By Cam Huffman
PATH TO THE POSTSEASON
The Flying Eagles played what had to be one of the state’s most difficult schedules. It started out with Princeton and Greenbrier East, two teams that had less-than-fantastic seasons, but both were rivals, and Woodrow had to fight hard to win the first two.
Then came Hurricane, which will play No. 3 George Washington as a No. 14 seed in the Class AAA playoffs. Beckley passed that test, as well, winning 35-34 thanks to a late 2-point conversion.
At 3-0, Woodrow had some confidence on its side heading to Spring Valley, but the current Class AAA No. 8 team just had too much offense and won 41-12.
Refusing to let that loss set them back, the Flying Eagles came back the next week with an impressive 44-0 thrashing of Ripley to improve to 4-1.
The next two weeks provided matchups that would have been tough for any team. The first was a road trip to Cabell Midland, the No. 1 team in Class AAA entering the playoffs. The Knights won 70-34, and Woodrow’s next game came against Huntington, currently the No. 4 team in AAA.
Beckley came up short in that matchup, as well, losing 30-22.
Wins over Parkersburg (30-22) and Riverside (36-13) were enough to clinch a playoff spot, even after a 35-14 loss to Capital to end the regular season.
Woodrow Wilson (6-4) will begin the playoffs as a No. 15 seed.
“Obviously, we’ve played a very difficult schedule, and I hope that’s made us better,” said Flying Eagle head coach John H. Lilly. “I don’t think we’ll be intimidated. We’ve played or scrimmaged Martinsburg something like eight times in the last four or five years. So we know each other well.”
The Bulldogs’ run to a 9-1 regular season and a No. 2 seed in Class AAA was impressive, to say the least.
Defensively, Martinsburg pitched three shutouts this year, and it allowed only 119 points in 10 games. The last five weeks — after the Bulldogs suffered their only loss of the year, a 36-33 against Westminister (Md.) — Martinsburg has outscored opponents 280-28.
Almost half of the Bulldogs’ 10 wins came against out-of-state teams — Sherando (Va.), H.D. Woodson (D.C.), Handley (Va.) and Patrick Henry (Va.) — but they did knock off Mountain State playoff teams No. 5 Morgantown (56-28) and No. 10 Musselman (73-0) in impressive fashion. Martinsburg’s other wins came over Hedgesville (62-0), Washington (63-15) and Jefferson (60-3).
The Bulldog offense averaged 53.5 points per game.
WHAT’S ON THE LINE?
The winner of this contest will meet up with the winner between No. 7 Capital and No. 19 Musselman in the second round.
Martinsburg has won the last two Class AAA state championships, the only two in school history.
Woodrow Wilson last won a state championship in 1977, beating Fairmont Senior 6-0. It also won the title in 1947, 1948 and 1951.
The Flying Eagles and Bulldogs met in the first round of the playoffs a year ago, with Martinsburg claiming a 49-13 victory.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Andrew Johnson, QB — The Flying Eagles’ senior signal caller is their top playmaker. He leads the team in rushing, gaining 781 yards on 141, and passing, completing 45 percent of his throws for 1,026 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has tossed 12 interceptions in 10 games.
Anthony Hosea, DE — The senior defensive end led Woodrow with 116 tackles during the regular season. He had 12 sacks and recovered three fumbles, putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Justin Clinton, QB — Like Johnson, the Bulldogs’ top offensive threat is the team leader in both rushing and passing. He’s averaging more than eight yards per rush and has scored 12 touchdowns on the ground. Through the air, Clinton has completed 74 of 120 passes for 1,228 yards and 14 touchdowns, compared to just five interceptions.
Cedric Brown, WR — An Ohio University commitment, Brown is the team’s top receiver, having hauled in 33 passes for 458 yards and six touchdowns. He’s also a punt returner and has taken two of his eight returns back for touchdowns.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The biggest factor in the final result will be turnovers. Woodrow needs Martinsburg to make a few to have a chance, and the Flying Eagles can’t afford to have any of their own.
Against the best teams on their schedule, the Flying Eagles have moved the ball just fine, but key giveaways at important times have kept them from pulling off a major upset.
“I think that’s imperative,” Lilly said of avoiding the simple mistakes. “We’re a big play team, and we have a lot of quick hitters. But we can’t make mental mistakes in big games against big teams. To have a chance, we have to eliminate those things.”
The Flying Eagles also have to make Martinsburg drive the ball down the field and eliminate the big plays that could put the game out of reach before the teams even get warmed up and ready to play.
“They’re just dynamite with big plays,” Lilly said of the Bulldogs. “We have to make them earn what they get. We’re a young team, and we’ve had some growing pains. But I’m hoping they’re ready to step up against an offensive powerhouse.”
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
The snow forced Woodrow Wilson to miss a couple of practices last week, and even this week the Flying Eagles had to change venues to find a field ready for play. They went to Concord on Monday and practiced at Linda K. Epling Stadium on Tuesday.
“That’s changed some things, but I think the change of venue helped us break out of a rut and have some good practices,” said Lilly. “Our kids are excited and ready to play.”