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Class AAA First Round Playoff Preview: Few Tests Expected Early for Favorites

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Standout Blake Hartman (6) and No. 3 Musselman host No. 14 University on Saturday (Tom Bragg/WVSN)

As is often the case, the top half of the Class AAA field in the West Virginia high school football playoffs appears to — for the most part — be heavy favorites in their first-round games set for this weekend.

While there are certainly some good matchups in the bunch — and we’ll get to those — in six of the eight games a win by the lower seeded team would not just be an upset but a massive upset. The top teams in the state’s big school classification established themselves pretty clearly in the 2020 regular season and with Martinsburg no longer invincible (but still very dangerous) there are at least six teams that have to feel like they have as good a shot as anyone else at lifting the state championship trophy next month at Wheeling Island Stadium.

Do upsets occur? Of course, but it would be stunning if any of the top-six seeds lost on the field this weekend. The state’s COVID metrics map, however, could prove to be the biggest hurdle to several home teams this weekend. Let’s hop in for a quick peek at each of this weekend’s eight games:

  • No. 16 John Marshall (5-4) at No. 1 Cabell Midland (5-0) – Sunday, Nov. 15 at 1:30 p.m.: JM struggled down the stretch and slipped into the final playoff spot, meaning it will have its hands full with top-seed Cabell Midland. The Knights are a powerhouse but have had to start and stop their season several times due to COVID-related issues in Cabell County. JM, however, won’t play if Marshall County does not improve its standing on Saturday’s map update. If they do, Jakob Caudill, Jaydyn Johnson and the rest of the Knights should not have much trouble with the visiting Monarchs.
  • No. 15 Ripley (6-3) at No. 2 South Charleston (5-0) – Sunday, Nov. 15 at 3 p.m.: The Vikings come into the playoffs off a win against Class A rival Ravenswood, but safe to say South Charleston is a considerable step up in competition. The No. 2 Black Eagles feature one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the state and have a hard-nosed defense led by recent Cincinnati commit Zeiqui Lawton in the trenches. Jackson County was one of the state’s orange counties last week, so without improvement on Saturday’s map Ripley is out of this one.
  • No. 14 University (3-3) at No. 3 Musselman (6-1) – Saturday, Nov. 14 at 1:30 p.m.: This is an interesting contest due to the fact that Musselman has not played since an early October win at Hurricane. The Hawks, meanwhile, were one of the last teams in the state to get the season started and ducked into the postseason with a .500 record. If the Applemen are rusty University could be a potential spoiler here, but even at less than 100 percent Lehigh-bound Blake Hartman and the Musselman attack present a significant challenge to even the best teams in the state.
  • No. 13 George Washington (3-2) at No. 4 Martinsburg (4-1) – Friday, Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m.: Anything other than a lopsided Bulldog win here would be enough to raise some eyebrows, but like Musselman, Martinsburg has not played a football game in quite some time. GW can put up some points behind senior quarterback R.T. Alexander and has arguably the state’s best kicker in Appalachian State commit Michael Hughes, but Martinsburg — even with a rare loss on its regular season record — is still Martinsburg and the Bulldogs are loaded.
  • No. 12 Washington (5-4) at No. 5 Bridgeport (6-1) – Saturday, Nov. 14 at 1:30 p.m.: Washington is a solid team in the unfortune spot of being the fourth-best playoff team in the Eastern Panhandle that often gets overshadowed by its noisy neighbors. Tough draw for the Patriots here with a trip to Bridgeport — last season’s Class AA state champion who made the jump back to AAA in 2020. The Indians have long been known for their ability to punish teams on the ground, but are doing it out of a new-look Single Wing attack this season.
  • No. 11 Hurricane (4-2) at No. 6 Spring Valley (4-1) – Sunday, Nov. 15 at 1:30 p.m.: If Putnam County improves its “orange” designation on Saturday’s map update, it will be interesting to see which Hurricane team shows up at Spring Valley on Sunday. Will it be the Hurricane team who hung 60 points on Parkersburg or went toe-to-toe with Cabell Midland and nearly knocked off the top-rated Knights? Or will it be the Hurricane team that showed little resistance as Blake Hartman and Musselman tore them to shreds on a Saturday afternoon? Spring Valley could be a little bit rusty after being sidelined multiple map-related weeks, but when the Timberwolves are clicking they can beat anyone — just asked Martinsburg and Bridgeport. SV’s lone loss came to Class AA Fairmont Senior with Polar Bear quarterback Gage Michael putting on a show in the win. For Hurricane to stand a chance it will need its quarterback, junior Ismael Borrero, to do the same.
  • No. 10 Princeton (6-2) at No. 7 Wheeling Park (7-1) – Sunday, Nov. 15 at 5 p.m.: This has game of the week potential written all over it if Ohio County can improve on the map and Wheeling Park is allowed to play. The Patriots lone loss came out of state in the season-opener and they have been a problem for opposing defenses ever since. Princeton has two losses on its record but both came to the same team — Class AA powerhouse and southern West Virginia rival Bluefield. The Tigers and Patriots can light up a scoreboard with the best of them, so if they get to play the scoreboard operator at Wheeling Island Stadium better be prepared to work.
  • No. 9 Spring Mills (5-2) at No. 8 Parkersburg (6-2) – Sunday, Nov. 15 at 1:30 p.m.: Two of AAA’s most underrated players in Parkersburg quarterback Bryson Singer and Spring Mills quarterback Keon Padmore-Johnson are set to go head-to-head in this one pending Wood County’s status on Saturday’s map update. Parkersburg took some time to find its groove this season, but have been one of AAA’s best teams over the last month. The No. 9 Cardinals have looked very good in their five wins but the two losses came to the two best teams on its schedule — Class AA power Frankfort and four-time defending AAA state champion Martinsburg. If Spring Mills wants to get over the hump, it has to beat a good team eventually — and Parkersburg is certainly playing like a good team right now.

 

 

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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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