Third & Long – Week Five


                Last week was an interesting week, especially for the top team in the state. Seeking new challenges and opponents when you have reached certain levels of success is something that is difficult to do. What else, where else, who else? It’s not the easiest thing, especially at a level when recruiting or player acquisition isn’t the normal process. Martinsburg challenged Highland Springs High School in Richmond Virginia. I would suspect most of the readers probably only heard about them last year when Martinsburg first began their series.

                Highland Springs is one of the elite programs in the country (not saying Martinsburg isn’t- it’s just different). The school isn’t a historical power- it’s on the fresher side of their success. While they had wins in the 80s and the 90s, it wasn’t the same caliber they have had in the past decade. Once Loren Johnson took over the program, you saw a gradual build that eventually led them to the point of winning multiple state championships in one of the toughest divisions in Virginia football. The program has been pumping out Power 5 prospects at a rate that rivals just about anyone in the country. They truly are operating at the highest of levels.

                Let’s also take a step back and look at the area that Highland Springs is in. Richmond isn’t the hottest of football hotbeds in the country. The programs in the area that truly dominate are few, and you can suspect that the better players tend to go to those schools. With a population density of that size, nothing in our state rivals it remotely. The talent level by per mass is greater, and the number of resources is double or triple.

                Martinsburg took a hard loss; one of the hardest in over 20 years. People have been coming at the Bulldogs, and it’s not a justified take. There isn’t another school in the state of West Virginia that would come within 50 points of Highland Springs most years. The team is just loaded, and it’s a different level of ball. It’s not a matter of respect of our athletes in the state, it’s a matter of population density and overall level of competition within the area. The difference is when Martinsburg has injuries, though deep, their depth is not equal. The fact that the game was as close as it was is an impressive feat to say the least.

                Take it 365 days earlier, where Martinsburg goes into Richmond and wins the game 26-25. It was one of the most impressive wins in state history. There could be answers of why or how it happened, but at the end of the day, it did happen. People within the state didn’t realize the magnitude of the victory, and they probably won’t because that is the expectation of Martinsburg now. Let’s find a little perspective.


Lopsided scores are always a point of contention. You have one team that is just more talented and can execute at a high level. The other team may be young, beat up with injuries, or just going through a talent drop. There are many reasons that it’s happened over the years and changes within the game have kept scores to a minimum. Coaches can agree to a running clock and can cut down on quarter lengths as well. It takes the sting out of it and allows the losing team to get out of there with players staying healthy for future games.

What about the JV players, though? The guys that play scout team all week and likely must wait a year or two to get their turn on Friday nights. In years past, these types of games were a great opportunity for both teams, winning and losing, to get those guys action. Could the score get affected? Absolutely. It has happened many of times. With the current structure, JVs are getting less and less time to play. With the constant population decrease around the state and less students playing football, junior varsities are starting to become nonexistent- not to even mention freshman teams.

Essentially with these running clocks and shortened quarters, the game is basically over in 7-10 second half plays. Many games are ending before 9:00 on Friday nights with the bus pulling out at 9:30. Why can’t we just freeze the score? Whatever the score may be, 50-0 or 60-0. Let the JV’s play 4-5 drives. It gives them reps, it grants both teams experience for their younger players, and it doesn’t affect the score.

Playoff Ratings System

It’s always lovely at this time of year. Games are being played, teams are making big moves, and the first showing of the playoff ratings come out. People start to freak out and lose their minds. It’s fantastic. Not knowing at first, a good amount of people believe it’s on a vote by sports writers and other people in the media. When in truth, it simply comes down to a mathematical system that determines who has the highest quality wins. Each classification gets a different point rating for a win and each win that the team you beat has, you receive a bonus point in return. Seems fair.

Before I go on, compared to most states in our Union, we have one of the best rating systems out there. Is it completely correct? No, but for the most part it holds steady against any other type of system. We don’t see 0-10 or 1-9 teams make the playoffs, and we rarely see a team with 8 or more wins not make it to the postseason. It’s honestly a very good system, and one that truly sets the stage for a wonderful November.

There is one slight issue, and we have written on it before. Teams are punished for playing a hard schedule, and teams are awarded for playing a weak schedule. The most notable was last year’s AA state champion and semifinalist, Fairmont Senior and Bluefield. Both teams played incredibly difficult schedules- playing teams with much higher student populations and a few teams that are flat out dominant. Could this be a result of schedule dodging? Absolutely, but until there are set regions and sections set in place in the state of West Virginia, don’t expect any true solutions when it comes to that.

The other side is the schools that play a weaker schedule by the metrics. Could this be a simple fact of playing schools that are like them and have played them for a long time? Yes, absolutely. Could it also be that they want to give their kids a chance to be successful without scheduling their season away? No doubt. When you see it from that angle, it makes sense. It’s giving their team the best opportunity for success and playing teams of similar size and talent levels.

People have issues when a team has a great year (10- or 9-1) and a team that played a difficult schedule finishes the year out with 5-6 wins. While the 10-0 team surely makes the playoffs, that 6-4 team is suddenly on the bubble. They fought and won six games with a difficult schedule, while if they played the same schedule as the 10-0 team, they would have accomplished an undefeated season as well. It’s part of the game unfortunately and one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Can they give points by strength of schedule? If you lose to a team, you get .25 bonus points for each win that the opposing team wins. If they win 8 games, 2 bonus points is quite a lot when it comes down to those last playoff positions. Is it a matter of, this is the way life is, not everyone can be awarded for their successes, and you have to use it as a matter of growth for your child? I believe in that as well and that will teach a tough but meaningful lesson for a young teenager. The season is already starting to form up, and you can see where teams will start falling into these scenarios. Hopefully this year, it won’t be as controversial as past but with as many good teams at each level, it is surely setting us up for drama later down the road.

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