Of West Virginia’s three classifications for football, Class A tends to produce the most unexpected results — to a degree.
Class A is mostly made up of the Mountain State’s small rural schools and private schools. Among that group, many of the same teams end up competing in high-pressure playoff situations from year to year and that is where the surprises often occur.
Take last season, for example. Wheeling Central Catholic entered 2019 as the two-time defending state champion, but injuries to several key players sent the Maroon Knights tumbling down the WVSSAC Class A playoff ratings after a few losses in the regular season. Central entered the postseason as Class A’s No. 10 seed and proceeded to win three playoff games on the road without several all-staters available before getting past Doddridge County in the Class A state championship game.
Familiar names and faces, often unexpected or wild results — that’s Class A football in West Virginia and this season starts with no clear favorite among the group of contenders.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the teams expected to be among the best this season in the state’s small-school classification:
2019 result: 10-2, lost 34-22 to Williamstown in Class A state quarterfinals
The Cavaliers are loaded with experience after bringing back most of their starters on both sides of the ball from 2019’s 10-win team.
Greenbrier West down as recently as two seasons ago when the team won just two games, but the return of veteran coach Toby Harris and a solid class of players now entering their senior season helped the Cavalier reach the state quarterfinals in 2019.
Senior running back Noah Brown was among the best at his position in Class A last season, running for 2,154 yards (the top total among returning players in any class) and 28 touchdowns. The Cavs also bring back senior quarterback Kaiden Pack as well as last season’s leading tacklers Cody and Zach McClung.
West is scheduled to open its season Friday at home in Charmco against Summers County.
2019 result: 10-4, Won Class A state championship 38-21 against Doddridge County
The Maroon Knights, as mentioned above, struggled with injuries during the regular season before upsetting their way to another state title. The good news for Central is the team learned to win without it star players on that run. The bad news is most of those players have graduated.
Wheeling Central lost standouts Adam Murray (multiple-time winner of the state’s defensive player of the year award), Curtis McGhee, Jacob Rine and Jalen Creighton to graduation and will need players to step into those roles if a fourth-consecutive state championship is going to be a possibility.
Last season’s backup Michael Toepfer and senior Payton Marling are in competition for Central’s starting quarterback job, while senior running back Jordan Waterhouse is back after running for 1,345 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2019.
Senior linebacker Vinnie High will be leaned on as a leader on the Maroon Knights’ defense after totaling more than 100 tackles as a junior.
2019 result: 13-1, lost 38-21 to Wheeling Central in Class A state championship game
Like their state championship game opponents last season, the Bulldogs lost a good bit from their strong 2019 team, but the hope in West Union is the 2020 team can continue to build on the program’s recent success (33-5 the last three seasons).
Junior Jared Jones is expected to take over at quarterback for Doddridge after serving as the backup last season and will have returning senior running back Reese Burnside, who ran for 890 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019, at his side to help lead the offense.
On defense, the Bulldogs will be led by senior defensive back Hunter Jenkins — an all-state selection at safety by the state’s sportswriters in 2019.
2019 result: 10-3, lost 27-3 to Doddridge County in Class A state semifinals
The Yellowjackets probably the more things change, the more they stay the same in 2020.
Williamstown owns Class A’s longest playoff streak (by a wide margin) at 20 consecutive trips to the postseason, but this season it will have a new coach after the departure of longtime head coach Terry Smith — who won 33 playoff games and two state championships during his 16 years with the program. Former Yellowjacket player Chris Beck is now in charge, but the expectations have not changed.
Senior quarterback Brayden Modesitt is back for his second season as the Yellowjackets’ signal caller and will have most of his offensive line intact from 2019 with seniors Leewood Molessa, Josh Ingram, Brady Ankrom and Nick Bower expected to lead Williamstown in the trenches.
2019 result: 7-4, lost 13-12 to Wheeling Central in Class A first round playoffs
The Rebels have been up and down since being reclassified into Class A several years ago, but last season they had the chance to shine in the spotlight with Wheeling Central coming to Wayne County for a first-round playoff game. By all accounts, Tolsia had Central beat before a 70-yard touchdown with less than 10 seconds to play in the fourth quarter sank its season in excruciating fashion.
Tolsia has lots of starters back on both sides of the ball in 2020. Running backs John Wilson and Tanner Copley combined for almost 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns last season while junior quarterback Jesse Muncy also returns after winning the Rebels’ starting job last season
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH IN CLASS A
Man, Midland Trail, East Hardy, St. Marys, Pendleton County, Buffalo