By Cam Huffman
With just three weeks remaining in the high school football regular season, every game, it seems, takes on added importance as teams battle for a spot in the playoffs or to try to improve their seeding.
Twelve games are on the area slate this week, including the Register-Herald Game of the Week, which has Oak Hill traveling to Bluefield to face the Beavers.
WHAT THIS MEANS
Tonight’s game is a big one for both teams when it comes to their postseason futures.
Oak Hill (5-2) is No. 10 in Class AAA, after making the jump up from AA this season. The Red Devils will probably lock down a playoff spot with one more win, but they’re playing to earn a first-round home game, a huge advantage when it comes to the postseason. A win over Bluefield, even though it would be a AA victory, would help that cause because of bonus points.
Bluefield (6-1) is No. 5 in Class AA, and this is its best chance to move into the top four and give itself an opportunity for two home games in the playoffs. A win over a AAA team with a winning record would be huge when it comes to points.
LAST TIME THEY MET
Bluefield built a 19-0 halftime lead and held off the Red Devils in a 27-14 victory last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jalen Jones, RB — One of the best running backs in the state, the junior has already topped 1,500 yards on the ground this season and could approach 2,000 with three games left to play.
Antonio Gray, DB — The athletic sophomore gives Jones a breather from time to time at running back, and he’s a playmaker in the Red Devil secondary. In a big win over Point Pleasant two weeks ago, he returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown.
Montell Leggett, RB — Coming off a 247-yard, three-touchdown performance on the ground against Westside, the Beaver running back is playing with a great deal of confidence. Not many teams have slowed him down all season.
Corey Coppola, FB/LB — The physical sophomore has made his presence known on both sides of the football. Last week, he returned a fumble 10 yards for a touchdown, as well as scoring on a 44-yard run.
KEYS TO THE GAME
In what could be a shootout that rivals the West Virginia-Baylor matchup from earlier this year, turnovers could be huge. Oak Hill is averaging 37.9 points per game, while Bluefield is scoring more than 50 per outing. Both defenses have given up some points, at times, so something has to give.
The team that gives it away and allows the opponent to have a couple extra offensive possessions will likely be the one that ends the night with its heads hanging.
OTHER AREA GAMES
Greenbrier East at Huntington
The Spartans (2-5) face a difficult test against Class AAA’s third-rated team. The Highlanders (6-1) have only lost to No. 1 Cabell Midland, and that game came down to a last-second field goal. Staying competitive, though, would be big for an East team looking for positive results to carry into year No. 2 of the Ray Lee era.
Princeton at Cabell Midland
Like Greenbrier East, Princeton (1-7) is facing an almost impossible task. The Tigers, who are allowing more than 40 points per game, hit the road to face Class AAA’s No. 1 team. Cabell Midland (8-0) is the only undefeated squad left in the state’s largest class. Like the Spartans, though, the Tigers are trying to find some momentum to build upon with a first-year coach on the sidelines, and hanging around tonight would be a big boost.
Shady Spring at Point Pleasant
The Tigers (4-3) are still looking for their first Class AAA win after making the jump to the state’s largest class this season. Point Pleasant (5-2) won’t make that easy. The Big Blacks are ranked No. 12 in the state and trying to lock up a playoff spot. They have lost two of their last three, though, including a lopsided defeat at Oak Hill.
Woodrow Wilson at Riverside
The Flying Eagles (5-3), ranked No. 11 in Class AAA, can almost lock up a playoff spot with a win on the road tonight. Riverside (1-6), though, may be a little better than its record indicates. The Warriors have lost six straight, but they hung around against a couple of quality teams in Parkersburg and Winfield. They’re definitely battle tested, having already faced Cabell Midland, Capital and George Washington, as well.
James Monroe at Liberty
The Mavericks (2-5) are out of the playoff race, but with a young team, they’re still trying to build toward the future. Beating Liberty (4-3) would be a huge step in that progression. The Raiders, though, have plenty of motivation of their own. At No. 20 in Class AA, they could move into the playoff picture with a couple of wins down the stretch.
Nicholas County at River View
The winner of this game will take a major step toward the postseason. Nicholas County (4-3) is No. 12 in Class AA and coming off a big 49-8 win over Lincoln County, its second victory in the last three games. River View (4-3) is No. 20 in Class AA but seems to be heading in the wrong direction, losing two straight before a week off last Friday.
PikeView at Independence
The Panthers (0-7) are still looking for their first win, while Independence (3-4) is trying to fight back toward a playoff spot. The Patriots have won two of their last three, including a big win over Liberty last week.
Greenbrier West at Van
The Cavaliers (7-1) have been one of the best teams in Class A all season. They’re up to No. 2 in the smallest class, ahead of two undefeated teams, Wahama and Clay-Battelle, and behind only Tucker County (8-0). Van (1-6) has struggled this year but would get a major boost from a big home upset.
Hannan at Midland Trail
Hannan (1-6) hasn’t exactly had a season to remember, but Midland Trail is trying to put together one it won’t soon forget. The Patriots (4-3) have won three of the last four and moved up to No. 18 in the Class A polls. A couple of wins down the stretch could put Midland Trail into a place it hasn’t seen in recent years — the playoffs.
Meadow Bridge at Mount View
Meadow Bridge (6-2) was once almost a lock to host a first-round playoff game. But after losses in two of the last three — to Valley and Summers County — the Wildcats have slid all the way to No. 12 in Class A. They need a win to stop the fall and assure a playoff spot. Mount View (3-4) has been hot since breaking a 31-game losing streak with a win over Wyoming East. The Golden Knights have now won three in a row and are up to No. 28 in Class AA.
Richwood at Valley
The Lumberjacks (3-4) have lost three of their last four and need to win out to have a shot at the playoffs. That difficult task begins this week against Valley (6-1), which will be hungry to get back on track after losing for the first time last week against Parkersburg Catholic. The Greyhounds are No. 9 in Class A and playing to try to move up a spot or two in order to get a first-round playoff game.
AROUND THE STATE
Perhaps the biggest game outside the area comes in Class AA, where No. 2 Bridgeport (6-1) will travel to Mineral County to face No. 4 Keyser (6-1) for a 7 p.m. battle. The Indians’ only loss came to Class AAA Wheeling Park early in the season. Since then, they’ve been almost unstoppable.
Sean Biser’s Golden Tornado lost to border rival Allegany, out of Cumberland, Md., but has some big wins over Class AAA teams like Jefferson and Hampshire.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org