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Plenty of 2016 prep playoff teams lose in Week 1

Photo courtesy WES WILSON
Mingo Central quarterback Jeremy Dillon stiff-arms Point Pleasant linebacker James Musgrave.

Some lost because they were playing each other, some lost to power teams from neighboring states and some were just flat-out upset.

Any way you look at it, 19 playoff teams from last season fell during the opening weekend of regular-season play in West Virginia prep football.

In Class AAA alone, three teams that made it at least to last year’s playoff quarterfinals lost — Morgantown to North Allegheny, Pennsylvania 45-0, Capital to Johnson Central, Kentucky 31-20 and Jefferson to Millbrook, Virginia 52-13. Cabell Midland, another AAA contender, also lost to an out-of-state foe, being outlasted by Anderson, Ohio 49-41.

Two more AAA playoff returnees barely averted defeats — Buckhannon-Upshur shaded Princeton in overtime 20-19 and Huntington rallied from a 27-7 first-half deficit to win at Belfry, Kentucky 45-34 in a game that ended about 12:40 a.m. Saturday.

The total damage was eight opening-week losses among Class A playoff teams from 2016, five in AA and six in AAA.

Some of them couldn’t be avoided, such as the scintillating showdown in Mason County as Mingo Central connected on a Hail Mary as time expired to edge Point Pleasant 36-34.

The Miners, defending Class AAA champions, increased their two-season victory run to 15 games and halted the Big Blacks’ 43-game regular-season win streak, second-longest in state history to Williamstown’s 57.

Mingo Central’s Jeremy Dillon, last year’s Kennedy Award winner as the state’s top player, rolled out and heaved a 31-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Elia on the game’s final play to decide a wild game that featured four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone.

“The throw was amazing to watch,’’ said Joey Fields, Mingo Central’s first-year coach, “but what was even better was for the kid to catch the ball in between two people. It was great, and it was clutch.’’

Fields had a timeout to call before the final play to set up the formation and assign duties.

“Basically, we got our guys who were receivers out there,’’ Fields said, “and we knew we had to get it to the end zone. We put our three best guys on the left sideline, and we wanted one to get in the back [of the end zone], one in the middle and one in the front. It was all verticals, and just chuck it.

“We weren’t planning on [Dillon] getting flushed out of the pocket because our protection all night went very well. But having more time probably helped us better. Jeremy’s an athlete, and when the ball’s in his hands, he’s got the will to win. He chucked it to the back of the end zone and Dawson Elia was just standing there.’’

Fields doesn’t want his team to think it’s invincible, but admits to win a game in that fashion does inject a large dose of confidence.

“It does,’’ he said. “But for our guys, just to get the ‘W’ and come out of there 1-0, it’s huge. But we’ve got to fix so many things. We had a lot of mental mistakes — guys with a lack of experience and being young, so many things to fix. We want to continue to take it one week at a time and hopefully get better, and work it out down the road.’’

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Some contenders had to be deflated by their losses, but others saw it as an opportunity to learn.

Capital coach Jon Carpenter thought his team’s play improved greatly over last year’s visit to Johnson Central, when the Cougars were held to 106 total yards in a 23-6 setback to the eventual Kentucky 4-A state champion.

Quarterback Kerry Martin Jr. threw for 233 yards and a pair of long touchdowns on Friday to top receiver Anthony Pittman. The Cougars, however, had no answer for a devastating ground game by the Eagles that piled up 64 carries for 269 yards.

“I think we’re in better shape than we were this time last year,’’ Carpenter said. “I think right now, if they’ll buy into doing the little things right, we’ll be all right. It’s good for us.

“[Johnson Central’s players] are textbook on precision, and it takes us a little bit to get there. I’ve got this laissez-faire, hippie, horsecrap way of doing things, and it’ll usually work out.’’

Meanwhile, George Washington coach Steve Edwards Jr. didn’t think his team would suffer a hangover from its 13-12 loss at South Charleston, a game that matched AAA playoff quarterfinalists from a year ago.

“I hope not,’’ Edwards said. “If we do, we’re not going to be very good at all. I think the kids are resilient; they’ll bounce back.

“They played so hard tonight. I feel bad for them, I really do. They played their tails off and came up a little short tonight. We had our chances.’’

South Charleston trailed much of the game, but quarterback Trae Murphy broke off a 74-yard TD run with 4:13 remaining to give the Black Eagles their winning margin.

Donnie Mays, SC’s coach, didn’t want his players to feel satisfied with a third straight season-opening victory against their neighboring rivals.

“Next week, we’ve got to come hungry,’’ he said, “because in football, if you stop and play with what you did and celebrate that, you’ll get passed up. And we’ve got to go. Cabell Midland’s coming up, and that’s a heck of a ballclub, and it’s going to be a tough game.’’

Jefferson, meanwhile, took its lumps in the Eastern Panhandle courtesy of a familiar face.

Isaac Brown, an all-state receiver at Martinsburg, transferred to Millbrook for his senior season to play quarterback, and he accounted for 171 yards of total offense in the first half on Friday, including two TD passes, as Millbrook grabbed a 44-6 halftime lead. Brown finished with 215 combined yards passing and rushing.

At the other end of the spectrum, the state’s two longest losing streaks remained active.

Hundred fell to Clay-Battelle 48-8, extending its streak to 39 straight defeats, and Poca absorbed a 32-13 setback to Nitro, giving the Dots 38 consecutive losses.

Some of the top games around the state for this coming week include — AAA: Spring Valley at Huntington, Hurricane at Paintsville (Ky.); AAA-AA: Wheeling Park at Bridgeport; AA: Point Pleasant at James Monroe, Wayne at Mingo Central; A: Magnolia at Williamstown.

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

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