WHEELING — Following his transfer, Malakai Brown went from one of the state’s most recognizable players to playing a reduced role. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Unlike the two previous seasons, when his Hedgesville team was bounced out of the Class AAA playoffs by a Mountain State Athletic Conference team, Brown got to celebrate a state championship with his Martinsburg teammates following Saturday’s 49-21 victory against Cabell Midland, another MSAC school.
Brown, a two-time first-team All-Stater at Hedgesville and the 2017 Randy Moss Award winner as the top prep receiver in West Virginia, transferred to Martinsburg in the off-season, and while the move didn’t help his receiving numbers, it more than made up for it by giving him a taste of a title — the fourth in a row for the Bulldogs, but not so for Brown.
“It’s my first time, so it’s a pretty great experience,’’ Brown said following Saturday’s win. “To finish out the season with a win is pretty exciting.’’
The past two seasons, Brown’s final game wasn’t so memorable.
As a sophomore, Brown saw his Hedgesville team fall to visiting Hurricane 52-21 in a first-round playoff game. The following season, the Eagles came to University of Charleston Stadium for the state quarterfinals and lost to Capital 48-14.
In the latter game, Brown was nearly held catchless by the Cougars’ secondary, with special attention coming from Capital shutdown cornerback Karrington Hill. Brown had two late receptions for 31 yards.
So even though Brown was getting a lot of recognition playing at Hedgesville, he opted to come to Martinsburg, which already had an All-State receiver in Jarod Bowie. Brown didn’t regret the move.
“There was some stuff going on in Hedgesville,’’ he said. “My parents wanted me to get in a better environment and obviously it would better me in my football career later down the road. Those were the two main reasons.’’
Brown had to get used to playing a different role with the Bulldogs. As a sophomore, he caught 81 passes for 1,393 yards and 12 touchdowns at Hedgesville. The following year, he ran the ball more but still had 57 catches for 1,107 yards and 10 TDs.
This season at Martinsburg, he was simply fourth on the team in receptions with 18 for 289 yards and eight TDs. He admitted that the adjustment was difficult.
“It was at times a little hard,’’ he said. “I’m used to getting the ball a lot, but I do what I’ve got to do for my team, and just get this win. At the end of the day, it’s all good. I’m doing my job.’’
Brown played a vital role in the defensive backfield this season and had a few shining moments Saturday. His only reception was a 33-yard TD pass from Elijah Banks, but he made seven tackles on defense, returned a kickoff 34 yards and nearly blocked a Midland punt, forcing the kick to be shanked out of bounds for just 8 yards.
Closer to home
If it was Bridgeport’s last go-round for a while in Class AA, then the Indians sure went out in style with Friday’s 21-14 victory over Bluefield in the title game.
The SSAC recently announced its reclassification figures for the next four school years, and Bridgeport is one of the few schools set to move up from AA to Class AAA.
That means a big change for one of the familiar faces in the AA finals (the Indians have made six trips to Wheeling since the championships were moved there in 1994).
Bridgeport coach John Cole felt that one of the big keys for Friday’s win was the fact his school only had to make a trip of 1 hour, 45 minutes to get to Wheeling Island Stadium, while Bluefield’s was about three times that long.
Cole recalled the past two postseasons, when the Indians had to play at Bluefield in the playoff semifinals, and lost by scores of 37-14 and 35-14.
“Well, we weren’t playing in Bluefield,’’ Cole said about the turnaround in fortunes. “I’ve talked a lot about it — with these kids, we’re creatures of habit, and the further you go away from home, the rougher it is.
“It’s a three-hour drive for us [to Bluefield], and the same thing for Bluefield. They’re used to being up here, but at the same time it’s five hours from them and they had to come up last night. It’s just I think an advantage the closer you are to home.’’
Video replay debut
For the first time ever at the Super Six, there was a video review Friday during the Class AA game between Bridgeport and Bluefield as the Indians tried to run out the clock. And just like NFL and college games, there was some confusion in the process.
Indians running back Carson Winkie fumbled with 2:40 left and his team protecting a 21-14 lead. The officiating crew ruled it was Bluefield’s ball, and Bridgeport coach John Cole challenged the call, thinking Winkie was down by contact.
After a brief delay as the officials checked monitors, referee Mark Michael made his ruling over the public-address system. He apparently said: “After review, the runner’s knee wasn’t down …’’ but from the field, it sounded like: “After review, the runner’s knee hit the ground …’’ and the rest of his statement was drowned out by the loud cheer that arose from the Bridgeport crowd, thinking the play was over prior to the fumble.
So there was plenty of head scratching on the sideline that followed when Bluefield’s offense came on the field and Michael later added: “Bluefield ball.’’
The bugs seemed to be worked out when another challenge came early in the Class AAA game. Referee T.J. Brancazio started out his post-review explanation with: “Call has been confirmed.’’