By Tom Bragg
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Sometimes in football emotions can run hot and spill into the next game. For Herbert Hoover, the hope is the Huskies can put last week behind them with a spot in the state championship game on the line.
No. 9 Hoover slipped past Cardinal Conference rival and top-seeded Winfield last week in a game that featured plenty of pregame trash talk, postgame trash talk and an intense, high-level football game in between. Now the Huskies have to hit the road again and make the long trip to Short Gap to take on No. 5 Frankfort in the Class AA state semifinals at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
For third-year Huskies head coach Joey Fields, the idea is simple – put last week in the past. The win against Winfield was an important one, but there is still work left to do as Hoover, in the state semifinals of the expanded postseason for the third time in program history and first time since 1994, looks to advance to the championship round at Wheeling Island Stadium for the first time in program history.
Fields, however, is no stranger to this stage. He was an assistant at Mingo Central when the school opened in 2011 and later became the Miners’ head coach. In 2018 he left the coalfields and spent two seasons as an assistant at Class AAA heavyweight Martinsburg – by far the most successful program in the state this century. Fields, who was part of state championship teams at both stops, said he has seen the good and the bad in teams coming off big wins in emotional games, so he is trying to use that experience to guide his young Herbert Hoover team into uncharted territory this week.
“We have definitely addressed that,” Fields said. “We addressed that by telling them about the situations I’ve been in. I’ve been in this situation, this is semifinal No. 6 for me, and we were in this situation once [at Mingo Central] where we beat Bluefield when they were the No. 2 team in 2015 then the next week we were beat in the semifinals by Tolsia.
“We had practice Sunday and kind of put [the Winfield game] to bed. We said that game can no longer do anything for you or against you, so we’re on to Frankfort and we’re excited. They’re a very good football team, so we’ll need all of our attention on them.”
Frankfort (11-1) has been excellent this season in its bid to return to the state championship game for the first time since 2014.. The Falcons only loss came to a team from Maryland and along the way they have claimed some impressive results. Frankfort beat fellow Class AA semifinalist North Marion 41-20 on Oct. 28, followed that win a lopsided Mineral Bowl win against rival Keyser and rolled to playoff wins against Nicholas County and on the road last week against a very good Scott team, topping the Skyhawks 41-6.
The Falcons use a Wing-T attack on offense, and have a handful of capable ball carriers that can cause big problems for opposing defenses. Frankfort quarterback Luke Robinette and running back Parker VanMeter lead the offense, but there is no shortage of playmakers on the Falcons’ offense.
“They’ve got the right guys to do their brand of football,” Fields said. “It’s Wing-T and deception, and they’re very physical. Kevin and I have been friends for a long time and I have all the respect for him and what they’ve done with that program. They’ve built it on toughness and discipline. That’s what we’re going to have to have – toughness and discipline – to stop them.”
The Huskies have some playmakers of their own as well that should test the Frankfort defense. Sophomore quarterback Dane Hatfield has been one of the most productive players in the state this season, and that was on full display in last week’s quarterfinal win at No. 1 Winfield. Hatfield threw three touchdown passess – all to receiver Jacob Burns – and added a long touchdown run as Hoover snuck out of Putnam County with a 27-26 win.
Since a Sept. 2 loss to Winfield in the regular season Hoover rolled off nine consecutive wins. During that streak, the Huskies only scored fewer than 40 points once – last week in the win against the Generals.
Fields said Frankfort does some unique things on defense, and expects the Falcons to test his high-powered offense
“They can cause us some problems with their size,” Fields said. “They play a unique defense that we don’t see every week. It causes challenges.
Of course you’ve got to go there, and they’re very good at home. That’s a good football team, as they should be if you’re still playing at this time of year.”