When Cabell Midland and Spring Valley lock up, there’s usually something big riding on the outcome. In Friday’s matchup, the stakes are as big as they get:
The winner heads to Wheeling for the Class AAA championship game.
The No. 2-seed Knights (12-0) host the No. 3 Timberwolves (11-1) in the state playoff semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Ona, a reprise of their Sept. 13 Mountain State Athletic Conference game, won by Midland 28-21.
In that game, Midland’s option attack was buoyed by three long-distance touchdown runs, as quarterback J.J. Roberts scored on sprints of 88 and 87 yards, and Hayden Hass broke off a 77-yarder for a TD. Roberts, who had 175 yards and three TD runs that night, also had a key interception before suffering an ankle injury.
Midland also hit a pair of home runs in last week’s 28-18 quarterfinal win against George Washington, with Jackson Fetty going 72 yards for a touchdown and Roberts motoring 62 yards for a score. Needless to say, Timberwolves coach Brad Dingess remains wary of the Knights breaking long gainers.
“With what they run with the option,’’ Dingess said, “it comes down to assignment football. That’s the hardest thing sometimes, making 16-, 17-year-olds play assignment football. Games like that, you’ve got them geared up and ready to go, then you’ve got to be patient and do your job.
“They’re going to get one or two or three, whatever. You’ve just got to hope they don’t get more than you can get.’’
Cabell Midland’s backfield was undergoing a metamorphosis about the time of their first meeting, with starting running backs Isaiah Vaughn and Jaydyn Johnson going down with ankle injuries, as well as sophomore quarterback Chandler Schmidt, who was expected to split time with Roberts under center. None of those three has gotten a carry since. Roberts had to limp through the end of the Spring Valley game, entrusted with handing off instead of running.
“It’s a little bit different now,’’ said Midland coach Luke Salmons. “They’ve moved some kids around and we have, too. I’m sure they’ve gotten better, and we feel like we’ve gotten better in some areas.
“What we learned the most [from the first game] is that we’re a tough team because of all the [injuries]. At one point in the second half of that game, we had a lot of kids playing positions they’ve never played all year. Just to survive was difficult. We found out a lot in that game. We found out we didn’t flinch when we had a lot of adversity.’’
Both teams don’t expect to see wholesale changes in their game plan, or their opponent’s, on Friday. Midland ran for 374 yards and didn’t attempt a pass the first time around, while Spring Valley rushed for 148 yards and threw for 125, but was picked off twice. Corbin Page caught four passes for 113 yards and one touchdown for the Wolves.
“We’re going to do what we do,’’ Dingess said. “If we start changing what we do, we’re not going to be as good at it. You’ve got to hope you can win some of the battles at certain places and avoid turnovers and penalties. That’s the tale of the tape.
“And the big thing is who gets off the field on third down, who wins the battle for field position. It may look boring from the stands, but it’s going to be a pretty tense and exciting game.’’
Salmons left the door open a crack for a few new wrinkles from his side.
“I think it’s a combination of things,’’ he said. “You’ve got to be who you are, do what makes you go. But at the same time, we’re going to add some things, which may be dumb to do. But I think it’s a combination. Be who you are with the kids you’ve got, and figure out what you can do better, maybe to gain an advantage. I think that’s part of coaching.’’
Each program is on an impressive run, with Spring Valley having qualified for the AAA playoffs 12 years in a row, producing a record of 103-40 in that time, with a 47-7 mark the last four seasons. Midland has made the postseason nine straight times under Salmons, going 82-27 overall. Each side has captured two MSAC crowns in the last five years.
Cabell Midland leads the all-time series between the schools 14-10, having broken a four-game losing streak to the Timberwolves back in September.
“These kids are different,’’ Salmons said. “That’s why they’ve had great success. They don’t really care about people doubting them. They just really want to play football, and enjoy playing the game, and it shows.
“I don’t think they talk about it a lot whether they’re one step away [from the title game] or undefeated. They just kind of go out there, play good and enjoy it. They’re mature about it.’’