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Column: Last season’s state champs don’t appear to be slowing down

Martinsburg’s Dewayne Grantham scores a touchdown vs. H.D. Woodson, D.C. The Bulldogs are 2-0 to start the 2018 season, running their win streak to 30 games.

 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — While the landscape of the high school football season will change over the next two months, we’ve had an opportunity to learn a lot early on. Through the first two weeks, there have been plenty of storylines in what looks to be another exciting season on the gridiron. 

Some thoughts and observations ahead of Week 3:

Martinsburg remains top dog

Class AAA No. 1 Martinsburg hasn’t yet faced an in-state opponent, and won’t until a matchup with Spring Mills on Sept. 14, but the Bulldogs convincing wins to this point prove they remain the top team in the state.

Good luck finding a weakness on this MHS team. To this point, it’s been opening kickoffs and that’s about it. In their 62-12 season-opening win against Loudoun Valley, Va., the Bulldogs allowed a touchdown on the opening return and in last week’s 42-6 triumph over H.D. Woodson, D.C., Martinsburg lost a fumble on the opening kickoff that led to the Warriors’ only touchdown.

West Virginia University commit Dewayne Grantham and fellow senior Grant Harman have excelled, just as many thought they would. Factor in the explosiveness of Naieem Kearney, and it’s easy to see why Dave Walker’s team is averaging 52 points ahead of Friday’s matchup with Eastern, D.C.

With 30 straight wins, the culture of a winning program at MHS is perhaps at an all-time high. 

The rest of the top tier in Class AAA has been established

Assuming Martinsburg is No. 1, what’s the pecking order in Class AAA behind the Bulldogs?

The next crop of teams has to include last year’s runner-up Spring Valley and 2017 semifinalists Capital and Huntington. Each of those teams is 2-0, along with several other playoff teams from a year ago: Cabell Midland, John Marshall, Musselman and Wheeling Park.

The Timberwolves have three high-level Division I recruits along their offensive line and have been solid in wins over Wayne and Hurricane, allowing a total of 11 points. 

Capital has perhaps the most impressive win of any team with its Week 1 victory at Johnson Central, Ky. Coming from behind on the road, the Cougars displayed the poise and toughness of a championship-level team. 

Huntington’s physicality has helped lead the Highlanders to a pair of victories, with the opposition combining for 17 points in two games.

Cabell Midland cruised in Week 1 against St. Albans, then followed it up with a win at Parkersburg. Against the Big Reds, Ivan Vaughn rushed for 318 yards and scored all six of his team’s touchdowns.

John Marshall has narrowly knocked off University and Mountain Ridge, Md. One year after posting a playoff win against Parkersburg, the Monarchs are looking to get back to that point, if not further, and their experienced roster should only help.

Musselman has 92 points in its two wins, but will run into a challenging schedule at the midpoint of the regular season.

Wheeling Park has outscored its first two opponents, 100-19, and Patriots’ running back Rapheal Johnson has 314 rushing yards with an average of 11.2 yards per carry.

Considering Spring Valley plays Cabell Midland this week and Capital takes on Cabell Midland on Sept. 21 and Spring Valley on Sept. 28, we’ll have a much better idea of who stands where by month’s end.

No shortage of depth in Class AA

Bluefield and Fairmont Senior could very well meet for the Class AA crown at Wheeling Island Stadium for the second straight season. 

Still, several other teams appear likely to make noise at least as far as being in contention.

Bridgeport, as usual, will be in the mix, while Point Pleasant and Weir round out the top 5 in the latest MetroNews power rankings. The Big Blacks and Red Riders have both been impressive, as have Sissonville and Nicholas County, which like Weir, were eliminated in the first round of the postseason last year, but start 2018 with a 2-0 record.

Mingo Central may have saved its season with a close win against Wayne last week, particularly after a tough loss to Point Pleasant in the opener. Keyser (1-0) is also worth keeping an eye on and the Golden Tornado will learn more about themselves Friday against a talented Robert C. Byrd team.

But it feels like the Beavers have at least somewhat fallen under the radar, despite opening the season with lopsided wins over rival Graham, Va., and Princeton. Bluefield lost a standout senior class that featured last year’s Kennedy Award winner, Mookie Collier, as well as the team’s most imposing physical presence, Truck Edwards. 

Yet the Beavers are still plenty explosive, and quarterback Chandler Cooper now finds himself handing the ball to Jamere Edwards and JJ Davis.

Although Bluefield has notched 16 straight wins since missing the playoffs in 2016, it’s almost as though the Beavers are quietly going about their business. They may just have to work a little harder to get back to Wheeling with what they’ll likely face down the line.

Wheeling Central is in a league of its own

The Maroon Knights have yet to give up a point this season, blanking both Williamstown and Madonna while totaling a combined 88 points in the lopsided victories.

Despite losing four times a season ago, Wheeling Central went on to win the Class A state championship as the No. 10 seed. With a strong nucelus back in the fold, expectations were again high for one of Class A’s premier programs, with the Maroon Knights starting this season as Class A’s top-ranked team in the MetroNews power rankings.

It doesn’t appear Central will have any trouble living up to the hype. 

In quarterback Curtis McGhee, running back Bray Price, fullback/defensive lineman Vinny Mangino, and linebacker Adam Murray, the Maroon Knights have a number of experienced standouts they can count on to make plays. 

Considering that seven of the other nine Class A teams to start the season in the MetroNews power rankings have already lost at least once, there’s no question what team the rest of Class A is chasing.

Speaking of chasing, opponents haven’t had much luck running down Doddridge County’s Hunter America, who shows 647 rushing yards with 12 TDs on the ground through two games. America’s play is a big reason the Bulldogs jumped up to No. 2 in this week’s power rankings.