Another Super Weekend on Tap in the Friendly City
WHEELING — It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. The state of West Virginia is about to converge on the Ohio Valley and specifically Wheeling Island Stadium, which has played host to the Super Six state high school football championships for the last 21 years.
Trust me when I tell you, we haven’t taken it for granted. It’s something the area takes a great amount of pride in, as visitors will no doubt quickly feel. The support and hospitality are second to none. The treatment you will receive, despite the fact this will be the second time since 2003 that no local teams have made it to the pinnacle, will be noteworthy.
This weekend is about football, as three new champions will be crowned. But that doesn’t mean that’s the only thing that will be happening. If you have time and want to make the trip sort of a mini-vacation, consider some of the following options.
∫ The Wheeling Nailers hockey team, which advanced to the ECHL (AA) Finals last season, is home both Friday (7:35 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m.) nights just across the Ohio River at WesBanco Arena, a newly renovated, state-of-the-art facility.
∫ Oglebay’s annual Festival of Lights is under way. If you’ve never attended, it’s a can’t-miss opportunity. Busses come from across the country and even Canada to catch a shiny glimpse annually.
∫ Wheeling Jesuit’s volleyball team, which is the defending NCAA Division II national champion, is playing host to Shaw University at 7:30 on Friday night in the Atlantic Regional, just a short drive from downtown.
∫ Local food. Chain restaurants. Cabela’s World’s Foremost Outfitter. Marquee Cinemas movie theatre. Christmas shopping. Heck, even pet grooming. These are all things you’ll find at The Highlands, a one-stop shop for all your needs.
We hope you enjoy our little corner of the world while you are here. And when you go home, please tell your friends what they are missing.
Now on to the predictions for this weekend’s tripleheader. Who doesn’t like predictions, right?
Let me preface this by saying I am leading our weekly football selections, and have been for some time. I went a perfect 3-for-3 last year on the Super Six, so these are stone-cold locks.
Class AA, 7 p.m.
No. 5 Fairmont Senior (10-2)
vs. No. 2 Mingo Central (13-0)
First off, notice the time change. This game usually kicks off at 7:30, but will go a half an hour earlier.
As far as what will happen, this has the opportunity to be a pretty good game between a pair of schools that are about to get that Wheeling Feeling for the first time.
Mingo Central is led by quarterback Jeremy Dillon, a dual-threat senior that was atop my Kennedy Award ballot. He has carried the ball 129 times for 1,135 yards and 23 touchdowns, while completing 179 of 282 (63.5 percent) for 2,680 yards and 35 touchdowns, against three interceptions.
But Dillon isn’t even the Miners’ leading rusher. That honor goes to Joe Hunt, who picked up 1,294 yards and also scored 23 times on 192 carries. Drew Hatfield (60-713-11tds) and Tyler Grimmett (36-789-12) are the top receiving threats.
Caleb Lester, who has 62 stops — 16 TFL — and three sacks is the leading tackler, followed by Grimmette (53.5, 10 pass breakups).
Quarterback Jack Abbott, who I had third in Kennedy balloting, leads the Polar Bears offense. He has rushed for more than 1,200 yards and thrown for more than 1,500 more while accounting for 38 total touchdowns. Abbott’s 2-point conversion run in double-overtime last week ended Bridgeport’s bid for a four-peat.
Another do-it-all for Farimont, is running back Bryson Gilbert who rushing and receiving prowess have garnered 18 touchdowns.
Defensively, Dante and Darius Stills have proven almost impossible to block.
PREDICTION: Mingo Central 30, Fairmont Senior 21.
Class AA, Noon
No. 2 Spring Valley (12-1)
vs. No. 1 Martinsburg (13-0)
For my money, this is the best matchup of the weekend. Another first-timer in Spring Valley, against the old guard, Martinsburg, who is making the trip for the first time since its unprecedented four-year run came to a close in 2013.
These two teams are big and they’re physical. Basically, they’re going to knock the you know what out of each other in a high-noon affair.
The Bulldogs are led by their quarterback, Tyson Bagent, whose father rose to fame as a multiple-time world arm wrestling champion. The younger Bagent, who incidentally was second on my Kennedy ballot, has completed 150 of 255 for 2,203 yards and 28 touchdowns. He’s scored nine times on the ground on 26 carries.
Mikey James is the leading rusher with 1,329 yards and 18 scores, while Grant Harman checks in with 389 yards and nine TDs on 37 carries. The leading receiver is Isaac Brown, with 58 catches, 891 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has also returned two punts and a kickoff for a score. Stephen Edmond adds 36 receptions, 672 yards and seven scores.
Lee Travis and his 102 tackles — 11 sacks — and three forced fumbles paces the Bulldogs defense. Dewayne Grantham adds 70 stops.
Last season when an underclassmen-dominated Spring Valley team lost in the first round of the playoffs against eventual champion Wheeling Park, I knew we hadn’t heard the last of it. Sure enough, here the Timberwolves are.
Coach Brad Dingess’ crew is paced by 6-foot-4, 282-pound senior guard Riley Locklear, who is headed to Tennessee next season. He is a three-star recruit that according to scout is the 25th-ranked player in the country at the position.
Quarterback Derek Johnson spearheads the Timberwolves offense, having accumulated 1,332 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground through 12 games. Johnson, who had completed 63 of 93 for 775 yards and 11 TDs, led Spring Valley on a 99-yard drive in the final minute to beat Capital in the semifinals.
Mason Brubeck is another threat in the backfield, as his 1,237 yards and 20 scores attest. Austin Stambaugh is the leading receiver with 15 catches, 297 yards and six touchdowns.
Just about any other year would belong to the the Timberwolves. But according to veteran Martinsburg writer Rick Kozlowski, this is the best team coach Dave Walker has had. The Bulldogs have been so dominant that they are looking to become the first team to go through the playoffs without allowing a point.
PREDICTION: Martinsburg 33, Spring Valley 15.
Class A, 7 p.m.
No. 2 St. Marys (13-0) vs. No. 1 East Hardy (13-0)
How can it possibly get any better than two undefeated teams going at it with a trophy on the line? That’s what fans will be treated to as the two-day showcase draws to a close.
Each team has has recent heartbreak on this stage. Two years ago St. Marys fell to rival Williamstown, 33-32 in triple-overtime. East Hardy ran roughshod over the competition on the way to Wheeling Island last season, only to find itself up against a buzzsaw of a Magnolia team, falling 62-0.
The Blue Devils come in off consecutive 47-0 shutouts — first against Gilmer County, then doing the same to Fayetteville in the semifinals.
They’re led offensively by the tandem of quarterback Will Billeter and running back Jaiden Smith. Billeter has completed 72 of 109 for 1,349 yards and 13 TDs, against two interceptions. He’s scored 11 times on the ground. Smith is the leading rusher, averaging 10.2 yards a carry. The junior has gained 1,604 yards and scored 29 times on 157 carries.
The leading receivers are Dylan Gray (26-572-7) and Braden Barnhart (23-424-4). Jacob Northrop is the top tackler with 82 stops — seven behind the line.
The Cougars pulled away from Pendleton County in the second half, 48-20, to advance to their second consecutive Super Six. They’re led by returning first team all-state quarterback Corey McDonald. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more last week. Jeffrey Mills caught two of those TD passes and Adan Funkhouser the other.
It will be close, but the Blue Devils are the most complete team I have personally seen this season — regardless of class.
PREDICTION: St. Marys 27, East Hardy 20.
Shawn Rine can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org