For a game fitting of their programs’ recent run-heavy pasts, Spring Valley and Point Pleasant have been taking crash courses on each other leading up to Friday’s intriguing contest at Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field in Mason County.
It’s certainly a different kind of matchup — two of West Virginia’s remaining 11 unbeaten teams this season, one Class AAA (8-0 Spring Valley) and one AA (7-0 Point), colliding for the very first time. Recently, they’re also two of the state’s more-successful programs: Point is 81-11 over the past eight years, and Spring Valley 31-5 over the last three seasons, going to the Class AAA finals in both 2016 and 2017.
“I think it’s a good game for both of us,’’ said Spring Valley coach Brad Dingess. “Our schools are pretty close to the same size. We have a couple hundred more than them, but they’re closer to our size than most of the teams in triple-A. I think we’ve got very similar kids, we’re both physical and big, and I think it’s two very similar programs. It’s a good game for both communities, and we’re excited to play it.’’
Both teams like to hammer the ball on the ground, with the Timberwolves regularly churning out between 300 and 400 yards with their running game, but each has the capability of putting the ball in the air enough to keep opposing defenses honest.
Then there’s the angle of newness to the tussle — neither side has seen much, if any, of its opponent before, in person or on video. It’s only the second AA team Dingess’ coaching staff has faced in his 11 seasons at Spring Valley, though their junior varsity and freshman teams have played in recent years. Point competed in AAA up until 2015 (making the playoff semifinals that year before losing to eventual champion Wheeling Park), but the teams never met up with each other in that stretch.
Point coach David Darst likens the Timberwolves’ attack to another Wayne County team he’s more familiar with — AA Wayne.
“Their offense runs a lot of wing-T stuff Wayne used to run,’’ Darst said, “and offensively, we do some things with that. We’ve been able to see them a little bit on film, but we haven’t been following them at all until this week. Typically, we don’t look ahead until the week before we play somebody.
“I have a nice coaching staff breaking down film for me on Saturday and Sunday, and we go through the whole process Sunday night and come up with a game plan on how to defend them or how are we going to attack them, and you cross your fingers. They’re not fancy, but they’re good. They are what they are: A very big, physical, strong football team.’’
Spring Valley has been spreading the ball around to running backs Owen Chafin (735 yards, seven touchdowns) and Isaac Howard (394 yards, 10 TDs) and mixing in jack-of-all-trades Graeson Malashevich, whom Darst called “an awesome kid.’’
Malashevich has run for 559 yards and six TDs and averages a whopping 34.3 yards per reception, with eight of his 13 catches going for touchdowns. Nate Ellis and Will Adkins share quarterbacking duties for the Wolves, with Ellis also getting reps at wideout, where he’s the team’s No. 2 receiver.
For the Big Blacks, senior left-hander Cason Payne is in his fourth season as a starting quarterback. Both he and running back Brady Adkins average more than 10 yards per carry, and Payne has completed 71 percent of his attempts for 975 yards and 11 TDs against just two interceptions.
Each coach has areas of concern heading into Friday’s interesting battle. For Darst, it’s competing with Spring Valley’s mammoth offensive line, which includes perhaps three Division I athletes — Doug Nester has committed to Ohio State, Zach Williamson to Louisville and sophomore Wyatt Milum already has a half-dozen D1 offers.
“We’re a young defense,’’ Darst said. “We’re not a big, veteran defense and we play with more skill-type kids on that side of the ball. So can we switch to playing this type of team and the difference in size that we’re going to see? That’s my concern. Can we tackle the big backs?’’
For Dingess, he has to make sure his team is prepared to play the whole way, especially at the outset. Point has outscored opponents 124-7 in the first quarter this season. Also, the Timberwolves haven’t had a close game since their 21-13 win at Capital on Sept. 28.
“We’ll definitely be rusty when we start out, especially coming off our bye,’’ Dingess said. “But we just need to play. Our starters haven’t played a full game since Capital, so that’s a little worrisome for us. We’re trying to run them and keep them in shape, but you can’t simulate game shape in practice.’’