Anticipation has been building for weeks about the Oct. 29 Poca at Herbert Hoover game. As each team kept winning, the drama — and the stakes — kept escalating.
Now, with the game just five days away, both teams and their fans can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s finally going to happen, and the ramifications will be felt not only across the Kanawha Valley, but all of West Virginia among Class AA schools. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Joe Eddie Cowley Field in Falling Rock.
Both teams have maintained their unbeaten starts heading into the penultimate week of the regular season, with Hoover at 8-0 and Poca 7-0.
The Secondary School Activities Commission won’t release its official playoff ratings until Tuesday afternoon, but Poca was No. 1 and Hoover No. 2 in last week’s listings, and each remained unbeaten on Friday, with the Dots edging Scott 26-21 and the Huskies blanking Mingo Central 57-0 — their fourth shutout of the season. Current projections on wvtailgatecentral.com, which account for Friday’s results, have Poca and Hoover remaining 1-2 in the AA ratings by comfortable margins.
Huskies coach Joey Fields likes for his players to take the one-game-at-a-time mentality and prepare for what he calls “faceless opponents” each week — focusing more on themselves and their own assignments. However, even Fields appreciates the importance of Friday’s matchup.
“We couldn’t ignore the fact that down the road, we had to see Poca,” Fields said. “Obviously, both of us have real good football teams right now and there’s a lot at stake — a possible Cardinal Conference championship and a possible No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
“We’ve waited about eight games to maybe see what type of football team we really have. I like how we’re responding and playing when we’re healthy. We’ll be going against a very good opponent and there’s a lot at stake. It’s exciting.”
It’s potentially the most significant late-season game between Kanawha Valley teams since Oct. 23, 1998, when Nitro (7-0) and DuPont (8-0) met at Underwood Field in Nitro. Nitro won 42-24 as Wildcats quarterback J.R. House that night broke Tim Couch’s national high school record for passing yards.
Nitro, of course, went on to capture the Class AAA championship with a 14-0 record and DuPont, Class AA at the time, also advanced to the Wheeling Super Six title game in its division, losing 20-17 to Quincy Wilson and Weir in what proved to be the program’s final game. DuPont and East Bank merged the following school year to form Riverside.
It remains to be seen if the Hoover-Poca game will be steeped in as much tradition as that game a generation ago, but at a minimum it should decide the Cardinal Conference championship, as each team enters with a 6-0 league record. They are the only two teams with less than two conference losses. If the winner of Friday’s game loses in its regular-season finale (Hoover hosts Logan, Poca visits Wayne), there could be a tie atop the Cardinal standings.
While Hoover has won its last six games by at least 48 points, Poca has been forced to sweat out some tense finishes to remain unbeaten. Its last three victories have come by a combined nine points — Winfield (28-26), Logan (14-12) and Scott (26-21).
“We’ve gotten through some tough games and ended up with some close victories,” said Dots coach Seth Ramsey. “Now we’ve gotten to the point where we wanted to be. It’s big stakes. It’s what we expected it to be.
“They’re a good ballclub and there’s a lot on the line. We want to stay where we are in the ratings and we’ve got a chance to win the conference championship. We’re excited about that. There’s a lot at stake, but at the same time we’ve got to keep everything in the focus we need it to be in. But we’ve got a big challenge.”
Both teams have already locked up postseason berths, but the lure of being the No. 1 seed is heady territory for programs that haven’t been at that level much in recent years. Hoover has played just seven postseason games since 2005 and Poca only four since 2006.
“Our kids are motivated,” Fields said. “This is the type of game we want them to play, and to play well. I’m sure we’ll have a good atmosphere on the [Elk] River. It’s two good teams, and we look forward to it.”