This week’s Third and Long is brought to you by LOTV Productions. Check out their three-part series on the 2021 Independence Patriots football season. From full-team series to family memories, they will be able to help you save these years forever. Links are at the bottom of this post.
By El Writer
Stepping into camp season, everyone has the hype. All have reasons for why they will be successful this season. Some teams are more exciting to me this year than others. Maybe not your obvious top contenders but some teams that could sneak into contention.
This will be the best team in Charleston this season. When you look at the players they have coming back and what everyone else has; this team should lead the pack. The next question is can they take the next step and contend with the usual Triple A powers in the state? It’s going to come down to how the offensive line continues to develop and if quarterback Abe Fenwick takes a massive step in his growth. From what has been said throughout the summer, he has definitely done that. Watch the opener closely with Cabell Midland. The key matchup is the physicality of the Scarlet Knights and how the Patriots can handle that. While not many teams in the state come close to that style of physicality, it gives a good idea on how the Patriots’ fronts will hold up long-term.
Prediction: 7-3, Quarterfinal Run. Possibly a 8-2 or 9-1; a good draw equals a Semifinals.
I really love this team coming into 2022. New head coach, and it’s a good fit. Those that have followed Eddie Smolder have seen his teams always be competitive, even in conferences that were overall difficult. This is a good fit for his scheme, and I believe you’ll see some large strides from them this season. Their offensive and defensive lines are strong and talented. Usually you don’t get that coming in the first year as the head coach. Can they find enough skill to really take the big step? That’ll be the question everyone will ask.
Prediction: 8-2 | Quarterfinal Run
A step back is what should have occurred in 2021. That didn’t happen to the extent that people probably imagined. Coming off two fantastic seasons, the Cavaliers found themselves young, inexperienced, and with a ton of question marks. They still found a way to make it to the postseason and be able to put those young guys into tough situations to prepare them for this year. Ty Nickell is the guy that needs to be the workhorse for them. A big, bruising back that has underrated speed that will be incredibly difficult for Single A schools to handle. You see a guy like that every year take over the state and put their team in a good spot going into November.
Prediction: 9-1; Semifinals
Scrimmages are always fun, but they don’t give true pictures of how the season will go. Yes, teams that look good will probably carry that over into the regular season relatively easy. Especially, when coming out of the game-like simulations that teams will do during the second scrimmage. The ten-play possessions are awkward, and it’s not truly giving the picture of the team. It’s giving the coaches an opportunity to see who will block, who will tackle, and how they will execute in normal situations.
What you can’t find out is the prolonged period of situational football, special teams, and overall depth throughout the period of a game. It’s nearly impossible to practice live special teams, and it’s going to be one of the things that will be keeping coaches up at night going into week one. Not only the execution of it, but it’s managing the personnel as well. Players needing to be subbed, or if injuries happen. You’ll see teams have those types of errors in week one and possibly even week two.
If your team had two good performances coming out of the scrimmages then you should enjoy it and be optimistic going forward. If your team struggled, it’s no need to panic as it’s good to know where you have to get better at. Making small adjustments and possibly even major adjustments will allow your team to grow and get better over the course of a season. At the end of the day, everyone is still 0-0 right now. Be positive and supportive of your favorite team, and enjoy the beginning of the season.
Down at the Corner
El Writer, long-time football fan of West Virginia, answers questions posed by C&C followers…
Coming into 2022, what are the storylines you’re most looking forward to?
You have a lot of the normal storylines with Martinsburg, Fairmont Senior, or Wheeling Central but what is going to be interesting is if one of the “newly-taken over” programs can take a leap. I’m talking about a Morgantown, Hurricane, Herbert Hoover, etc. Can they break into those conversations and be a big impact going forward this season?
Atticus Goodson won the Kennedy Award in 2021 but was a “dark horse” for the award coming into the season. Who’s a similar player that falls in those ranks?
It’ll be hard to not bet on the two quarterbacks at Martinsburg or Gavin Lochow at Huntington. They seem to be the frontrunners early. If a dark horse had to be considered, look for Germaine Lewis from Fairmont Senior and Ian Cline from Greenbrier East. Both are fantastic players and should carry well-scoring offenses.
We’ve had two rounds of scrimmages, has anything caught your eye so far from the results?
Princeton has had two really good results from what we have heard. Played well with Huntington and did a good job with South Charleston. Cabell Midland sounded legit playing two tough programs. Parkersburg South reportedly jumped out on Fairmont Senior, which is a tad surprising, but not entirely unexpected.
We have a lot of new faces around the state being the leading man (head coach) of their schools’ program. Who is someone that will take an immediate big step in your opinion?
Donnie Mays, for sure. They had talent come with him, and they already had talent there. His offense fits well with what they want to do. They should be a tough team to beat.
What’s your most anticipated match up of the year?
Martinsburg vs Highland Springs, Independence vs Bluefield, and Huntington vs Cabell Midland. All three should be fun games to watch.
What’s one change you’d like to see by the SSAC to help make the game better as a whole?
The recent changes have been productive, steps in the right direction for sure. Would still like a rule similar to the colleges where a coach can work with a handful of guys on skills that require a ball. Keep the flex practices and the summer ball, of course.
NIL is the big story all around the football world. Massachusetts recently passed that they will allow NIL deals with high school players. What are your thoughts about that being adapted for high school players in West Virginia?
It has to be controlled in some fashion or it’ll get out of hand. The other side of it, why not let these kids make a little money while playing? They don’t have time to get a job and college tuition is rising every year. If done correctly, and not abused, it should be implemented.
Can anyone knock off the Bulldogs from Martinsburg?
Sure, they can. Teams have beaten them in the regular season recently. The part that gets teams is the pressure at Wheeling Island, when Martinsburg gets that burst of points; they fall apart. That comes from experience, confidence, and coaching. Have to be poised in those moments, and most teams aren’t. This year, maybe. It’d be a tough task.
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