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By El Writer
What a great week of high school football in the Mountain State: handfuls of great rivalries played, teams surprising the state, and the overall feeling that we’re back in season. There were a couple of nail biters such as Huntington-Spring Valley and the Beaver-Graham game. There were also quite a few surprises such as AA Point Pleasant going on the road and getting a victory over what I believe to be a good program in AAA Greenbrier East. A 30-7 AAA road win is a similar statement that RCB made last year. Could they be entering the AA title race picture early?
Most people overlooked it but not I. Way up in the north, the Wheeling Park Patriots had a massive victory over cross-river rivals St. Clairsville. For those not in the know, St. Clairsville is an excellent program in the state of Ohio- an always competitive, traditional, old-school football school that tends to find themselves playing in late November each year. For Wheeling Park to go in and win 42-14 puts them in a new conversation for me. With the rest of their schedule, I can’t speak too much on the other two Ohio schools, but they may not be truly tested until Morgantown or Musselman comes into town. Let’s keep an eye up north.
Tug Valley may have had the largest eye-opening win over the first week of the season. 32-21 on Thursday night over AA foe Shady Spring. The Tigers were a playoff team last year with plenty of returners coming back. Most people looked down on Shady Spring for this loss, but this may be more of Tug Valley coming out. Naugatuck is a tough place to play, and this current bunch coming through has been good in all sports. Putting it together and winning like this really shouldn’t be a surprise. Can they keep it going or was it one of those first game “excitement” wins?
This week’s theme is: we find out about some programs. It’s not really a statement game by any means, but we get to see what some teams are really about. More specifically, there are a few matchups that will give us an idea if this group can enter the conversation or still need to sit outside the talk. The first one that catches my eye is the Morgantown Mohigans. Can they take on the Bridgeport Indians and defeat another traditional powerhouse in the state? They had a big 50-0 win over South Charleston this past weekend.
Now, they have a different animal coming into Pony Lewis Field. Morgantown hasn’t defeated Bridgeport since 1983 and has lost to them the past four years including a playoff defeat last November. Bridgeport has had their own drawbacks. They have lost some players to the high school transfer market, and student population-wise, arguably shouldn’t really be in the AAA classification. That has not stopped them at all though, and they have an ample opportunity to cement themselves as a year-in, year-out AAA threat.
You may not agree with this next matchup, but it has a lot more interest this year than most. This one is all the way down south with the Princeton Tigers taking on the Bluefield Beavers. Both teams are in unique spots. Princeton has been sneaky good so far. They played very well against Huntington in their first scrimmage while beating South Charleston 34-0 in two quarters in the second one. With a quick win over Lincoln County week one, they are in a different position than most years.
They have more athletes than you may imagine and with an experienced quarterback, this team is better than people expected. Bluefield is coming off a tough loss and has played up and down in their scrimmages. Bluefield is never down and out, and this may be a tough game for them. Can the Bluefield offense find life and really be that explosive monster people expect them to be?
We have talked about different classifications for quite some time. In fact, we have posted a few different studies for creating a better setup in high school football. Of course, basketball has already adopted a 4A system. The results from our point of view have been positive. Are there a few things that could be adjusted? Sure, but it still has created a better atmosphere for the smaller schools and has made that part of the state tournament much more enjoyable.
In football, it’s not as simple. You can’t go out there with five guys and win a state championship. It requires depth, talent, coaching, and resources. That has always made football difficult to classify by anything other than student enrollment. Finding the right mix is never going to satisfy everyone, and if you go in trying to accomplish that, you will fail quickly.
A natural separation is forming between the different classifications. More specifically, the bottom portion of AAA and the top portion of AA. It has become a sweet spot for teams that can’t truly compete week-in and week-out with the big dogs such as Martinsburg, Huntington, Cabell Midland, etc.
With the rebirth of the Coalfields Conference for AAA, those teams are finding a safe haven. Teams that are similar in socioeconomic, talent, coaching, etc. Does that mean that we need to create a new classification? No, I don’t think so. It will make the large school division top heavy and even that will dissipate over the long term- sort of like how the MSAC got top heavy and grew to 15+ schools. When the smaller schools left such as Lincoln County, Winfield, Nitro, and Ripley, you had this imbalance, and it became a blood bath.
The New Coalfield Conference: Princeton, Oak Hill, Woodrow Wilson, Greenbrier East, Ripley, and Lincoln County with Riverside and St. Albans as possible additions. That’s a solid conference with eight teams and gives seven conference games as well as the opportunity to find three non-conference games. Riverside and St. Albans have no business fighting in the MSAC with schools that heavily outweigh them in many categories. That conference is a much more natural fit.
This leads to the second issue currently attacking AAA: schools that play a watered-down schedule that sneak into the playoffs. This is a byproduct of the imbalance currently in the state. You may not think that the difference of 400-600 students is that much, but in reality, it’s massive. That is typically a difference of 20-30 players on your roster. When you go through a difficult conference such as the MSAC or EPAC, depth is one of the biggest friends you can have. It’s not a matter of how good your 1s are, it’s how good your 2s are.
Creating a more balanced schedule with teams of equal ratings will alleviate watering-down issues. If they are playing each other, instead of diving down into AA or A, the wins and losses will spread out across the division. You will have teams winning those conferences getting into the playoffs at 7-3 or 8-2 depending on their non-conference schedule, instead of a team going 9-1 or 10-0 kicking out a 5-5 team that went through the gauntlet.