Prep football: QBs could be difference in Class AAA semifinal
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The last in-game image of the 2011 high school football season involved Ryan Switzer, a pair of Martinsburg defenders, 40 yards of wide-open field and a pass thrown oh, so slightly behind the Kennedy Award winner.
Switzer couldn't hang on to the throw from George Washington quarterback Trevor Bell, and the Bulldogs' second consecutive Class AAA state championship was sealed.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound tailback-receiver hybrid will be on display once again today when GW and Martinsburg meet in a Class AAA playoff semifinal at the Bulldogs' Cobourn Field. So will Bell.
But as fans gear for another clash of titans that many turn into a battle between the north and south factions of the state, conversation has turned to the game arguably being a matchup of the state's two best players.
Cabell Midland running back David Gaydosz, also playing in a semifinal tonight against Morgantown, might have something to say about that. So, too, could Wayne running back Brandon Spurlock or Spring Valley two-way standout Elijah Wellman.
Martinsburg Coach Dave Walker said his quarterback, Justin "Cookie" Clinton, is more than a feather in his cap.
"He's special. That's the best way I can put it," Walker said.
"He does so many things for us. He's not your typical drop-back quarterback, and he's not like (Brandon) Ashenfelter was for us the last couple years. You see him on film and it's just amazing."
Clinton, a 5-11, 175-pound senior, served the Bulldogs as a wide receiver and defensive back during the last two seasons. After the loss of 2011 Kennedy runner-up Ashenfelter to graduation, Walker moved Clinton behind center.
The move was devolution, of sorts. After all, Ashenfelter was a bruiser at QB, just as capable of picking up yardage on runs between the tackles as he was throwing the football to targets like Clinton or current Martinsburg senior and Ohio University commitment Cedric Brown (6-3, 180).
Clinton ran for 865 yards in the regular season, then added 254 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 50-7 rout of rival Musselman in the playoff quarterfinals last week.
He has 1,235 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in 12 games. As a result, the Martinsburg offense more closely resembles the attack led by former quarterback Kam Puller, whose brain illness cut short his playing career prior to the 2010 season.
Clinton has completed 92 of 150 passes (61.3 percent) for 1,340 yards and 16 TDs.
The one thing Clinton does not possess is experience at quarterback in a game of this magnitude. Bell, who struggled in the title game a year ago, will be charged with improving his showing last week against Lewis County (5 of 14 for 53 yards and an interception) if the Patriots hope to keep Martinsburg honest on defense.
Although it has been lost in the shuffle of Patriot injuries and Switzer's prep football curtain call before he heads to the University of North Carolina, Bell (5-9, 155) has actually improved his numbers over those from 2011. Through 12 games he has completed 72 of 131 passes (54.9 percent) for 1,129 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
In 14 games a year ago Bell was 64 of 121 (52.8 percent) for 1,176 yards, 16 TDs and 11 interceptions. His yards-per-game total has increased from 80.6 in 2011 to 98 in '12.
Including Martinsburg two-way lineman and University of Charlotte commitment Eugene German (6-5, 260), there will be plenty of Division 1 talent on display today. The result of the game, however, will quite likely come down to the play of a pair of pedigree-deficient quarterbacks.