The final part to our intensely researched series. This is by no means a definitive answer but we’re in the ballpark. We have analyzed stats to death, talked to endless of amounts of players and coaches, and we have decided on our greatest team to ever. Now, we understand the clear advantage of AAA’s in this setup and next off-season we will take on AA and A solely. Check out parts one through three below and enjoy!
’73 East Bank vs ’16 Martinsburg
The Bulldogs found themselves in a very unfamiliar place. Calvert Field of East Bank- a school disbanded before they were even born. Now, they lined up against boys generations older wearing draping jerseys and giant pads. Their tight jerseys and flashy colors perfectly contrasted the old-style facemasks and uniformity of their opponents. Both squads were nervous to be playing a half with rules they weren’t used to. The first half would be played with Martinsburg’s modern officiating while the second would be in East Bank’s old rules.
A lot of respect was shown both ways during the coin toss and when Martinsburg won, Coach Walker was ready to show the 70s his high-flying offense. Martinsburg definitely had size advantage obvious on the kickoff. However, once the ball was booted- it became regular football. The Bulldogs picked the pace up fast and had the Pioneers spread and out of position often. Also, their were several pass interference penalties going down the field. Mikey Jackson took an inside zone 23-yards for the first score.
The ensuing Pioneer drive began with two stuffs of Claude Geiger by Trey Henry. Head coach Don Payne had prepared for such a stall. With an off-set fake to another back, Geiger released on a wheel as the Martinsburg D played over aggressive. Geiger was hit down the sideline where he broke several tackles and went 66-yards to the house. The stadium was electric. Yet, the Pioneers’ defensive line had a learning curve with the offensive line using their hands to block. Though Greg Huffman and Don Payne had multiple pressures on Tyson Bagent, he got them off just in time. Back-to-back scoring drives had Martinsburg up 21-7. A late drive led by unique play calling allowed East Bank a field goal going into the half. 21-10.
Martinsburg wasn’t entirely happy with only being up by 11 with their rule-advantage. Even though the Pioneers had not been in this position ever, the fact that it was their field and their rules had given them a spark as they started the second. The offense-defense exchanges became like two heavyweights trading blows with the Bulldogs holding their own. As cracks, iso’s, and toe-to-toe running pounded, East Bank scored back-to-back drives while the Bulldogs struggled blocking and getting off the ball.
The Bulldogs coaches got in their ears and informed them on how to realign how to play. Midway through the fourth, East Bank pounded Geiger trying to milk the clock up by three. Big stops had them at third and long. With a play-action rollout, Tavis Lee got loose and strip sacked the ball into the arms of Dewayne Grantham who took it all the way back. 28-24 Martinsburg.
Three minutes remained and East Bank continued their dominant run game. However, the time was very much against them. The Bulldog frontline slowed them down just enough for them to go to passing as the seconds ticked away. Quick pressure off the edge and great DB play put the game on ice and a final hail mary was batted down. The Bulldogs had survived their Bronze Era foe and now went on to the championship matchup.
’73 East Bank (24) ’16 Martinsburg (28)
’79 Bridgeport vs ’89 Capital
The Bridgeport Indians stood on the sidelines of Bridgeport Athletic Field prepared to take on the team plus Stonewall Jackson that took overtime to beat the previous round. Like it had been every time as they would say, they were doubted. The Cougars were well aware they were in their house but carried a noticeable chip on their shoulders. It was especially evident requesting to take the ball first.
Will King, the quarterback of the Cougars, returned with several more stars to rematch with Bridgeport. Jerome Dean became an early force on both sides of the ball but especially with his running as the Indians tried to focus on King. This didn’t work and a Scott Ayres offensive line paved them down for an easy score. Wayne Jamison didn’t flinch and running back Charlie Fest ran himself down the field on a 15-play drive to tie it at 7-7.
Capital kept up their quick hitting offense. Passes to Eric Smedley had them deep in Indian territory quickly and a QB power took them back 14-7. As every great matchup could be, going into the second, Bridgeport stuck to their guns and landed another long drive and a Bobby Marra touchdown this time around. They left too little time for Capital to gain a touchdown and though being sliced up, they were tied 14-14 at the half.
What was prolonged in their second-round game could be not be said again. The opening drive was swallowed up by Todd Robinson and a swarming Capital defense. A deep punt return set up a corner route where King hit a throw over two men. Once again, despite several first downs, Capital forced a fumble and carried momentum.
The next two drives going into the fourth could have had anyone on Capital’s squad score. They fed into the momentum and who ever touched the ball made a play. Though Bridgeport’s stars still were making plays such as back-to-back sacks by Brad Minetree, it was almost as if it wasn’t meant to be. Roger Jefferson put in the subs, and they kneed it out in a less dramatic fashion than the previous round for Bridgeport. They made it incredibly far but weren’t enough and fell 35-14.
’79 Bridgeport (14) ’89 Capital (35)
’89 Capital vs ’16 Martinsburg
Wheeling Island was filled to the brim. A sea of blue and silver on one side and an ocean of black and orange on the other. A school in its first year of existence versus a program in the middle of a dynasty unseen before. Both teams revolutionized the rate of offense matched with an incredibly stout defense. Two legendary coaches, two all-state quarterbacks, multiple Hunt/Huff Award winners, and more college players than the eye could see. All here in front of generations of fans to decide who really is the best team ever.
The first quarter could be explained with one word: bland. In almost a cross-out effect, the stars on both sides cancelled each other out. When Tyson Bagent made a good throw, Will King would break and knock the pass out. When Tavis Lee got the edge on a lineman, the stellar offensive line would adapt and halt him. Very few yards were gained and very few mistakes were made.
Some clever play-calling by Coach Walker had the Bulldogs gain traction. Creatively using Isaac Brown had them finally get close enough for field goal going up 3-0. Similar reaction and style-calling by Roger Jefferson came back around. Eric Smedley caught a deep bomb over the Martinsburg secondary. A quick three-and-out ensued after big stops from Jalen Hesen. With the second quarter almost over, Capital thought about going for it but elected to kick a field goal and tie 3-3 going into the half.
The third quarter would forever go down as one of the sloppiest quarters either team would ever play. Bagent fumbled a snap on the opening drive but recovered only to throw a pick two plays later. Capital would foil the opportunity as well as Grant Harman would dive for a deflected pass and a takeaway. Late in the third, both quarterbacks had open receivers and missed the throw. Two teams fearless and clutch from game one both felt the pressure of the moment.
Where the quarterbacks struggled, the lineman picked up. Big plays again and again by Hesen and Lee held Capital at bay until the offense got going. It only took one play. Halfway through the fourth, Bagent faked a zone to Dewayne Grantham whom had been the horse all day and saw Brown running down the seam. As Todd Robinson reached him, he let loose a perfect pass over the coverage into Brown’s arms and strolled into the endzone. 10-3.
Jefferson chose his traditional approach. Nothing fancy. This was just another game, and they were going to win like they always had. A mixture of off-tackle runs by Jerome Dean, several play-actions that turned into scrambles, and finally, as Martinsburg crowded the box with seconds remaining on their own ten- a sweep to Smedley who dove into the corner pylon. At this point, the kicker stayed on the sideline.
A roar of decades went through Wheeling Island. Capital had clutched it and now, they chose not overtime but to win it straight up. The lights were the same, the field was same, and both teams were drenched in sweat and a little bit of blood. There was no doubt the play call. Martinsburg stacked the box. Capital stacked the backfield. King took the snap and moved behind his running backs and line. Henry and Hesen dug potatoes and stuffed the middle. King took the ball off tackle where he would meet Grantham and Lee on their heels.
’89 Capital (?) ’16 Martinsburg (10)
So yeah, we took a cop-out, but we will let the people decide who wins that battle at the goal line. All teams in this and several we didn’t include should all be talked about when the greatest is taken into account. Our personal opinion, as showed in our narrative above, is that the modern generation could adjust to the toughness of that style just as the older generations could adjust to the spread and speed of the modern age. All these teams are legendary and it was a blast shining a light statistically but also fictionally.