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Class A First Round Playoff Preview: Small-School Supremacy Wide-Open in 2020

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No. 12 Buffalo visits No. 5 Midland Trail in a rematch of a game the Bison won 7-0 in double overtime. (Tom Bragg/WVSN)

Year after year, Class A produces the most unusual results as far as lower-seeded teams pulling upsets in the early rounds. With the way the 2020 regular season played out that might be the case yet again across West Virginia as small schools open the postseason.

Take Wheeling Central, for example. The Maroon Knights are in the the familiar position of having to go on the road early as the No. 13 seed this year, but Central is the three-time defending state champion and just won the title last season as a double-digit seed. Anyone counting Wheeling Central out early based on being No. 13 in the playoff ratings would be unwise.

One lower seed that appears to have a decent chance of moving on this weekend is No. 16 Tygarts Valley. On Thursday the WVSSAC tweeted, then retracted, that the Bulldogs would move on due to a Tug Valley COVID forfeit. No decision had been made on the status of that game as of 11 p.m. Thursday. In addition to the Tug Valley-Tygarts Valley game there are three other games — Wheeling Central at St. Marys, Buffalo at Midland Trail and Tolsia at Williamstown — scheduled for Sunday pending the results of Saturday’s state COVID metrics map update.

As of Thursday evening, however, Class A’s field is still officially whole. That could change, but with that in mind let’s take a look around the state at the eight small-school matchups.

  • No. 16 Tygarts Valley (7-2) at No. 1 Tug Valley (3-0) – Sunday, Nov. 15  at 1:30 p.m.: As mentioned above, this game is on shaky ground. If it is played, the Bulldogs have been solid this season while the top-seeded Panthers will have gone 40 days between games. If Mingo County’s COVID status allows it, this could be a very good game regardless of seeding.
  • No. 15 Madonna (7-2) at No. 2 Greenbrier West (8-0) – Saturday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m.: Another good matchup between solid Class A programs. The Blue Dons enter the postseason on a five-game win streak but run into the unbeaten Cavaliers. West has talent all over the field and is led by one of Class A’s top players in Noah Brown.
  • No. 14 East Hardy (5-2) at No. 3 Doddridge County (6-1) – Saturday, Nov. 14 at 1:30 p.m.: A clash of familiar foes when the Cougars visit the Bulldogs. East Hardy stumbled into the playoffs with consecutive losses to close the regular season, while Doddridge County’s senior class has been to the postseason four times and fell in the 2019 state title game as the top-seed to Wheeling Central.
  • No. 13 Wheeling Central (6-3) at No. 4 St. Marys (8-1) – Sunday, Nov. 15 at 1:30 p.m.: As heavyweight a fight as it gets in West Virginia Class A football. The Maroon Knights have won the last three state championships (2019, 2018, 2017) while the Blue Devils took the trophy home to Pleasants County in 2016. Central has three losses on its schedule that knocked it down the playoff ratings — but those came to fellow playoff participants Class AAA Parkersburg and Class AA Poca as well as a team from Ohio — with zero losses to Class A competition. St. Marys’ lone loss came to rival Williamstown and since then the Blue Devils have rolled off four consecutive wins.
  • No. 12 Buffalo (5-2) at No. 5 Midland Trail (4-1) – Sunday, Nov. 15 at 3:00 pm: Two teams with aspirations of making some noise in the playoffs, the Bison and Patriots are set to meet for the second time this season after a defensive standoff in the first game. Buffalo went on the road last month and beat then-No. 1 Midland Trail 7-0 in double overtime and will be looking for a similar result Sunday in its return trip to Hico.
  • No. 11 Tolsia (4-2) at No. 6 Williamstown (5-2) – Sunday, Nov. 15 at 1:30 p.m.: The Rebels return to the playoffs after opening-round heartbreak at home last season in a 13-12 loss to Wheeling Central. Tolsia’s wins this season have not come against great competition, while Williamstown has a win over St. Marys among its five wins. The Yellowjackets did, however, lose their last game 33-14 at Wheeling Central. If Williamstown is down at all, Tolsia is the type of team that can take advantage of that.
  • No. 10. Wirt County (5-2) at No. 7 Ritchie County (8-2) – Saturday, Nov. 14 at 1:30 p.m.: Ritchie County was one of the few teams in the state to complete a 10-game schedule, but the Rebels’ eight wins can be somewhat deceiving. One of those wins came against a playoff team (Moorefield), while the two losses came against St. Marys and Doddridge County. Coincidentally, that is also almost exactly the case for Wirt County. The Tigers won five games against non-playoff teams and lost to St. Marys and Doddridge County.
  • No. 9 Moorefield (4-2) at No. 8 Pendleton County (5-2) – Friday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m.: Pendleton County has been piling up wins since a mid-September loss to Greenbrier West, averaging 34 points per game in its last four contests. Moorefield’s two losses came by a combined 13 points to fellow Class A playoff participants Ritchie County and East Hardy, and one of its wins was against Class AA playoff qualifier Herbert Hoover. This is the only Class A game scheduled for Friday.
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Tom has spent the last decade as a sports journalist based in West Virginia, most recently as the WVU beat writer for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and with previous stops at the Charleston Daily Mail, the (Fairmont) Times West Virginian and the Daily Independent in Ashland, Kentucky. He was born and raised in Cross Lanes, West Virginia -- where he currently resides -- and is a 2010 graduate of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Marshall University.

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