No. 1 debate ends today
WHEELING, W.Va. - It's been 125 days since the beginning of preseason drills, but we can finally settle the season-long debate around the state: Who's No. 1 in Class AAA?
Because, honestly, there's been some confusion about the subject, even now - four months after the season started.
Two-time defending champion Martinsburg (12-1) and unbeaten Cabell Midland (13-0) lock up at noon today in the AAA finals with history on the line at Wheeling Island Stadium.
With a victory, Martinsburg can match Charleston High's feat of capturing three straight AAA championships (1968-70), something no other school has managed to do. Midland, in existence since 1994, seeks its first state crown.
The discrepancy over who should be regarded as No. 1 has been argued back and forth since the preseason started on July 30.
George Washington began the year as the No. 1 team in preseason polls, riding the skills of Kennedy Award-winning running back Ryan Switzer. That fact certainly didn't go unnoticed in the Eastern Panhandle, as Martinsburg fans felt the honor should go to a program that had won 28 straight games.
Then when the SSAC ratings came out after the third week of the regular season, Midland captured the No. 1 spot and stayed there the rest of the way, earning the top seed in the playoffs. The Knights come into today's title match as the lone unbeaten team left in AAA.
During preparations this week, even the competing coaches weren't in agreement over who's really No. 1.
"They're very explosive,'' Midland coach Luke Salmons said of the Bulldogs. "That's why they're No. 1 and state champs.''
But, coach, aren't you No. 1?
"Back when that came out in Week 3 or 4,'' Salmons said, "I asked our kids, 'Who's No. 1?' They said, 'We are.' I said, 'No, we're not. Not until we beat Martinsburg, because they won it. They're No. 1.'
"Our kids have not been approaching it like they're the No. 1 team. All year, all they want to do is win and go to the next game.''
Martinsburg's Dave Walker, who coaches his 200th game for the school today, realizes his team expended a lot of energy in disproving doubters by blasting GW 63-14 in last week's quarterfinals.
"All season long, we've heard George Washington was the best team in the state, and how good Ryan Switzer is,'' Bulldogs quarterback Justin "Cookie'' Clinton said to The Journal of Martinsburg after last week's game.
"He is a great player, don't get me wrong, but we have some good players, too.''
Walker, however, thinks his squad possesses enough maturity to turn its attention to Midland and not dwell on the coveted conquest of GW.
"I think they're mature enough,'' Walker said. "They live to play. We know that Cabell Midland has a great team - they're undefeated and they're the No. 1 team in the state.
"I think once they got through that [GW] game, and they found out who they were going to play [in the finals], all that was taken care of. The kids started to focus on Cabell Midland. They understand they've got their work cut out for them. We're going against a great team, and it's a great task.''
Some of the state's top players will be on display at Island Stadium today, including Clinton, who's made a late-season run at stealing Switzer's Kennedy glory, and a pair of Division I recruits for Martinsburg - lineman Eugene German (Charlotte) and receiver Cedric Brown (Ohio).
For Midland, running back David Gaydosz owns more than 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground, and right tackle Josh Baisden is a returning first-team all-state lineman.
Salmons, whose staff has employed a fairly strict two-platoon system much of the season - with athletes not playing both ways in order to keep them fresh - said all bets are off on that policy today. Gaydosz may join Kasey Thomas and Stephen Matthews at times in the secondary.
"We want to leave it all out there,'' Salmons said, "and do whatever we've got to do.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AAA: BY THE NUMBERS
No. 1 Cabell Midland (13-0) vs. No. 2 Martinsburg (12-1)
Noon today Wheeling Island Stadium