WHEELING — All season long, Spring Valley had success in springing Graeson Malashevich for big plays either running or catching the ball or returning kicks.
But that never materialized Saturday, and the Timberwolves paid dearly for it.
Martinsburg was able to keep Malashevich bottled up on offense and kept the ball away from him on special teams, adding greatly to its 31-7 victory over Spring Valley in the Class AAA finals.
Malashevich, considered a top candidate for the Kennedy Award as the state’s best player, came into the title game with 29 overall touchdowns — 14 on receptions, 11 on runs and two each on special teams and defense. But the only score he figured into Saturday was an 11-yard TD pass to David Livingston out of the Wildcat formation.
“We were worried about him,’’ said Martinsburg senior linebacker Dewayne Grantham. “We knew that was the key to their offense, so defensively we just had to make a couple of adjustments. We knew they were a big power running team, big and heavy, so we just had to come out and play physical and not have little mental mistakes, and we did that today.’’
Malashevich wound up with 44 yards on 16 carries (with a long run of just 7 yards) and three catches for 32 yards. He was averaging 9 yards per carry and about 26 per reception. He never touched the ball on kick returns as the Bulldogs aimed it away from him on kickoffs and were also successful with bouncing punts that Malashevich couldn’t field.
“They did a good job,’’ said Spring Valley coach Brad Dingess. “They played somebody over the top. A couple times there early we had him open but [couldn’t connect].
“We knew we’d be in trouble if they could guard three with three [on the outside] or two with two, and they were able to do that and keep that extra guy in the box and we couldn’t consistently get that pass off to where they would have to bring an extra guy up. A couple times we had it blocked, but the free guy that they didn’t take out of the box, that we couldn’t get to, made the tackle, so it made things tough running the ball, too.’’
Both teams found themselves in bad situations multiple times in the first part of Saturday’s AAA game, played on a rain-slickened field, but Martinsburg was able to shrug off its problems. Spring Valley wasn’t so lucky.
The Bulldogs failed to recover the opening pooch kickoff, giving Spring Valley the ball at their 38, but Martinsburg intercepted five plays later to end that threat. However, when the Wolves forced a three-and-out, Martinsburg snapped the ball over the head of punter Trey Sine, who retrieved it and got off an 8-yard boot.
Martinsburg’s defense got another stop at its own 20, but then linebacker Hunter Bellomy intercepted an errant Grant Harman pass and returned it 32 yards to the Bulldogs 25. Again, the Bulldogs made a stop at their 20.
“We’ve faced adversity several times through the year,’’ Martinsburg coach Dave Walker said, “and we knew we were going to face adversity today. Anytime you’re playing in the state championship game, you’re playing against the best in the state, so we just felt like we had to overcome and weather the storm and keep up the pressure and play hard, and I think we did a good job of that.’’
Spring Valley, though, wasn’t as fortunate when disaster struck.
The Timberwolves threw a first-quarter interception, were called for roughing the kicker on a Martinsburg punt early in the second quarter, then had one of their own punts blocked and returned for a Martinsburg touchdown. They were whistled for seven first-half penalties, twice in one drive for having an uncovered lineman and were down 17-0 at the break.
The third quarter didn’t start any better, as they lost 21 yards on a curious intentional grounding call and the resulting punt shanked out of bounds after going just 14 yards at the Spring Valley 29, setting up another Martinsburg TD for a 24-0 lead.
Dingess was worried all week about having calamity set in, much like it did during Spring Valley’s first two trips to the Super Six in 2016-17.
“It happened, and they got us there,’’ he said. “You blink your eyes and boom, boom, boom, they score there. And when they score or something bad happens, you’ve got to be able to cut that off, and we weren’t able to do that. I thought we kind of gave them every touchdown they had with those mistakes in the first half, and that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
“We probably did better than anybody else did against them this year, but when you play them guys, you can’t make mistakes or have penalties. You have to play perfect, and we played good, I thought, but not good enough.’’
The SSAC honored the 1968 Monongah Class A state championship team by introducing several members of the squad to the crowd at halftime of Friday’s Class AA game.
On hand for the midfield ceremony were former players Brian Evans, Jimmy Foster, Bob Levelle, Joe Martin, Brian Mills, Tom Ramsey, Ronnie Rhoades and running back Kerry Marbury, a past WVU standout.
The quarterback on that team, Nick Saban, has gone on to stardom himself in the college coaching ranks, first leading LSU to a national title and then Alabama to five more.
Saban wasn’t in attendance Friday, but a video recording of Saban thanking his Monongah teammates was played on the stadium’s message board at the conclusion of the ceremony.
“That championship means as much as any national championship we’ve ever won,’’ Saban said.
Down and dirty?
Fans who like football played on artificial turf fields and fans who like it played in mud got the best of both worlds at this year’s Super Six.
When the Ohio River next to Wheeling Island Stadium rose up twice in September and covered the field, it deposited a good amount of river mud under the surface. That mud came up during the course of the games and was quite visible all weekend, both to fans in attendance and those watching on television.
By game’s end in the Class AA finals, several players’ mud-spackled jerseys looked like they’d played the entire game on good old terra firma.
Spring Valley's offense didn't move the ball very well, but the Timberwolves surprisingly outgained Martinsburg in passing yards 79-72.
The Wolves completed 8 of 18 passes, and their yardage output in the air Saturday bested their two previous Super Six games combined.
Against Martinsburg in the 2016-17 AAA title games, Spring Valley was a combined 4 of 9 passing for 52 yards.
The schools that have made the most trips to Wheeling Island Stadium since the Super Six championships were moved there in 1994:
11 — Bluefield, Martinsburg, Wheeling Central; 8 — Moorefield, Williamstown; 7 – Wayne; 6 – Parkersburg.
n Oops! Even the officiating crew can get a little nervous and forget proper protocol. During the first quarter of the AA game, the mic’d-up referee announced a personal-foul penalty and mistakenly gave the player’s number, OK for pro and college games but a no-no at the prep level.
n Oops 2: After Wheeling Central blocked a punt out of Williamstown’s end zone in the Class A game, the referee mistakenly announced the result of the play was a “touchback’’ and appeared ready to place the ball on the 20. After a long delay and conference, officials finally (and correctly) ruled a safety, awarded Central two points and had the Jackets free kick.
n Before kickoff of the Class AAA game, a moment of silence was held for former President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday night.