Perhaps for the first time ever, the state football playoffs will include a team with a losing record.
That became official following Friday’s glut of games around West Virginia, as the Class AAA division is assured of producing at least one 4-6 team in postseason play and perhaps two.
Since there are just 29 teams in the AAA division, and because 14 of them have already absorbed six or more losses, it guarantees that at least one of the 16 teams in the playoff bracket will come in at 4-6. And if St. Albans — the last 4-5 team competing this coming week — loses at Hurricane, two 4-6 teams will get in, perhaps one from the Kanawha Valley.
All of that means that five victories now becomes the new target for teams hoping to reach the Class AAA playoffs. The five teams presently holding at 5-4 with a game left are all playoff-bound.
“Five is the new six,’’ said Hurricane coach Jeremy Taylor.
A 6-4 record used to be the standard for getting into the AAA postseason, as teams in the Mountain State Athletic Conference knew full well. In the previous 20 seasons (1997-2016), only three times did MSAC teams with six wins fail to gain a playoff spot — Nitro in 1999, South Charleston in 2012 and Princeton in 2013. All went 6-4 and just missed.
At the moment, eight MSAC teams stand in the top 16 of the Class AAA ratings, according to figures provided by WTOV9.com. The SSAC releases its official totals on Tuesday.
Huntington (9-0) remains first, followed by Martinsburg (10-0), University (10-0), Spring Valley (7-2), Musselman (7-2), Capital (6-3), Parkersburg (6-3) and John Marshall (7-2), with Hedgesville (6-3) and Hurricane (5-4) tied for ninth. Teams in the top eight get choice of home field in the first round of the postseason.
In fact, the top 15 teams in the current ratings have already locked up playoff spots, including Morgantown (4-6). The interesting part is what happens with that final spot. Three teams remain alive for that position — St. Albans (4-5), South Charleston (3-6) and Parkersburg South (3-6).
If SA wins at Hurricane Friday, it’s in and gains its first playoff spot since 2007. If the Red Dragons lose, it opens the door for SC and South. The Black Eagles host Woodrow Wilson (1-8), and the Patriots host Parkersburg.
If SA and South lose and SC wins, the Black Eagles are in. If SA loses, South upsets Parkersburg and SC beats Woodrow, it comes down to tiebreakers between South and SC.
If all three lose, St. Albans advances.
It’s difficult to project first-round matchups in the playoffs because 13 of the teams in the current top 16 still have games remaining this weekend — and many of them either figure to be close contests or pair big rivals, games that are known to spring upsets.
Here’s what’s left for teams atop the AAA ratings:
Top eight — 1. Huntington (home vs. Cabell Midland), 2. Martinsburg (regular season complete), 3. University (regular season complete), 4. Spring Valley (home vs. Greenbrier East), 5. Musselman (home vs. Preston), 6. Capital (at George Washington), 7. Parkersburg (at Parkersburg South), 8. John Marshall (home vs. Wheeling Park);
Second eight — 9. Hedgesville (at Spring Mills), 9. Hurricane (home vs. St. Albans), 11. Cabell Midland (at Huntington), 12. George Washington (home vs. Capital), 13. Spring Mills (home vs. Hedgesville), 14. Wheeling Park (at John Marshall), 15. Morgantown (regular season complete), 16. St. Albans (at Hurricane).
Not only are teams vying to get into the 16-team Class AAA field, but several are trying to jump into or remain in the top eight to play at home in the first round.Take Parkersburg, which has won five of its last six games to climb into the No. 7 spot. Two weeks ago, the Big Reds were 12th and last week were 10th before holding on to beat Riverside 44-30.
They’ve done it with a wide-open offense that averages a little over 36 points, often with big plays in the passing and running games. However, their attack doesn’t allow the offense to control the ball for long stretches, as they trail their opponents by about five minutes in average time of possession.
In Friday’s game, Riverside ran 83 plays, racked up 32 first downs, gained 499 yards and controlled the ball for 30-plus minutes to about 16 1/2 for Parkersburg. But the Big Reds still had enough offense to prevail despite four three-and-outs and an interception on the first play of another drive.
“We’re never going to win the time of possession battle,’’ said Big Reds coach Mike Byus, “but at the same time we’ve got to execute and string more than one football play together on offense so we can keep our defense off the field a little bit. That’s OK if you score quick, but how many drives did we have that didn’t end up in scores because we petered out?’’
There are plenty of significant games Friday in the Class AA and A divisions to join the AAA games detailed above. They include:AA — Mingo Central (9-0) at Winfield (7-2); Braxton County (7-2) at Sissonville (6-3); Lincoln (6-3) at Bridgeport (8-1); Robert C. Byrd (6-3) at Philip Barbour (7-2); Westside (5-4) at Oak Hill (5-4);
A-AA — South Harrison (8-1) at Liberty Harrison (8-1); Webster County (8-1) at Clay County (6-3); East Hardy (9-0) at Petersburg (5-4); Pocahontas County (6-3) at Shady Spring (5-4); Richwood (6-3) at Nicholas County (7-2);
A — Madonna (7-1) at Clay-Battelle (6-3); Wirt County (5-4) at Sherman (7-2); Tyler Consolidated (5-4) at St. Marys (7-1); Summers County (5-4) at Fayetteville (6-3).