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Class AAA Playoffs Quarterfinal Preview: Bridgeport, Martinsburg Set for Clash

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Cam Cole and Bridgeport visit No. 4 Martinsburg in this week's Class AAA state quarterfinals. (photo by Sean McNamara)

State champion meets state champion this weekend in the West Virginia Class AAA high school football state quarterfinals when No. 5 Bridgeport (7-1) visits No. 4 Martinsburg (5-1).

The game, tentatively scheduled for Friday at Martinsburg’s Cobourn Field pending Berkeley County’s status on the department of education’s color-coded COVID metrics map, pits the Bridgeport — a perennial power and last season’s Class AA state champions making the leap back to the big school classification in 2020 — and Martinsburg — the four-time defending Class AAA state champion who saw its four-year long winning streak (the second longest in the county at the time) snapped this season.

Take away everything COVID-related and it has still been a season of change for both powerhouse programs. For Martinsburg, that change starts at the top with ultra-successful veteran coach Dave Walker leaving the high school ranks to take over the Concord University program and longtime assistant Britt Sherman taking over at the helm of the program. At Bridgeport, that change came in the form of the step up to Class AAA competition and a switch from the Indians’ famous I-Formation attack to a single wing offense. Both teams have navigated that change with relative ease minus one shared speedbump — losses to Spring Valley.

The Timberwolves went to the Eastern Panhandle in September and ended Martinsburg’s 57-game win streak dating back to 2016 before snapping Bridgeport’s 14-game win streak last month in Harrison County. Still, both Martinsburg and Bridgeport have been among the state’s most impressive big schools whenever they were on the field this season. That includes last week when the Bulldogs walloped George Washington 62-0 and Bridgeport beat Washington 55-7.

Martinsburg, as usual, is loaded with playmakers on both sides of the ball. Quarterbacks Kevon Warren and Peyton Curry each accounted for 14 touchdowns this season while running back Naieem Kearny has again been among the state’s best at his position as the Bulldogs put up points at an average of 58.1 per game. On defense, Martinsburg defense has been opportunistic in forcing 15 turnovers in just six regular season games played.

Bridgeport’s Cam Cole has led the way on the ground this season with more than 1,300 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, but as usual the Indians have more than one (or two) players capable to doing damage on the ground. Hayden Moore is the team’s second-leading runner at 554 yards and 11 touchdowns while J.T. Muller finished the regular season at 530 yards and seven touchdowns.

Let’s take a look around the Mountain State at Class AAA’s three other quarterfinal games scheduled for this weekend:

  • No. 9 Spring Mills (5-2) at No. 1 Cabell Midland (5-0) – Friday, Nov. 20 – 7:30 p.m.: A forfeit win in the first round was technically just the second postseason victory in school history for Spring Mills, which opened its doors in the fall of 2013 as a result of overcrowding at Martinsburg and Hedgesville high schools. The other win came last season before a 70-0 exit against eventual champion Martinsburg. This season the Cardinals, again in the state quarterfinals as the No. 9 seed, get another chance to knock off No. 1 for a spot in the semifinal round. Midland’s only loss since the start of the 2019 season came to that same Martinsburg team in last season’s state championship game, and the Knights appear poised for a potential return to Wheeling Island Stadium in 2020. Midland doesn’t do much fancy, but the Knights won’t shy away from a fight with fullback Jakob Caudill and quarterback Jaydyn Johnson (among several others) leading a bruising ground attack. Working against Midland however, will be the fact that Spring Mills has one of the state’s top quarterbacks in Keon Padmore-Johnson and also the fact that the Knights have only played once since an October 9 win at Hurricane.
  • No. 10 Princeton (6-2) at No. 2 South Charleston (5-0) – Friday, Nov. 20 – 7:30 p.m.: Two of the most potent offensive attacks in the state — both led by outstanding play from sophomore quarterbacks — collide Friday at Black Eagle Stadium in Kanawha County. South Charleston quarterback Trey Dunn has led the Black Eagle offense to an unbeaten record with lopsided wins and an appearance on ESPN’s “You Got Mossed” weekly segment. For Princeton, quarterback Grant Cochran has thrown for a school-record 25 touchdowns. Both have certainly had help along the way with players like SC’s Mondrell Dean, Shyleik Kinney and Princeton’s Amir Powell chipping in with big-play potential. Defense, however, could prove to be the difference between the visiting Tigers and Black Eagles. Princeton’s defense has allowed more than 14 points just twice in nine games played, while South Charleston has, arguably, the best defensive line in the state led by Cincinnati commit Zeiqui Lawton.
  • No. 6 Spring Valley* (4-1) at No. 3 Musselman (7-1) – Sunday, Nov. 22, 5 p.m. (Wayne County must improve on Saturday COVID map or SV forced to forfeit): These teams have only met one other time — an Applemen win in the Eastern Panhandle in the first round of the 1998 Class AAA playoffs. Fast-forward 22 years and they’ll do it again with a spot in the state semifinals on the line. Both of these teams are loaded, with all-staters and future collegiate players up and down the rosters. For Musselman, senior running back Blake Hartman — a Lehigh commit — broke the state’s all-time scoring record in last week’s win against University and is among the front-runners for several individual postseason awards. Spring Valley features perhaps the state’s best offensive line led by WVU commit Wyatt Milum — one of the nation’s top-rated offensive tackle recruits. The Timberwolves own two of the state’s best wins this season with victories at Martinsburg and Bridgeport, but a loss at Class AA Fairmont Senior dropped SV in the playoff ratings — and don’t discount the fact that Spring Valley advanced to the quarterfinals via a Hurricane COVID map forfeit last week and has not played since that mid-October win at Bridgeport.
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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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