Mammoth Showdown in AAA
Martinsburg, Spring Valley Meet for Title
WHEELING — Two great teams with completely different pasts will compete on the gridiron of Wheeling Island Stadium at noon on Saturday for the Class AAA West Virginia State Championship.
This is the ninth trip to the Super Six in the last 15 years for undefeated and top-seeded Martinsburg, which has not allowed a point during its current playoff run. The Bulldogs won the state title four years in a row from 2010-2013 and will be looking to collect another trophy to display in the halls of Martinsburg High School.
“We have a great group of kids,” Martinsburg coach David Walker said. “They have worked really hard and have had a great year. They are very coachable, fun to be around and they make it enjoyable to be at practice. I am proud of the way they have come together.”
Their opponent, the 9-1 Timberwolves of Spring Valley, a team that had one postseason victory in school history with no state championship appearances prior to this run.
The ride to the title game has been anything but easy for the Timberwolves. Last week’s semifinal contest with Capital was proof of that. Capital, a team that Spring Valley had never beaten prior to this season, had the ball at the 1-yard line on fourth-and-goal. The Timberwolves defense made a stand for the history books to keep the game knotted a 14-14. Then, the offense embarked on a 99-yard drive, which resulted in a game-winning 49-yard touchdown run by Derek Johnson with 36 seconds left in the game to propel Spring Valley to its first state championship appearance.
“I have never been in a better high school atmosphere than our last home game with Capital,” Spring Valley coach Brad Dingess said. “The place was packed and our kids have worked so hard and to experience something like that, is what high school football is all about.”
Before knocking off Capital last week, Spring Valley had defeated Buckhannon-Upshur and South Charleston in the postseason.
“If you would have told me that we would be playing in the state championship after beating South Charleston and Capital twice, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Dingess said. “These players have been starting since they were sophomores, so we have been kind of building up to this moment. Its been a good year for us and to get back here for our community and school has been awesome.”
Spring Valley took a tough loss in Week 2 at the hands of Huntington by a narrow 17-13 count, but looking back Dingess believes that was the turning point of the season.
“That loss to Huntington in Week 2 was the best thing for us,” he said. “We made a couple of changes after that and just got better and better every week I thought. Our kids are the most complete team I have ever been around and they don’t care who gets the credit.”
History is on Martinsburg’s side but it has not been back to the state title game since they last won it in 2013. Last year, it was a second-round exit for the Bulldogs and the year before, they fell in the semifinals. This year, however, Martinsburg has marched through the postseason with shutout victories against Hedgesville, George Washington and Morgantown to get to the final showdown.
“We have played well in the playoffs, especially on defense,” Walker said. “We were playing well at the end of the season. It’s been a year of ups and downs, despite being unbeaten, but having a team play well right now is where you want to be as a coach.”
Three juniors who have led the Martinsburg offense this year are quarterback Tyson Bagent, tailback Mikey Jackson and wide receiver Isaac Brown.
“Offensively, Bagent, Jackson and Brown are the three guys that get a lot of attention,” Walker said of his trio. “We also have a hard-working group of guys on the defensive side of the ball.”
Spring Valley has impressive talent on its sideline as well, led by Johnson at quarterback and six running backs who have taken turns making lives miserable for opposing defenses.
Senior right tackle Riley Locklear will be playing for Tennessee next year and sophomore right guard Doug Nester has already received offers from Tennessee, West Virginia, Marshall and Virginia Tech.
“We don’t have that one guy but we have six backs who rotate and they have all rushed for over 100 yards in a game this year,” Dingess said. “We mix our defense up really well. In fact, the defense might be our best side of the ball.”
There is no question that the talent on the field Saturday afternoon is outstanding, but without the work put in, none of this is possible.
“Getting back here was the goal for a lot of our kids,” Walker said. “I am so proud of the effort that they put forth and it will be exciting, win or lose. Expectations are high for our program and I know the kids will represent themselves well.”