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How prep football in and around the Kanawha Valley has changed dramatically since 2007

AP photo
St. Albans fullback Gabe King churns for extra yardage as Parkersburg’s Zach Nolan tries to wrap him up during the 2007 Class AAA championship game at Wheeling Island Stadium. Neither the Red Dragons nor the Big Reds have won a playoff game since then. In fact, SA is one of three Kanawha County teams that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007.

Perhaps it was a meteor strike knocking Earth off its axis. At the very least, something sure knocked southern West Virginia football off its axis.

What was it about the 2007 prep football season that shook up the Kanawha Valley and bordering areas?

For starters, it’s the last time three Kanawha County teams made the playoffs — Nitro, St. Albans and Riverside — all Class AAA schools at the time. Also, South Charleston is pretty much a postseason regular, earning a Class AAA berth seven times over the past nine seasons ... but not in that one.

In fact, plenty of things have happened over the past decade to make the 2007 season stick out like a sore thumb.

Right off the top, there’s the state’s spotlight game from 10 years ago — the Class AAA championship, when Parkersburg edged St. Albans 22-15. For whatever reason, neither team has gotten close to that level since.

Derek Christian coached St. Albans to a 12-2 record in 2007 and when the Red Dragons reached the state championship game, it was the first time they’d made it that far since 1979.

But after that, the bottom fell out for SA. The next nine seasons brought nine losing records and a 21-69 overall record.

Proving that misery loves company, things haven’t fared a whole lot better for the other team involved in the 2007 title game, either. Parkersburg went from 13-1 in 2007 and back-to-back AAA crowns to a 4-6 record in 2008.

When the Big Reds walked off the Wheeling Island Stadium turf with that 2007 championship, they did so as convincing champions. It marked the program’s ninth season of 10 or more victories in the past 13 years and the school’s 13th playoff berth in 14 years. The Big Reds won a whopping 30 postseason games in that stretch. Since then? Parkersburg has been to the playoffs a couple of times, but has no playoff wins since beating SA in the Super Six.

But it’s not just those two teams. Oddities abound when comparing the landscape of high school football in the southern part of the state from 2007 to 2017.

Take Nitro, the school across the Kanawha River from St. Albans. The Wildcats haven’t been to the playoffs since SA eliminated them in that crazy, memorable 52-49 quarterfinal contest in 2007 — won on a last-second field goal — as the Dragons made their way to the title game.

Nitro was competing in its fifth straight playoff season that night, but has gone just 12-78 since. Coaching his final game for the Wildcats that evening was Scott Tinsley, who left to take the short-lived job at WVU Tech.

And just to show that even screwy things come full circle, Tinsley has come back to take the coaching position at St. Albans, his alma mater. He begins his second season there after going 1-9 last year. His only win? Nitro.

“My take on all that,” Tinsley said of the recent upheaval, “is that it just takes a total commitment from the kids. That’s what’s changed the course of those schools.

“You can go to someplace like Point Pleasant — a school that’s double-A — and he has 80 kids working out in the program right now. You go to [George Washington] and he’s going to have 80 kids ninth grade and up. We played Capital in a 7 on 7 and they had more kids than you can stand out there.”

Joining the above schools in a downward trend since 2007 has been Poca, a program that captured three straight Class AA titles from 2001-03, something that had never been done before in double-A at that point (Bridgeport later matched it).

The Dots went 8-4 and advanced to the playoff quarterfinals in 2006, but haven’t had any luck since. Starting in 2007, they’ve posted 10 straight losing seasons and gone 21-80 (with the only playoff berth coming in a 5-6 season).

Seemingly, for every team down on its luck since 2007, there’s another on an upward spiral:

n Capital — Starting in 2007, the Cougars have appeared in the Class AAA playoffs nine times in 10 years, churning out an 89-31 record and 14 playoff wins, including the 2015 title. Just prior to that, from 2000-06, Capital did play in the postseason three times in seven years, but was only 37-37 overall with just one playoff victory.

n Chapmanville — The Tigers, like Capital, were on a downer from 2000-06, with no playoff berths, a 21-49 record and an 0-10 finish in 2001. But once the calendar flipped to 2007, they’ve ranged from competitive to contender, making the Class AA playoffs six times out of 10 and advancing to the 2011 semifinals.

n George Washington — The Patriots didn’t exactly rise from the dead in 2007, since they made the playoffs six of eight times from 1999-2006, but managed only one playoff win and a 49-38 record in that span. Since then, they’ve turned it up a few notches — five 10-win seasons since 2007 and 13 playoff wins, including two trips to the Super Six AAA title game, along with a sharp 94-28 record.

n Point Pleasant — The year 2007 was the last time the Big Blacks were out of the playoffs in either AAA or AA. Over the past nine seasons, they’ve gone 86-20 and have currently won 43 straight regular-season games. In the seven years prior to that, Point was 26-44 with no postseason berths.

n Spring Valley — Similar to Point, the Timberwolves haven’t had a losing season since 2007. Since then, they’ve racked up nine straight playoff spots and made it to the AAA Super Six finals last December, losing to Martinsburg. Immediately before that, Spring Valley was 12-28 with no playoffs from 2004-07.

While we’re at it, some other quirks emanating from 10 years ago:

n Scott made it to the Class AA semifinals for the first and only time in program history in 2007, and tailback-quarterback Jordan Roberts won the Kennedy Award as the state’s top player — the only Skyhawk to ever earn the honor. He went to WVU as an invited walk-on before transferring to the University of Charleston.

n The 2007 season remains the only year in which six Kanawha Valley teams made the AAA playoffs since the field was expanded to 16 teams in 1991. Making the grade that year were Capital, George Washington, Hurricane, Nitro, Riverside and St. Albans.

n For Cabell Midland, the 2007 season was a desert in the middle of an oasis. The Knights registered seven straight playoff seasons from 2000-06, but missed the boat with a 4-6 record in 2007. Since that aberration, they’ve gone to the postseason seven times in nine years.

Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.

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