#16 Lewis County at #1 Fairmont Senior
The Polar Bears are entering the playoffs with an unblemished record after playing one of the toughest strength of schedules in the entire state. Led by one of the frontrunners for the Kennedy Award in Connor Neal, Fairmont Senior’s ferocious passing attack has been the downfall of teams such as Bridgeport, Weir, Robert C. Byrd, and University (AAA). The Lewis County Minutemen have reached this contest by compiling a 6-4 record and securing their biggest wins over the likes of North Marion and Buckhannon-Upshur. The Minutemen are led by quarterback Caden Rohrbough and running-back Marshall Hobbs. They have talented line and have held close with good teams. However, their early matchup with the Polar Bears did not go well.
Fairmont Senior’s Gameplan: Fairmont Senior will be leaning on their powerful offensive and defensive lines anchored by senior Nathan Clifton and junior Zach Frazier. If the Polar Bears are able to protect Neal, then Coach Bartic will likely press the Polar Bear passing attack. The Polar Bear defense will need to be prepared for Lewis County’s crafty runners, but they have allowed less than 10 points per game to opponents throughout the season, so the Minutemen will be essentially running into a brick wall.
Lewis County’s Gameplan: Lewis County will be travelling up to East-West stadium, which is only about an hour commute, but the Minutemen were 2-3 on the road in the regular season, which could make this matchup even tougher for them. Lewis County will no doubt attempt to hold possession for as long as possible and use their strong runners to chew up clock while methodically grinding down the field. The Minutemen felt the wrath of Conner Neal earlier in the year, so their best chance is to try to limit the Polar Bear’s possessions and keep the pressure on Neal throughout the night.
#15 Oak Hill at #2 Bluefield
The Beavers of Bluefield enter the playoffs as the #2 seed after suffering only one loss in the regular season. However, behind a slew of powerful linemen and a seemingly endless supply of talented skill players they remain undefeated against any West Virginia team, their sole loss coming against Lord Botetourt High School of Virginia. Their opponent, the Oak Hill Red Devils, enter the playoffs at 7-3 with losses to undefeated Nicholas County, “A” unbeaten Midland Trail, and their upcoming opponent Bluefield. The Red Devils have a veteran line, dual-threat QB Khori Bass, and breakout star RB/WR Abe Farrow. They, however, were crushed by Bluefield earlier in 2018.
Bluefield’s Gameplan: Bluefield will likely be taking the same approach to this game as they have all others; dominate the line of scrimmage and get the ball into the hands of their playmakers. Coach Fred Simon is no stranger to the playoffs, and you can be certain he will have his team prepared for their playoff matchup as he enters his 33rd year as the head coach of the Beavers. Expect to see senior Juice Edwards get a fair amount of carries as well as Arnold Martin and JJ Davis. The Beavers will likely keep the ball on the ground and try to find success in the run game before going to the air, and the way they’ve been running the ball thus far, we may not see Quarterback Chandler Cooper throw a single pass in the contest.
Oak Hill’s Gameplan: We’re fairly certain that Oak Hill will spearhead their offensive attack with the dynamic duo that is Khori Bass and Abraham Farrow. Bass and Farrow have been a force to be reckoned with in the southern part of the state this year, but Oak Hill’s defense is still a big question mark. The Red Devils gave up 47 to both Wyoming East and Nicholas County while Pikeview managed to score 35. With as many weapons as Bluefield has, this can certainly be problematic, but as we know anything can happen in the playoffs.
#14 Frankfort at #3 Bridgeport
The Indians fell short of a perfect season by one game, but they look just as powerful as if they had gone undefeated. Bridgeport’s only loss came at the hand of Fairmont Senior, but they had many close contests along the way. AAA Buckhannon-Upshur and Robert C. Byrd both nearly took down the Indians, only falling by 1 and 6 points respectively. Frankfort doesn’t play one of the stronger schedules in the state, but finished 8-2 nonetheless. Their biggest wins include a 28-point victory over the Petersburg Vikings and a 36-point win over Berkeley Springs. They have had a bounce back year thanks to two talented backs and an improved defense. This one might be closer than people might expect.
Bridgeport’s Gameplan: Bridgeport is traditionally known for their big, powerful offensive linemen and hard- nosed backs who aren’t afraid to fight for yardage. This year is likely to be no different as the Indians will rely heavily on star tailback Jake Bowen. However, Bridgeport can’t be afraid to go to the air and put their faith in quarterback Devin Vandergrift, a weapon that has been extremely underutilized throughout the season.
Frankfort’s Gameplan: Frankfort is also a run-heavy team that will likely devote most of their snaps to the ground game. Coach Whiteman is expected to put the ball into the hands of his two main playmakers Nick Marley and Dalton Pollock. These two backs have the ability to cut and run, but also bring a special strength factor to the field. These teams have met a total of five times in the past, including the 2014 state championship. Frankfort has never beaten the Indians.
#13 Petersburg at #4 Nicholas County
Possibly one of the most impressive teams we’ve seen in “AA” this season, Nicholas County enters the playoffs as the only undefeated “AA” squad aside from Fairmont Senior. The Grizzlies made short work of almost all of their opponents; the only game that they won by less than a 20-point deficit was a 2-point victory over the Shady Spring Tigers who earned a #11 playoff seed. The Petersburg Vikings enter the playoffs at 7-2 after a WVSSAC error led to referees not being present for their Week #3 contest against Grafton, which resulted in a cancellation of the game. Petersburg lost a tight contest to Weir in the regular season but amassed a huge 32-point victory over Tucker County shortly after.
Nicholas County’s Gameplan: Quarterback Jared Sagraves has had an outstanding season for the Grizzlies thus far, but the game plan will likely be centered around the run game to attempt to expose Petersburg’s lack of size. Expect to see Jacob O’Dell get the bulk of the carries in the contest as Nicholas County attempts to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Sagraves, if forced to throw, will need to find multiple receivers instead of his favorite target Nick Kiser.
Petersburg’s Gameplan: Petersburg will likely come in with a different strategy. The Vikings are expected to go to the air and rely on the strong passing attack led by quarterback Jacob Hartman. Tyce Wisnewski and Peyton Singledecker will likely be Hartman’s main targets, while we can expect to see running-back Zack Wampler get the majority of carries on the ground. This one could turn into a ground vs ground or air vs air- it is hard to tell.
#12 Weir at #5 Poca
Though Weir was the cover child of our magazine, Poca has been the Cinderella story thus far. Going from breaking a 35+ game losing streak to finishing 9-1 is a big accomplishment. They are legitimately good with great wins. Jay Cook, Dakota Meadows, and Bronson Skeens lead this team now that all-star Ethan Payne is out with injury. Weir also suffered a down stretch with Tyler Komorowski out, but he is back (not sure if 100%). However, they still have three down back Donovan Kirby and electric athlete Sebastian Spencer that has been pinnacle in yet another playoff appearance.
Weir’s Gameplan: Depending on if Komorowski is healthy, they will give certain loads to Kirby. The Dots’ front is underrated and is not easy to run on. Their secondary is not easy to throw over either. A solid mix of Spencer spreading the offense out (if QB) and Kirby off tackle could get a repeat result of Wayne’s performance last week. Stopping the offense will need for Reed Reitter to keep his eye on Skeens stretching the field.
Poca’s Gameplan: Owen McClanahan will need to have a big game. Weir’s secondary is talented, and they will have to be patience marching the ball down the field. Defensively, if they load up and stop Kirby the Red Riders are in trouble. Depending on if Komorowski is at QB, their pass attack is lackluster and could have the visitor’s on their heels early.
#11 Shady Spring at #6 Robert C. Byrd
Shady Spring broke back into the playoffs after recovering from their years in AAA. They played a weaker schedule but still had some impressive games including a close battle with Nicholas County. Led by veteran back Tyler Bragg and all-state linemen. Robert C. Byrd has an impressive resume with their only losses coming to #1 and #3. They have the most prolific runningback in school history, Ghovan Davidson, and another explosive offensive weapon Jeremiah King. Their line on both sides is what has gotten them to this point though.
Shady Spring’s Gameplan: Load that box. Stopping Davidson means everything and will require Xavier Lopez to throw the ball. He is capable but the Eagles would much rather go to their duo of backs. Offensively, they will need to utilize their two-QBs for a long passes. If they can pull the back seven off, then it might allow for them to move the ball on the ground as well.
Robert C. Byrd’s Gameplan: Use their runners and bully the Tigers up front. We expect Davidson and King to make plays early and the line to set the tone. Defensively, they have seen much more potent offenses. Shady does have decent speed but nothing that outmatches them. If they stay within their wits, they should win this by several scores.
#10 Wayne at #7 Keyser
Both of these perennial powers lived up to their program history. Wayne, despite starting 0-2, has won eight straight and ran through the Cardinal Conference including giving Poca their first loss. Keyser has also had a stellar season. This included some crazy comebacks and finished up with a close battle to #3 Bridgeport and winning back-to-back rivalry games. Both feature all-state backs, stout defenses, and underrated pass games.
Wayne’s Gameplan: Last week they got back to business riding Bartram in the run game for his best offensive game of the season. Keyser might be a little tougher to run on but their offensive isn’t as deadly as Poca’s- who they shutout. Once they get Brady Clay’s number (if they do), they need to watch out for Shoemaker hitting Reggie Redman over top.
Keyser’s Gameplan: The Golden Tornado will need to load up and go toe-to-toe with that tough Pioneer run game. Wayne is good through the air but have not faired well in shootouts. Their run defense is also good but do not seem to have a clear answer on how they will consistently cover Redman. A balanced approach on both sides while avoiding their usual penalty problem should make this a good one.
#9 Mingo Central at #8 Point Pleasant
Lucky us! Our third installment of Point Pleasant vs Mingo Central in two years. Every time is a classic. The season began with a surprise (to us) that the Miners had not dropped off much. Since that close loss, Daylin Goad has done nothing but improved with his two all-state bound brothers Drew and Devin Hatfield alongside RB Dougie Dillon. Point, however, has lived up to their hype. Cason Payne is efficient, tough, and has weapons such as Josh Wamsley. Their line went head-to-head with Spring Valley for over a half. Both are serious title candidates.
Mingo Central’s Gameplan: If Spring Valley is any indication, the Big Blacks play good in the box. The Miners need to spread it out and do their thing with Goad. This is a youthful group going into one of the hardest environments in the state. There isn’t much planning other than letting stars be stars while also doing their best limiting Payne and his crew.
Point Pleasant’s Gameplan: They will need to be better in the secondary this time around as the Miners have improved since then. Poca won by putting pressure on them early and striking vertically often. Payne’s arm will be the difference as if this turns into a shootout- will be needed. They will have a romping home crowd behind him to help things.