WHEELING — If there was a bit of panic on Martinsburg’s sideline in the first half and in the locker room at halftime, it sure didn’t show up on the Bulldogs players.
For just the second time all season, Martinsburg trailed at halftime during Saturday’s Class AAA championship game against Spring Valley, but rebounded mightily to capture a 44-16 win and its second straight state title.
The Bulldogs outscored the Timberwolves 30-0 in the second half after trailing 16-14 at the break. They had also been down 21-14 at Sherando, Virginia, earlier this season before rallying.
Tyson Bagent, Martinsburg’s third-year starting quarterback, said his team simply stayed the course Saturday.
“We really didn’t change anything,’’ Bagent said. “We just came out in the second half and we knew they gave everything, and we knew how much juice we had left. The guys did a good job of waking up, and smacked them in the second half.’’
Tavis Lee, the Bulldogs’ senior defensive end who has committed to WVU, said the players realized many of their problems were self-inflicted.
“I know it was mental mistakes,’’ Lee said. “We were basically giving them everything they had. It was penalties, flags, personal fouls, stuff like that.’’
Whistle while you work
The officiating crew from the Mason-Dixon Board that worked Saturday’s Class AAA game had more than their fair share of hiccups, including a key sequence just before halftime that denied Spring Valley the chance to score a touchdown.
Spring Valley’s Mitchell Hall booted a 22-yard field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 4 to give his team a 16-14 lead with 2:01 until halftime, and a penalty was called for roughing the kicker.
Timberwolves coaches wanted to take the points off the board and get a first down at the 2, but the officials decided — after much discussion and confusion — that the personal foul did not carry an automatic first down. However, National Federation rules mandate an automatic first down for four different types of personal fouls — including roughing the kicker. The Wolves passed on what was offered, fourth and goal at the 2, and took the points.
“I’m still mad about that call,’’ Wolves coach Brad Dingess said after the game. “We should have been up more. I don’t know how you get to the state championship game and botch that thing up before halftime. It kind of changed, I thought, that whole thing there.’’
That wasn’t the only snafu for the officials.
In the third quarter, with Martinsburg in third-and-goal at the 2, pass interference was called, moving the ball to the 1. But the down indicator on the sideline and the closest officials were signaling first down as the Bulldogs again came to the line. Only at the last second did the side judge whistle the play dead and correctly change it to third down.
The referee had constant troubles with his field microphone, not turning it on as he explained calls and mistakenly leaving it on at other inopportune times.
When finally ruling on the roughing-the-kicker call, the referee raised both hands in the air to signal the kick was good, and said over his mic: “Touchdown.’’
Mookie the workhorse
People who felt Mookie Collier was a one-trick pony were surprised to find out that he’s indeed a workhorse.
All season long, there was no question that Collier, Bluefield’s senior tailback, was one of the state’s top running backs. Totals of 2,036 yards and 32 touchdown runs coming into the Super Six will do that for you.
However, there was a school of thought that Collier was only a speed back, using his track skills to break off long touchdown runs. Yeah, he averaged 15 yards a carry, but he was getting just 10 carries per game coming into the state finals.
Collier, though, left no doubt about his resume Friday night, helping the Beavers score a thrilling 29-26 victory against Fairmont Senior in the Class AA title game. He carried a season-high 26 times for 199 yards, including an electric 60-yard TD run, and was chosen as his team’s MVP by a media vote.
He said he was primed for a bigger workload against the defensive-minded Polar Bears, who came into the game having allowed two touchdowns or fewer to 11 of their 13 opponents, including the last six in a row.
“I just do whatever I can for the team to help them win,’’ Collier said afterward. “If it was for me to do it, I would do so. I’m so proud of our guys. They played absolutely amazing today and God blessed us with the win.’’
Neal kept on ticking
Fairmont Senior’s MVP, quarterback Connor Neal, experienced the highs and lows of competing in a championship setting.
Using an array of crisp and accurate short passes, along with an occasional deep throw, Neal completed 20 of 27 passes for 302 yards, a double-A Super Six record, and two touchdowns.
But Neal also paid the price, getting sacked five times by a ferocious Bluefield pass rush and being forced into three fumbles, two of which the Beavers recovered. Neal ran seven times for 40 yards, but with the sack yardage emerged with a net of just 5 yards on 12 carries.
By game’s end, Neal sported a noticeable limp moving from the huddle to the line of scrimmage.
“He’s a warrior, man,’’ said Fairmont coach Nick Bartic. “He’s banged up, he’s taking shots. They’re a physical team, so he had to gut it out. And it was a hell of a performance by him.’’
Neal finished the season with 31 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.
One of the best?
Friday’s AA game provided so many thrills, lead changes and big plays that it’s being regarded as one of the better title contests since the Super Six moved to Wheeling.
Bluefield coach Fred Simon, whose teams have now played in the state finals at Island Stadium 10 times, agrees with that assessment.
“It’s probably the best I’ve been part of as a coach,’’ Simon said. “We’ve had some blowouts and some tight games, but never like this. It was unbelievable.’’
n Spring Valley’s appearance in the Class AAA title game marked the 24th for a team from the Mountain State Athletic Conference since the Super Six moved to Wheeling in 1994. Their record in those games is 10-14.
n Martinsburg allowed six touchdowns in four postseason games after permitting just one during last year’s postseason run.