Martinsburg coach Dave Walker (center) celebrates with assistant Buddy Hesen after the Bulldogs' win on Saturday afternoon.
WHEELING - The underlying theme for this year's Super Six? How about: Being there sure counts for something.All three state football champions - Martinsburg (Class AAA), Wayne (AA) and Wahama (A) - were no strangers to Wheeling Island Stadium, which doubtlessly helped their fortunes over the weekend.Martinsburg won its third consecutive title Saturday afternoon with a 38-14 victory over previously unbeaten Cabell Midland, which was appearing in the finals for the first time.Wayne won its second straight crown on Friday night with a 35-0 whitewash of Keyser, which hadn't reached the title game since 1969.Finally, Wahama captured its very first championship Saturday night with a wild 43-42 overtime win against Madonna. The Blue Dons were in the Super Six for the fourth time since 2004, but the White Falcons were there more recently, having lost to Wheeling Central in the 2010 finals.
All three schools had interesting tales to tell following the games, and the weekend sort of came full circle with outstanding efforts tying in the past (Martinsburg), present (Wahama-Madonna) and future (Wayne).nn
Martinsburg matched Charleston High (1968-70) as the only schools to ever win three straight AAA crowns since that division came into play in 1958.Oddly, it was only a few short years ago that the Bulldogs were on a run the other way, having matched the Buffalo Bills streak of Super Bowl futility by losing four straight times when they made the finals (2001, '03, '04, '06). To some, their program appeared cursed."I thought that myself,'' said Martinsburg coach Dave Walker. "But I'm a firm believer that if you work hard enough and that if you keep doing what you think is right, good things will happen for you. I think this is a good example."I've been blessed to be able to be around some great people, and our kids have worked extremely hard and we've got a great staff. If you do it long enough, you'll see it all. I just hope, well, I don't want to see the other end of it for a while.''Martinsburg's roster included 25 seniors who ended their careers on top three straight times."I don't know how to explain it,'' said lineman Eugene German, one of those seniors. "It's just hard work and dedication is in that three - hard work and dedication.''
Walker said he couldn't pick and choose which titles felt better."They're all in a special place,'' he said. "All the kids have been great, and we've had some great ones here. We've got some great ones coming, too, as long as they continue to work to be successful.''
Some wonder if Martinsburg, with its growing population area, won't become an annual visitor to Wheeling."This thing runs in cycles, man, in high school football, and up there in Martinsburg, it's a big area and they're going to be tough to compete with for a good while,'' said George Washington coach Steve Edwards Jr., whose team fell to the Bulldogs 63-14 in the semifinals."[Walker's] got a good deal up there from the looks of the kids he's running in and out and putting in the ballgame. He's been pretty loaded. I don't look for them to fall off any. People talk about them being not as good as last year ... I think they're more athletic than they were last year. They're solid. Bigger schools with bigger numbers make it hard for everyone.''On the other side of the field, Midland (13-1) was left to console itself with the knowledge that it advanced farther than any team since the program began in the fall of 1994. The Knights were the final unbeaten AAA team in the state and earned the No. 1 playoff seed for the first time with their initial 10-0 regular season.Midland became the 18th Mountain State Athletic Conference team to make the AAA title game in the 19 years the Super Six has been staged in Wheeling. At least one MSAC team has played for the crown in 15 of those 19 years.
"These kids are buying into what we've been teaching,'' said second-year Knights coach Luke Salmons. "It's all about them. They've created a program. We played a lot of kids today and they did a good job.
"A lot of people didn't give them a chance throughout the course of the year, but to be where they are in just two years - to be in the state finals playing for a championship - Is a great accomplishment. But it's still hard. You want to win when you're here.''nn
Wahama, a Mason County consolidation of Waggener, Hartford and Mason (Wa-Ha-Ma, get it?) opened in 1925, but had never before won a football championship until Saturday night's thriller.The White Falcons trailed the entire first half, and were also behind 21-20 in the third quarter and 42-35 after Madonna took the lead in overtime, scoring on the first of the teams' alternating possessions from their opponent's 20.But moments later, Wahama's Zack Wamsley scored on a first-and-goal from the Blue Dons' 1-yard line to bring his team within one point, and coach Ed Cromley opted to roll the dice for a 2-point conversion.Quarterback Trenton Gibbs, who also started in the 2010 Super Six loss to Wheeling Central, carried the ball across the goal line for 2 points and the 43-42 victory.Gibbs said he felt elation for winning the title and also redemption for the loss the White Falcons suffered two years previous."It does feel that way,'' Gibbs said, "but ain't nothing better than this. Ever since , all we've done is have that in the back of our minds every week in practice - every single day, every game. We come out and try to be the best we can be. That way, that [losing] feeling never happens again, especially after going down to Williamstown in the final four last year.''The exciting game produced a couple of Class A championship-game records - the most combined points for the two teams (85) and a tie for the most individual rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns in the title game (five by Madonna quarterback Ross Comis)."The other two games weren't very close,'' Cromley said. "I think this is how coaches want it.''Cromley was asked what separated this White Falcons team from some of his other strong squads (Wahama currently carries a 31-game regular-season winning streak, producing three straight 10-0 teams)."In the past, maybe we've had teams with better players on it,'' Cromley said, "but maybe it wasn't the right mix. And of course, different opponents were maybe tougher for us. But it's great to get in there. Any time you're here, it's a great honor. We really like this.''nn
That leaves Wayne as the team with an eye to the future.The Pioneers left Wheeling Island Stadium with a 23-game winning streak (not to mention a pair of titles) over the last two seasons, the longest current streak in West Virginia.Wayne will now be the latest team within range of the state's all-time winning streak when play begins next season. Ansted, a former Class A power that consolidated with Nuttall to form Midland Trail in 1976, won 36 in a row from 1970-73.Three times in the last seven seasons, a lengthy win streak has been derailed, keeping Ansted alive in the history books - Morgantown's run of 28 straight ended in 2006, Wheeling Central made it to 35 in a row in 2008 and Martinsburg saw its streak halted at 32 consecutive victories earlier this season.If Wayne keeps it going and makes it back to the Island in 2013, it could eclipse that record in the title game.As it is, the Pioneers are the first team to take back-to-back AA championships since Poca's three-peat (2001-03).Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.