Prep football: Valley up for task against Meadow Bridge
SMITHERS, W.Va. -- Valley senior lineman Slayton Beard smiled when he recalled the scene at Laidley Field last November.
The Greyhounds had just won the school's first playoff game, beating Meadow Bridge 22-6.
"It's an experience when you see Coach (Benny) Hopkins smile after a game," Beard said. "It's not something you see every day."
Yes, these are good times at the Smithers-based school.
Valley is 4-0 and ranked No. 6 in the latest Secondary School Activities Commission playoff ratings.
To understand what Beard and his nine senior teammates have accomplished, a history lesson is in order.
The Greyhounds, dating to when Valley High School opened in 1977, have been to the playoffs eight times before last season (1980, '86, '99, 2000, '01, '02, '05, '09), but had not won a postseason game.
Poochie Washington, Bubby Criniti, Stevie Conliffe and Nate Wright are former All-State players from Valley, but never had been on a playoff-winning team.
But Beard, the son of long-time Valley assistant coach George Beard, and teammates like running back Cody Winter and quarterback Matt Whiteside, know the feeling.
"It feels great making history here at Valley," Whiteside said. "Just knowing we were the first. And yes, it was nice seeing Coach Hopkins smile. That's not something you see a lot. He is a real humble guy. It was nice to get him that first playoff win."
The win established the Greyhounds as a potential player in the race for Class A, just one year after a 1-9 season.
"This is where I grew up," Winter said. "Winning is important to us. We want to put Valley on the football map. We don't get a lot of respect around the state, but hopefully winning that playoff game is a step in the right direction."
Hopkins, who has been at Montgomery/Valley since 1972 and Valley's head coach since 1979, has no need for revisionist history. Even in the short term.
With a visit to Class A No. 2 Meadow Bridge looming tonight, that playoff win is a distant memory.
"I guess it was big, I keep hearing that," Hopkins said. "We're talking about playoffs here and I'm worried about Meadow Bridge. I guess it was good. It was the first one. I enjoyed it until that Sunday when we went back to Parkersburg (for the playoff pairings meeting).
"The only thing we can do is just try every week to get prepared to play, do the best we can and let the chips fall where they may."
So far the chips have fallen Valley's way, led by the team's senior leaders.
Some played as freshmen on the 2009 team that lost to Williamson in a first-round playoff game. The next season, the team went 1-9 before rebounding with a school-record 9-3 mark last season. That team started the season with 27 players and ended with the same, the first time that has happened at the school, Hopkins said.
"We've had a good crew of seniors here," Hopkins said. "They've done what they're supposed to in the offseason and it's made us a lot better. When they do what they're supposed to it's going to pay off down the road."
One of the most intriguing stats of the Valley-Meadow Bridge matchup comes in the backfield.
Winter leads the Greyhounds with 386 yards on 55 carries and five touchdowns. Meadow Bridge's Jake Parker had 48 carries for 361 yards and four touchdowns last week in a 34-24 win over Pendleton County. Parker has rushed for 1,256 yards and 15 touchdowns on 175 carries halfway through the Wildcats regular season.
"He's a good player," Hopkins said of Parker. "I don't know if you can stop him. If he gets the ball 48 times we're probably going to get our butts beat. We have to take the ball away from him and do a little more on the offensive side."
By recent standards, Valley has rare depth, especially in the backfield. The Greyhounds have a 40-man roster and through four games, 12 players (30 percent of the roster) have carries.
"We've got several kids who can play," Hopkins said. "It's always nice if you can give the kids a break back there. We're in a situation this year where we can rest the backs quite a bit. And when we get a chance to do that, we're going to do that."
Hopkins has admitted to loosening up a bit, even going to the spread formation at times.
"I would hand the ball off every play if I could," Hopkins said. "But we have some kids who can throw the ball. People haven't seen some of the stuff we could do. That's what won us the game at Clay (26-21). We went to the spread."
The Greyhounds are alternating quarterbacks Whiteside and Raeshawn Breckenridge, who is from the Montgomery area and played at George Washington last season before moving back to the area.
Whiteside is 8-of-11 passing for 183 yards and two touchdowns and Breckenridge is 3-of-8 for 83 yards and a touchdowns.
"I have a guy who tells me if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have a quarterback," Hopkins said. "There could be some truth to that. But these guys have both done what they're supposed to do and they both deserve to play."
Meadow Bridge has lost only one home game in the last three years - a 22-21 decision to Grundy, Va. last season.
"They're a pretty good team," Hopkins said. "At this time of year they are all good. I tell our guys all the time, you have to be ready to play. When you aren't, that's when it'll get you."
"They're going to go into this game looking for revenge from last year," Whiteside said. "We know we're going to get their best shot."