all-purpose Korah Booker-Hill, powerhouse lineman Jordan King, and hard hitting defender Griffin Adkins. Finally, George Washington holstered by offense-defense captains, Grant Wells and Tanner Williams, will have to trump Hurricane’s defense: Steven Shine and JT Cooper along with talented South Charleston transfer, Curon Cordon. Hopefully, which ever gladiator is left standing in the valley they will be ready for what awaits them in the northeast.
As said before, it’s hard to capture all of the areas talents in depth so sometimes we have to throw out a bulk of summarized statements or questions: St. Albans went 1-9 last year, but had some close games with good teams, is this a sign? Nitro and Poca’s matchup last year was close, could Poca break their 37-game losing streak on the reigning 1-9 Wildcats? Point Pleasant, yes we’ve postmaturely changed their region, have a significant regular season winning streak, but still chase that state championship in AA- can Cason Payne do what other haven’t? Lincoln County and Valley, on the other hand, went 2-8 and 1-9 respectively, last season and would like to change the reputation they’ve garnered. Buffalo lost Owen Tillis via transfer, but have talented QB Ethan Burgess back- will they recover from their 2016 thumping in the playoffs? Roane County, 6-5, would like to move past the first round as well. Out of Mason County, both Wahama and Hannan went 2-8, can they also change the narrative? And, will South Charleston prove to be winner of the region after making it to the quarterfinals in 2016 behind the arm of Trae Murphy and the defense of Drew Joseph, however, they lost serious talent Curon Cordon. We’ll see.
Capital @ Cabell Midland(September 15) – The annual battle of two of the top teams in the state. Both teams come into the season with very high expectations. For both, this is their crossroads game. They win this one, they put themselves into the drivers seat, if not, they’ll be chasing the other.
George Washington @ Paul Blazer(KY) (September 1) – A game that the Patriots need to win. Placed between South Charleston and Huntington, a win against Paul Blazer will give them much needed points to survive the MSAC.
Hurricane @ Parkersburg (October 20) – For a team like Hurricane who is on the rise but still play a hellacious schedule, going up to Parkersburg and grabbing a win will put a feather in their cap. Hurricane needs a win here to get into the playoffs; so do the Big Reds.
Herbert Hoover @ Wayne (October 6) – The Huskies don’t shy away from anyone, and play as tough of a schedule as anyone in AA. Wayne is on the upswing again, and could become the dominant power like the once were. Mid-season game that will be a swing game for each’s season.
Sissonville @ Winfield (October 13) – Two teams that enter the season in the preseason top 10 of AA. A win here will give the victor a ton of quality points. With a tight race expected in AA, those points are going to be extremely valuable.
Featured image photo credits: WVGazetteMail.com