After nearly a decade of dominance by one program, Class AAA high school football in West Virginia feels more open at the top than it has been in quite some time.
Martinsburg, the four-time defending state champion in the Mountain State’s largest classification, is certainly still among the teams to beat in 2020 but with three weeks remaining in the regular season no one, two or even three teams have emerged as the favorites.
Instead, there are at least seven teams that have separated themselves as not just playoff contenders but threats to make deep runs in the postseason. Add to that group teams such as John Marshall, Princeton, Spring Mills, George Washington, Greenbrier East, Parkersburg and even surprising St. Albans — who sits at 2-0 including the first win against Capital in program history — and there are some teams poised to potentially make life rough for possible playoff opponents.
For this exercise, let’s group teams into categories. We’ll start at the top in no particular order with the seven teams I consider legitimate contenders to win the AAA state title:
State title contenders
- Cabell Midland
- Spring Valley
- Wheeling Park
- South Charleston
Solid playoff teams
- Spring Mills
- Greenbrier East
- George Washington
- John Marshall
On the bubble
- St. Albans
- Oak Hill
That is 20 teams in the mix for 16 playoff spots — someone is going to be left on the outside looking in. Some of these teams still need a game or two to get to the four games — the WVSSAC mandated minimum for teams hoping to qualify for the playoffs this season — so expect to see more doubling up in the remaining week if there are any more COVID or map-related delays. That march begins Monday evening in the Kanawha Valley when St. Albans takes its 2-0 record to neighboring rival South Charleston.
The Black Eagles are also 2-0 and have looked the part of a contender with a high-powered offense led by sophomore quarterback Trey Dunn and a lockdown defense led by standout senior lineman Zeiqui Lawton. The Red Dragons, meanwhile held Capital to just six points last week and kept Nitro off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter in their season-opening “Bridge” game game win two weeks ago. SA’s defense has been very good so far, but Monday will be the biggest test so far.
Mountain State Monday (and Tuesday) Night Football
Three other games are on the schedule around the state Monday evening:
- Capital at Riverside
- Nitro at Sissonville
- Grafton at Roane County
Tuesday’s slate feature five games:
- Herbert Hoover at Man
- Buffalo at Wayne
- Meadow Bridge at Van
- Sherman at Ravenswood
- Lincoln County at Chapmanville
Musselman makes statement with big win at Hurricane
Musselman had heard the whispers and were out to prove the doubters wrong on Saturday. The Eastern Panhandle is more than just Martinsburg, as the Applemen proved in a 49-7 rout at Hurricane.
Senior standout Blake Hartman carried the ball 23 times for more than 260 yards with three rushing touchdowns — including a 94-yard dash through the Hurricane defense. Hartman also returned the opening kickoff of the third quarter for a touchdown and for good measure also threw a 43-yard touchdown pass.
Hartman has impressed the the Eastern Panhandle fans for several years, but perhaps there has been a method to Musselman’s scheduling during 2020’s COVID scramble. The state’s sportswriter’s association members each vote for the Kennedy Award — given to West Virginia’s top high school football player. The thing about that is, obviously some parts of the state have more sportswriters than others. The Applemen and Hartman have toured West Virginia in recent weeks with impressive showings at Fairmont Senior, Morgantown and then Saturday at Hurricane — all three with some of the state’s largest newspapers — meaning hubs of potential Kennedy Award votes — nearby.
“Hartman for Kennedy,” Musselman coach Brian Thomas said after Saturday’s win. “I’m usually not that loud and outspoken, but my gosh — you can’t make them better than this young man.
“I think everybody in the Eastern Panhandle knows him obviously, and we’ve played games at Morgantown and Fairmont so I think everyone in the middle of the state knows him. Now, hopefully, everybody in this part of the state knows him. I think he’s the best player in the state, and that’s not disrespect to anyone else. The things that he does that I see daily, I’ve never been able to see anybody do them. I can’t say enough.”