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Derek Taylor: Surprises, struggles mark first half of prep football season

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Unlike coaches and players, being a sportswriter comes with the advantage of getting the occasional mulligan.

With the 2012 high school football season being as unpredictable as any seen in recent years, especially in Class AA, this week provides the perfect opportunity to revisit playoff projections first published in this space two months ago.

Every team in the state has played at least half of its regular-season schedule. Some have lived up to the expectations placed upon them in the preseason by coaches, fans and media. Others have quickly learned that there's a significant difference between 7-on-7 passing competitions and football when linemen get involved.

Midway through the year, the state's most pleasant surprises have come from 11 schools that were not projected to be in the hunt for postseason berths when initial assessments were made in July. Among these, Class AAA schools Wheeling Park (currently 4-2 and projected to finish eighth to host a first-round game), Logan (5-1, 11th), Oak Hill (4-1, 12th) and Hampshire (3-2, 15th) appear in position to crash the big-school playoff party.

Others, like Capital (3-2, losers of two straight games and projected to finish 20th and out of the playoffs for the second consecutive year) have hit snags along the way, but remain in contention for the time being. After starting the year with three consecutive wins, the Cougars have dropped back-to-back games to fellow playoff contenders South Charleston (3-3, 13th) and Hurricane (3-2, 17th).

  The biggest element of such projections is a team's remaining schedule. For instance, Capital has perhaps the most challenging set of games remaining of any Class AAA contender. The Cougars still must face Cabell Midland (6-0 and projected to earn Class AAA's top seed), Huntington (4-1, 2nd), George Washington (4-1, 3rd), Beckley (4-2, 16th). Capital hosts rival Riverside (1-4) on Friday night at University of Charleston Stadium.

The Cougars must face this schedule with a starting lineup that relies heavily on sophomores as well as freshman quarterback Tyrhee Pratt.

It will be a tall order, although not impossible, to overcome.

Hurricane, which beat the Cougars last week, is in a similar boat. However, the Redskins' 23-20 win last Friday put them in considerably better position to earn their third straight playoff spot. It will tough, however, as South Charleston Coach John Messinger said after beating Capital on Sept. 21.

"I don't think 6-4 is going to get you in (the playoffs)," Messinger said. "At least, you're not going to be sure. I think it's going to take seven wins to make sure you get a spot this season.

"There's a lot of teams across the state whose schedules are going to allow them to get to six wins, so I think there's going to be a log jam of teams right there."

Messinger's known for his weightlifting acumen but his math isn't too shabby, either. The Secondary School Activities Commission playoff rating formula, which grants 12 points for a win against a Class AAA team, nine points for a win over a Class AA team, six points for a win against a Class A team then grants the original winning team a bonus point for every game won by its defeated foes against teams of equal or greater class is fairly basic. Some time-consuming arithmetic and a tracking of trends can reveal the teams most likely to contend for postseason berths without the need for a crystal ball or tea leafs.

In Class AAA, that glut appears to include school such as Hurricane, Parkersburg South (3-3), Beckley and Lewis County (4-2). Point Pleasant (4-1) and Hampshire (3-2) will also likely be in this mix, as both play schedules heavily flavored with Class AA teams that yield fewer base points.

The biggest eye-opener comes in Class AA, where half of the class has already made at least one appearance in the weekly Daily Mail Poll. Although the poll has no bearing on the playoff race, it is an indicator of just how unpredictable the sport's middle class has been in the first year of the SSAC's new classification cycle.

While all teams are still chasing preseason favorite and defending state champion Wayne (5-0), there are six teams - Frankfort, Liberty (Raleigh), Wyoming East, Webster County, Petersburg and Tolsia - that currently are in position to make playoff runs after being viewed as also-rans in the summer. Petersburg (4-1) made its debut in the Daily Mail poll this week at No.10, but the Vikings have not made a playoff appearance since 1993.

That year, they finished the regular season at 7-3 and dropped a 14-3 decision in the first round to second-seeded and eventual state champion East Bank.

Petersburg has already matched its win total from 2008-11 this season. The Vikings were 4-35 in those four seasons.

Of the 48 teams currently projected to qualify for the postseason, one-third missed the playoffs a year ago. Of those 16 schools, nine of them compete in Class AA.

Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at or 304-348-5170. Follow him at


Midseason playoff projections

Projected state playoff seedings for the 2012 high school football season as of Oct. 1. The top 16 teams in each class qualify for the playoffs, which begin Nov. 9. The number in the right column reflects where each team stands in relation to its initial projected finish, published in the Charleston Daily Mail on July 26.

Class AAA

1. Cabell Midland     +2

2. Huntington         +6

3. G. Washington    -2

4. Martinsburg          -

5. University           +4

6. Morgantown        -4

7. Spring Valley       -2

8. Wheeling Park     NR

9. Elkins                +3

10. Musselman       -4

11. Logan              NR

12. Oak Hill             NR

13. S. Charleston   +1

14. Parkersburg So. -4

15. Hampshire         NR

16. Beckley              -5

17. Hurricane           -2

18. Point Pleasant     -2

19. Lewis County      -6

20. Capital              -13

Class AA

1. Wayne                   -

2. Robert C. Byrd      +1

3. Bridgeport             -1

4. Bluefield                +3

5. Keyser                 +7

6. Scott                    -2

7. Ritchie County      +1

8. Frankfort              NR

9. Fairmont Senior    +10

10. River View            -1

11. Liberty (Raleigh)   NR

12. Sissonville           +6

13. Wyoming East     NR

14. Webster County   NR

15. Nicholas County    +5

16. Petersburg          NR

17. Roane County    -12

18. Oak Glen             -5

19. Chapmanville       -4

20. Tolsia                 NR

Class A

1. Tucker County      +8

2. Wahama              +1

3. Valley (Fayette)     NR

4. Magnolia                -

5. Madonna              -2

6. St. Marys             +1

7. Clay-Battelle         -2

8. Greenbrier West    -2

9. Wheeling Central    -8

10. Meadow Bridge    NR

11. East Hardy         +4

12. Buffalo                 -

13. Moorefield          +5

14. Tug Valley            -

15. Bishop Donahue    +1

16. Wirt County         -6

17. Doddridge Co.      NR

18. Williamstown       -10

19. Midland Trail         NR

20. South Harrison     NR


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