Three-peat complete for Martinsburg
WHEELING - Move over, Charleston High Mountain Lions. You've got some company at the top of record book.
Martinsburg flashed a deadly combination of speed and power Saturday afternoon, securing a spot in state playoff history with a 38-14 victory over No. 1 and previously unbeaten Cabell Midland in the Class AAA championship game. An estimated crowd of 5,500 attended at sunny Wheeling Island Stadium.
Senior quarterback Justin "Cookie'' Clinton threw for a pair of first-quarter touchdowns to Cedric Brown and ran for another score for Martinsburg, and sophomore running back Trey Boyd rushed for 186 yards and two more TDs.
The win gave the Bulldogs three straight AAA titles, something that's happened only once previously since the 3-A division began 54 years ago - Charleston High took three in a row from 1968-70. There have been five repeat champs since then, but no three-peats until Saturday.
"They're all in a special place,'' said Martinsburg coach Dave Walker, "and obviously the first time is special, but they're all great. This group of guys just really worked hard. They didn't want to have any dropoff from where we've been.''
Despite their coaching staff's attempts to downplay the historical aspect of Saturday's contest, Martinsburg's players realized the opportunity they were presented.
"It means a lot,'' Clinton said, "especially to our community back in Martinsburg. We came here and we wanted to make a statement, and we wanted to make history. And you can see what we did today.''
The second-seeded Bulldogs (13-1) took control early, vaulting into a 21-0 lead moments into the second quarter and saw their first four possessions go the distance for touchdowns no matter the circumstances.
The first two scores came on short fields (37 and 54 yards) after Midland punts, but the second two were lengthy drives. Boyd burst off right tackle for 83 yards and a TD on a second-and-24 play and Boyd later capped an 80-yard march with a 4-yard run.
Midland, meanwhile, had trouble stringing positive plays together with its trademark running game and fell behind 28-7 by halftime. Three of its six first-half drives fizzled after facing calls of third-and-11, third-and-10 and third-and-11.
"It's just hard to overcome some things that early,'' said Knights coach Luke Salmons, "especially when the kids are excited. You can preach it and so on, but you can't do everything.
"You've almost got to play close to perfect against these guys. That's why they're three-time state champs. We missed some opportunities, I felt like, and you can't do that in big games.''
David Gaydosz, Midland's top runner on the season, helped his team play a more competitive second half and finished with 130 yards on 25 carries with a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs. He also completed a 22-yard pass, played a good portion of the game as a defensive back for the first time all season (making six tackles) and was selected as Midland's MVP in a media vote.
After Clinton's 2-yard TD run with 8:55 left in the third quarter stretched the lead to 35-7, the Knights went about getting back in the game.
They used gains of 20 yards by fullback Lowell Farley (16 carries, 118 yards) and 42 yards by Gaydosz to get down to the 1, from where a Gaydosz score made it 35-14.
Midland (13-1), the top seed in AAA, then got two straight stops on defense and embarked on drives that would pick up first downs at Martinsburg's 35 and 40, respectively, but each fizzled soon after.
The Bulldogs then iced it with a 48-yard field goal with 4:41 left from Tyler DeHaven, the state's longest field goal in any class this season. It marked the most points Cabell Midland had allowed in any game this year.
"They're the best team by far we've played this whole year,'' Gaydosz said of Martinsburg. "They have so many athletes and they spread them out. They use their athletes well, and they're well-coached.''
Boyd's 83-yard TD run was probably the back-breaker for Midland, which trailed at the time 14-0.
Clinton was tossed for a 4-yard loss by Knights linebacker Nick Gallaher and two straight procedure penalties placed Martinsburg in a second-and-24 hole at its own 17. That's when Boyd jetted around the right corner and outraced all Midland defenders.
"That was a huge play,'' Walker said. "I felt like if we got our kids out in space, they would be all right. It's a case where Trey was able to break loose and make some yardage.''
Clinton certainly had his moments, too, and was voted his team's MVP after running 16 times for 101 yards and one TD and hitting on 8 of 14 passes for 125 yards with two TDs and one interception. He was sacked only once.
His first touchdown toss was a quick hitch to the left flat to Brown, who followed his blocking and advanced it 7 yards for a score. The second was inches away from being a big play for Midland.
Clinton dropped to throw from the Midland 29 and was crushed by blitzing linebacker Nick Boone an instant after he blindly heaved the ball downfield. The ball seemed to float in the air forever, but Brown had worked his way behind Alex Childers in single coverage and was able to gather it in for a TD to make it 14-0.
For Midland, Farley got much of his yardage on carries of 68 and 20 yards. Even though both he and Gaydosz topped the 100-yard mark on the ground, the Knights went just 1 of 8 through the air for 22 yards and didn't possess enough quick-strike capability to rally from their early deficit.
"The kids are upset,'' Salmons said. "It's hard because you expect to win no matter what you do. But hats off to their coaches and players [at Martinsburg]. They've got a good program.''