HUNTINGTON — How does a team win when it manages just 117 yards of total offense and punts eight times?
Well, if you’re Spring Valley, you just turn up the heat on defense yourself and ride it out.
Isaac Howard had a second-quarter touchdown run Friday night and the Timberwolves held Huntington tailback Jadon Hayes to his lowest rushing output of the season, hammering out a 10-7 victory in the Class AAA semifinals at chilly Bob Sang Stadium.
Spring Valley (11-2), the No. 4 seed, advances back to the state championship game at noon on Dec. 2 at Wheeling Island Stadium against Saturday’s Martinsburg-Capital winner. The Wolves fell to Martinsburg in last year’s finals.
“We did just enough to win it,’’ said Spring Valley coach Brad Dingess. “It doesn’t matter what the stats were or anything like that. We had one more point than they did, and that’s the best thing we could do.’’
The loss was the first of the season for No. 1 seed Huntington (12-1), which came into the contest having won 31 of its previous 33 home games.
The Highlanders’ top weapon, senior tailback Hayes, was limited to 22 yards on 13 carries. He entered the game averaging 191.5 yards on the ground, and had been held under 125 yards just one other time this season.
Hayes did score on a 1-yard run with 4:25 left to bring the Highlanders within 10-7, but their final possession produced three incomplete passes and a sack and they gave it back to Spring Valley with 2:23 remaining. The Wolves were able to run out the clock.
“We just played well up front,’’ said Spring Valley junior lineman Doug Nester, who had one of his team’s five sacks against Huntington quarterback Luke Zban. “We had our game plan, and we stuck with it. Our line played great and our linebackers were just getting to them.’’
Huntington’s offense fared no better than the Wolves on a night that featured 15 punts and just 208 yards of total offense by the two teams. The Highlanders had seven three-and-outs and the Wolves six.
Zban was 6 of 22 passing for 75 yards. He threw an interception late in the third quarter that resulted in a 22-yard field goal by Mitchell Hall, giving Spring Valley a 10-0 lead.
Huntington’s only other turnover also initiated a Spring Valley score.
The Timberwolves struck first when they recovered a Huntington fumble at their own 46 in the second quarter and drove for a touchdown in 12 plays, capping the possession with a 4-yard touchdown run by Howard. That made it 7-0 at halftime.
“Our defense is pretty good,’’ Dingess said, “and we were dialed in. Coach [Frank] Arthur had a great game plan, and to hold [Hayes] like we did is something. Limit the big plays, and they didn’t have any big plays tonight. That’s what we’ve got to do.’’
After managing just 16 yards on 14 rushing plays in the first half, Huntington called for passing plays on its first seven snaps of the second half. It didn’t help matters much.
Huntington’s deepest penetration was the Spring Valley 44 until its touchdown drive midway into the final quarter. A dropped punt snap gave the Highlanders the ball at the Wolves 33 and it took them nine plays to score, with the big play a 17-yard hookup from Zban to Mikal Dawson on fourth-and-3 from the 26.
The Highlanders actually kicked a field goal on that possession, but a roughing the holder penalty gave them a first down at the 4, and Hayes punched it in two plays later.
Hayes’ longest runs were carries of 7 and 8 yards, but four of his attempts resulted in lost yardage. He is considered one of the top contenders for the Kennedy Award as the outstanding player in West Virginia.
“They were putting eight in the box,’’ Huntington coach Billy Seals said of Spring Valley’s defense, “and it’s very difficult to run on eight in the box. So we felt like we had to throw the football well in order to get them out of the box. We didn’t throw it good enough, obviously. They did a heck of a job.
“Hats off to Spring Valley. They played really, really well on defense. They negated any big plays we could get. They negated our running game. We couldn’t win the one-on-one battles out there at receiver. They were playing so far off us, and we couldn’t get behind them.’’
Spring Valley had only four first downs before halftime, and they all came on a grinding 12-play, 54-yard drive after Jacob Cassidy recovered a Highlanders fumble at his own 46. A tackle by Owen Porter pried the ball loose.
Huntington also shined on the defensive side of the ball, holding the Wolves to 108 yards on 48 carries, about a third of their average production. Quarterback Derek Johnson led the victors with 60 yards on 13 attempts, including a 27-yard burst on their field-goal drive.
That started when Nester tipped a Zban pass and the ball fell into the arms of Wolves teammate Cody Stanley at the Highlanders 44.
“I thought our defense played pretty danged well,’’ Seals said. “I love our kids; they played their butts off tonight. It’s a three-legged stool. We didn’t play well enough to win. Came up a little bit short.’’