The numbers say that Spring Valley’s running game is behind the pace it set the previous three years, when the Timberwolves advanced to the Class AAA championship game each season.
But it certainly hasn’t changed the outcomes for the Wolves and their opponents. Spring Valley continues to pound the ball with success, shorten the game and limit opportunities for the other team.
The No. 3 seed Timberwolves (11-1) visit No. 2 Cabell Midland (12-0), a Mountain State Athletic Conference rival, in the Class AAA playoff semifinals on Friday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
In recent seasons, Spring Valley regularly piled up 400-plus rushing yards in games behind 1,000-yard rushers such as Derek Johnson (1,447 yards in 2016), Mason Brubeck (1,346 yards in 2016) and Owen Chafin (1,401 yards in 2018). This season, however, no one has even reached 1,000 through 12 games, with Luke Christopher’s 917 yards leading the way.
The amount of carries is down, too. In the Timberwolves’ starting backfield, Christopher gets 12.8 carries per game, David Livingston 8.8 and quarterback Nate Ellis 7.8. That also has kept Spring Valley’s rushing attack to 273 yards per game.
Coach Brad Dingess thinks part of that is due to the rule change that took effect this season, changing the play clock to 40 seconds (starting with the end of the previous play) from the former 25 seconds (starting when the ball was spotted for play).
“Honestly, with this 40-second clock the way that it is,’’ Dingess said, “you can run the clock more and be able to grind some stuff out. Our defense has played well and we’ve got a pretty good kicker, and we’re able to play with the short field a lot.
“It’s a different-type team than what we’ve had. It’s not changed a whole lot up front from what we’ve done before, but we’re not as fast in the backfield as we have been, so we’re not getting a lot of long runs. It’s a little more ball control.’’
In other words, Spring Valley has still been successful in hogging the ball and keep the opposing offense off the field. It’s just taking fewer plays over the course of the game to do it, which limits the total rushing yards.
The Wolves’ defense also remains stout, giving up just 12 touchdowns in 12 games, recording five shutouts.
The Midland wayLuke Salmons has coached nine teams at Cabell Midland and all nine have made the Class AAA playoffs. Three times, his teams have posted 10-0 regular seasons — 2012 (state runner-up), 2015 (state semifinalist) and this season.
So what does Salmons think he and his program have learned from the past that makes a difference this time?
“Every year’s a different year,’’ Salmons said. “With us, we always feel like we have a good football team — some years a little better. We always have high expectations. If these kids want to play together and enjoy the game, their toughness matters and they get to be part of something bigger overall.
“To me, the No. 1 thing we preach to them is: Be a team. Be tough, play hard together, love each other. Team matters, and I think that’s been proven with our kids. We returned one offensive lineman from last year, and three of those kids went on to play college football. A lot of people saw us as not being very good up front, but we’re [getting close to] 5,000 yards rushing. It’s a testament to the kids and the hard work in our program.’’
Salmons pointed to the rash of ankle injuries at the outset of the season that sidelined starting running backs Isaiah Vaughn and Jaydyn Johnson and co-quarterback Chandler Schmidt. Because of the team’s resolve, the Knights were able to keep their winning ways going.
“Week 1, we knew we’d have a pretty good team,’’ Salmons said, “but we didn’t know how good because they were still improving. Then they had to overcome a lot and battle adversity, but didn’t fold. And that’s what championship teams do. They face adversity. There’s some things you can’t coach — the ball doesn’t bounce your way, calls don’t go your way, kids went down, things like that, but as a team, we never [folded].
“We never hesitated as coaches and the other kids [filling in] didn’t flinch. They stepped up and did what they could to contribute, and were great teammates. They enjoy playing together. This thing will end and whenever it ends, it will ultimately be up to the kids because you can see they’re having fun. They’re excited and enjoy the game together.’’
Dots don’t stay downIt wasn’t long ago that Poca was in the throes of a 39-game losing streak, second-longest in West Virginia prep football history. That infamous streak ended in 2017.
And even though the Dots were erased from the playoffs earlier than they wanted with last week’s 25-20 quarterfinal loss to Oak Glen, they have successfully resuscitated the program, going 20-3 over the last two seasons, earning the No. 5 and No. 3 playoff seeds in Class AA and chalking up their first postseason win since 2006.
The future remains bright with the return of key players such as record-setting running back Ethan Payne, near 1,000-yard receiver Ethan Payne, quarterback Jay Cook and the team’s leading tackler, linebacker Dillon Taylor. The Dots lose only three senior starters on both offense and defense.
“Super proud of my guys,’’ said Poca coach Seth Ramsey. “Proud of their effort, proud of the senior class. When these guys came in here, we were completely at the bottom of the barrel. Now we’re on the rise up. Now we’ve got the program to where it’s respectable, and I’m just so proud of these guys.’’