When you qualify for the Class AAA championship game, it’s hard enough to get your team ready in a week to play at Wheeling Island Stadium.
But when your opponent regularly uses multiple quarterbacks, that can make the preparation even tougher. And that’s the chore that faces both Spring Valley and Martinsburg this week as they get set to meet at noon Saturday during the Super Six title game in Wheeling.
Martinsburg (13-0), the top seed, has shuttled senior Grant Harman and junior Elijah Banks at quarterback all season, and each has contributed heavily to a Bulldogs attack that cranks out 53.9 points and 448 yards per game.
Harman, an athletic two-time All-State defensive back, has flourished in his first crack at regularly running the Martinsburg offense. He backed up the graduated Tyson Bagent on the Bulldogs’ 2016-17 Class AAA title teams.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Harman has thrown for 1,404 yards and 23 touchdowns against just three interceptions and five sacks, completing 71 percent of his passes. Harman has also run for 758 yards — second-highest on the team — and 14 TDs.
Banks (6-3, 220) has tossed 15 TD passes and has 1,236 yards through the air. He’s run for four touchdowns but, as more of a pocket passer, has gained only 7 yards on 26 rushing plays.
Martinsburg coach Dave Walker isn’t sure that opposing teams need to expect different things when he switches from one QB to the other in the course of a game, because he said Harman and Banks are running the same offense.
“I don’t know if teams have more trouble preparing for us,’’ Walker said, “because we really do the same things with both guys, even though Harman runs a little more. I think it just depends on each team.’’
Spring Valley coach Brad Dingess, however, thinks the Bulldogs’ approach does differ when Banks takes over for Harman, and said his team has to be ready for those changes.
“Yeah, they kind of run things a little different depending on who’s in there,’’ Dingess said. “So there’s more to what you’ve got to game plan for.’’
The No. 2 Timberwolves (13-0), meanwhile, were splitting time under center in the regular season between senior Will Adkins (6-5, 233) and junior Nate Ellis (6-1, 175). Ellis, however, has lately settled more into the role as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver.
Ellis attempted 15 passes in the Wolves’ first four games, but in the last nine has thrown just 10 times total. On the season, he’s 14 of 25 for 328 yards with three TDs and three picks.
Adkins has recently earned the lion’s share of snaps under center, and comes into the Super Six completing 46 of 73 attempts for 1,058 yards and 17 TDs against just one interception.
But that doesn’t mean the Timberwolves don’t change QBs anymore.
Senior Graeson Malashevich (5-9, 170), the team’s most versatile and valuable player, gets inserted as quarterback for a handful of plays almost every game in either the Wildcat formation or taking regular snaps from under center. He’s normally a running back, wingback or wideout.
In both Spring Valley’s quarterfinal and semifinal playoff games, Malashevich took over as QB for about a half-dozen plays, many of them in the red zone. In each of those games, he threw for a touchdown, ran for a TD and had a TD reception. On the season, he’s 5 of 7 passing for 98 yards and four TDs. Malashevich has also rushed for 11 touchdowns and grabbed 14 TD passes.
“He’s such a dynamic athlete and he can score from anywhere on the field,’’ Martinsburg’s Walker said. “You have to be aware of him no matter where they use him.
“As far as the rest of their offense, it’s very similar, but maybe just looks a little different. It just depends what they’re doing offensively. It could be a problem in preparing. You’ve just got to go over the two different offensive mindsets depending on who they have in there.’’
Spring Valley has prided itself this season being able to pound out rushing yardage behind a mammoth offensive line, or spreading out the formation and tossing the ball all over the park. Dingess said part of the reason behind putting Ellis or Malashevich at quarterback is to give the other team something more to think about.
“That’s kind of why we do it,’’ Dingess said, “because it takes practice time away from you. It’s something extra you’ve got to add in there. If we catch you not doing something, we’ll go at it.’’
Dingess expects to ride the arm of Adkins more often than not in Saturday’s game. Adkins didn’t throw a pass the first four games due to injury, but has given the offense a boost with his big arm.
In last week’s semifinal win against Capital, two plays in particular showed how far Adkins has progressed.
On second-and-9 from the Capital 44 in the second quarter, Adkins — who almost never runs the ball — took off around left end and dragged tacklers for a 19-yard gain, setting up a Wolves touchdown. In the third quarter, on a play from the Cougars 45, Adkins was grabbed around the leg by Capital’s 271-pound defensive tackle Kalai Clark but remained upright long enough to spot Malashevich for an 11-yard gain, keeping alive a drive that resulted in another TD.
“He had a knee injury early in the year,’’ Dingess said, “and that really kind of slowed down some stuff for him. He’s progressed well, and we’re kind of coming into our own. Sometimes it’s tough to find your niche, but we found it and it’s a pretty balanced effort on offense.
“We take what the defense gives us, but Will’s got the hot hand right now, so that’s what we’ve kind of been going with. We still work with Nate every day under center, but if you put him and Graeson out there as receivers, they’re pretty good. Nate’s a great athlete, and he can do some stuff out there, too.’’