High school football: Huntington area teams making a push
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. -- It's uncommon for the Huntington area to land a Class AAA team in the state's playoff semifinals.
After Friday's quarterfinal between No. 8 seed Spring Valley (8-3) and top-seeded Cabell Midland (11-0), at least one such team will be in the final four, breaking a seven-year area absence in the process.
In fact, The Jewel City could account for half of the semifinal field in 2012. No. 4 seed Huntington (9-2) plays host to No. 5 Morgantown (9-2) the same night Spring Valley visits Midland.
"We've only been here five times in the school's history," Huntington Coach Billy Seals said of the quarterfinals. "It's going to be a little different feeling."
The Highlanders are making their second consecutive quarterfinal appearance. In 2011, the team lost 46-7 at top-seeded Martinsburg.
"I look around and I see that most of these kids that are on our team this year were on our team last year at Martinsburg in the second round," Seals said. "We've been there. We just have to play much better than we did last year once we got here."
Huntington, which opened in 1996 as a consolidation of old Huntington High and Huntington East, has never reached the semifinals.
Spring Valley is coming off the first win in school history.
Another reasonably young school, the Timberwolves had made the playoffs nine times in their first 14 seasons, but were 0-9 until stomping ninth-seeded Wheeling Park in the first round.
Coach Brad Dingess cited the importance of the win in terms of continued program building within the Spring Valley community.
The school is a consolidation of former Class AA power Ceredo-Kenova, Buffalo (Wayne) and Vinson.
While Spring Valley has struggled to find its niche, nearby Class AA Wayne has thrived since the consolidation. The Pioneers, who made one playoff appearance in the 1990s - they reached the semifinals in 1993 - and had never played in a championship game prior to Spring Valley's opening in 1998, have made the playoffs each year since '99. They have won two state championships and reached the title game on three other occasions in that time.
Things continue to look up for the Timberwolves' feeder programs in the wake of ending their playoff drought. The Ceredo-Kenova area's 9, 10 and 11-year-old youth league teams claimed titles last weekend in the Tri-State Youth Football League championships at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.
To take the next step, Dingess and the Timberwolves will have to get past Midland. The Knights handed Spring Valley a 21-13 loss in a mutual season opener on Aug. 24 in Ona.
"That seems like last year," Midland Coach Luke Salmons said. "I mean, the kids are the same, but both teams have grown a lot."
Salmons has been credited with re-energizing a football program that has often underachieved given the school's status as the state's largest. Still, Midland has been the most successful of the Huntington-area big schools.
The Knights made playoff semifinal appearances in 2000, 2003 and 2005.
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MORGANTOWN running back Chazzy Thomas will miss the remainder of the season.
Thomas, a 5-foot-11, 179-pound junior who led the Mohigans with 1,503 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns in the regular season, missed the team's regular-season finale and first-round playoff win over Point Pleasant after being injured in a win over University on Oct. 26.
"He had a broken and dislocated ankle, so he's done," Morgantown Coach John Bowers said.
The injury has yet to slow the Morgantown offense, which has scored 94 points in the two weeks since Thomas left the lineup. In fact, the loss has brought Bowers' offensive outlook full circle from 2011.
"Last year we had a bunch of backs and we spread the carries. This year, those carries were all going to Chazzy even though we've got a lot of guys still there that can take them," he said. "Against Brooke (in the regular season closer), Shane Commodore had a real good game and Alex Weidman's still there too."
Bowers said that the benefit is that the aforementioned backs - as well as senior fullback Jalen Thomas - have plenty of "tread left on the tires" for the playoff run.
Commodore ran for 153 yards and three touchdowns against Point Pleasant in a 49-28 win. Weidman added 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
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GEORGE WASHINGTON Coach Steve Edwards Jr. didn't have any problem reciting the resume of his Lewis County counterpart, Eddie Vincent.
"Hey, he took Buckhannon to the playoffs a couple years and did real well," Edwards said. "He left, and look what Buckhannon's done since."
They've not done much. The Buccaneers have not won more than three games in a season since Vincent - a Fairmont native - was largely forced out of the position by Buckhannon purist boosters who wanted a native son as their team's coach in 2006.
Edwards said his team will face Lewis County at perhaps its most dangerous point in program history.
"I think they'll be loose. They're coming in as a lower seed, and I've been a lower seed, I know what that's like," Edwards said. "You're expected to win by your own people, the people who count. But the people who don't count don't expect you to win, and you kind of feed off that in an 'Us against the world' mentality.
"Then you get a little chip on your shoulder, and those are dangerous ball clubs to deal with, especially when they're good and they're well coached like they are."
Lewis County (9-2) lost to University 35-7 in the opening week of the regular season. The Minutemen went to Morgantown in the first round and handed the Hawks a 24-23 loss.