Last year was almost a famine for Kanawha Valley schools when it came to the state playoffs. This year, it’s a football feast.
Seven of the Kanawha Valley’s 12 teams qualified for the postseason, which begins this coming weekend around West Virginia. That’s more than double last year’s total of three playoff teams.
When the SSAC released its final ratings on Saturday, it included five area teams in the Class AAA field alone — George Washington, Capital, South Charleston, Hurricane and Riverside. That’s the most in AAA since six schools advanced in 2007. GW, as the No. 7 seed, was the lone team in that group to secure home-field advantage in the first round and will host No. 10 Huntington.
The game assignments for the first round — dates, locations and kickoff times — will be determined Sunday during a meeting at the SSAC office in Parkersburg.
The only other Kanawha Valley team to earn a home game in the opening round was Poca (10-0), which finished No. 3 in Class AA with its first unbeaten regular season since 1978. The Dots will host No. 14 North Marion at O.O. White Stadium next weekend.
In the SSAC playoffs, the higher-seeded teams in each matchup get to select the home field for the game, while the lower seed chooses the date and time — either 7:30 p.m. Friday, 1:30 p.m. Saturday or 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The other Valley squad represented in this year’s playoff field is Winfield (7-3), which came in at No. 16 in Class AA and travels to No. 1 seed and defending state champion Fairmont Senior (10-0). Generals coach Craig Snyder, contacted Saturday, indicated he will request the game be played at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The team ending the longest playoff drought is Riverside (4-6), which lost its last three regular-season games but still squeezed into the AAA field as the No. 15 seed and will travel to No. 2 Cabell Midland (10-0), a Mountain State Athletic Conference rival. The Knights downed the Warriors 45-8 on Oct. 4.
Riverside’s last postseason appearance came in 2007 under former coach Ralph Hensley, a 28-21 overtime loss to Capital. So it’s a proud moment for current coach Alex Daugherty, a Riverside graduate, who’s in his second season as coach after going 1-9 last year.
“It was definitely one of our goals to make the postseason,’’ Daugherty said, “because it hadn’t been done in such a long time. There were a lot of bumps along the road on our journey, but a lot of it makes us who we are as a football team, and we’ve been able to overcome that. It’s a huge testament to our kids for them being able to put in the effort and do the work for something that hasn’t been done in a long time.’’
George Washington (7-3) has already played Huntington (5-5) once this season, earning a 31-30 win on Sept. 13 at home. Steve Edwards Sr. Field has been good to the Patriots this season, who are 6-0 on their home field with wins against AAA playoff teams Huntington, Hurricane, Parkersburg and Capital.
South Charleston (4-6) has reached the postseason for the sixth time in seven years under coach Donnie Mays. As the No. 13 seed, the Black Eagles will visit No. 4 Parkersburg South (9-1), a team they haven’t met since 1998 when the Patriots were also in the MSAC. SC leads the all-time series 5-2.
Hurricane, one of four 4-6 teams to qualify in Class AAA, finished 14th in the ratings and also travels to a familiar rival, No. 3 Spring Valley (9-1), another MSAC member. In fact, nine of the conference’s 11 teams reached the playoffs, with only Woodrow Wilson and St. Albans outside the mix. The Timberwolves beat the Redskins 28-7 on Sept. 6. Redskins coach Jeremy Taylor said he will opt for a 1:30 p.m. Saturday kickoff this weekend.
Capital (5-5) has competed in the AAA playoff semifinals six straight seasons, the longest such streak in the state, but to keep that going the Cougars will have to do a lot of roadwork in the coming weeks. As the No. 11 seed this year, they have a first-round date at Wheeling Island Stadium against No. 6 Wheeling Park (8-2).
“I’ve told our kids all the time it doesn’t matter what we’re ranked or where we are,’’ said Capital coach Jon Carpenter. “I’ve never paid much attention to that, and it all really doesn’t matter. All we want is a chance to play. By design, we don’t get too tore up with what Facebook says that day. We just want a chance to play, and we don’t take winning for granted.’’
Carpenter indicated he will select the Friday night time slot for the game in Wheeling. The Cougars and Patriots have met three times in the past five years in the playoffs — Capital winning 35-14 in 2014, Park prevailing 23-15 in the 2015 title game and the Cougars winning 63-21 two years ago.
Poca is in the Class AA field for a second straight season as a high seed. However, last year the No. 5 Dots fell at home to No. 12 Weir 41-14 as stellar running back Ethan Payne tried to make his return from a hip injury that had sidelined him for a month, but was severely limited.
Junior quarterback Jay Cook, who also returned from last year’s squad, said the Dots learned from their fate last year. They lost versatile runner-receiver Owen McClanahan during June drills with a torn ACL.
“I think we just have to be ready for anything that happens,’’ Cook said. “We have to make sure everybody’s ready to play, even if they have to come in at a certain position for a play or even the whole game. Everybody needs to be ready to do their job when it’s their time.’’
This season, Payne has put his name near the top of the Kennedy Award candidates with nearly 2,400 rushing yards and a regular-season state record of 276 points (46 touchdowns). North Marion and Poca have never met in football.
Likewise, Winfield has never played Fairmont Senior in football. The Polar Bears have won 24 straight games since losing to Bluefield in the 2017 AA title game.