Welcome to Week 1 of the prep football season where hope springs eternal until Saturday morning rolls around.
By that time half of the area teams will have convinced themselves a deep playoff run is on the table while others will likely have their share of overreactions. But if history has taught us anything it’s that the season is a marathon not a sprint. Take last year’s Liberty-Independence matchup for example.
After losing several contributors from a 6-0 playoff team in 2020, the Raiders were thrashed 47-0 in last year’s Battle of ’76. Liberty rebounded to finish the regular season 6-2, earning another playoff berth. Once again that matchup highlights the Week 1 slate as do many other rivalry matchups across the area.
Return to Normalcy
For the first time since 2019 Bluefield and Graham, Va. will open their seasons against one another. In 2020 Virginia moved its season back to the spring and last year Covid outbreaks led to the postponement of the matchup. When it finally was played, it wasn’t pretty as the G-Men picked up their first win in the series since 2016 with a 31-6 victory earned by pounding the rock.
Bluefield comes into the season with new starters at quarterback and three of the receiver positions but returns first-team all-state running back Amir Hairston. Fortunately for the Beavers they have several capable athletes filling the vacancies. Caleb Fuller, an all-state basketball player, is the new quarterback and one of his top weapons in the passing game will be another all-state basketball player in 6-foot-4 receiver R.J. Hairston. The trio of the Hairstons and Fuller could combine to form the next set of triplets for the Beavers’ offense but the concern has never been on that side of the ball, it’s been on the defensive side.
When the Beavers have struggled as of late its been because of their inability to stop the run. The Beavers have lost nine games since 2018 and all nine losses have largely stemmed from the strength go their opponents run games. Graham, reinforced by a Bluefield transfer in sophomore Jamel Floyd, should give the Beavers their first real test in a schedule loaded with them.
Battle of ’76
Touched on earlier, Raleigh County rivals Liberty and Independence will meetup for their annual matchup on Thursday this year with each on the opposite end of the spectrum. Independence returns an astounding 19 starters, littered with six first-team all-state players. Liberty meanwhile lost all of its skill players and will need to replace almost all of its starters elsewhere.
In what’s likely a rebuilding year, Liberty faces the tall task of knocking off a team that has its sights set on Wheeling once more. If there’s a positive for the Raiders it’s that they’ll likely miss seeing all-stater Cyrus Goodson who injured his leg in a scrimmage last weekend and Kennedy Award winner Atticus Goodson has graduated. Still, the task of stopping an offense that scored 50 points a game and scoring on a defense that allowed less than 15 will likely present the young Raiders with the toughest task of their careers.
Battle for the Bluestone
Though they’re in different classifications, PikeView and Summers County have retained their rivalry with the two schools serving as neighboring school districts. Originally a Thursday game, the Battle for the Bluestone, as it was dubbed last year, was moved to Friday to accommodate a soccer game that created a scheduling issue.
Last year’s installation saw the Bobcats kickoff the Josh Evans era with a blowout victory over the Panthers and they’ll loom to build on that with most of their core back. PikeView meanwhile graduated its top performer in that game, wide receiver Dylan Blake, and looks to replace him with a stable of young, talented skill players. Peyton Greer returns to man the QB position for the Panthers while Duke Dodson will be his counterpart for Summers County.
Battle for the Golden Shovel
For the third time in in as many seasons Wyoming East and Westside will matchup with a different coach manning the sidelines for Westside. Justin Cogar takes the reins in Clear Fork less than a decade removed from his playing days. He’ll look to pull off a signature win to open his tenure as the Renegades host the Warriors to open the season with new faces on the field. Quarterback Jaxon Cogar, Justin’s younger brother, is at Logan and replacing him is Kaiden Vance.
Wyoming East on the other hand will look to retain the Golden Shovel with a seasoned QB in Jackson Danielson and a group of younger players who saw a lot of meaningful snaps last year. The question for East will be how long does it take for the Warriors’ skill position player to get on the same page as Danielson? While head coach Jimmy Adkins is high on the bunch, they’re all young, consisting mostly of underclassmen.
Around the Area
While rivalry games consume most of the Week 1 slate, they’re not the only ones worth noting. Nicholas County and Oak Hill headline the weekly slate in a game that’s served as a litmus test for both programs. Last year the Grizzlies opened the season with a win over the Red Devils and they went on to host a playoff game. Oak Hill stumbled through the season. Complicating matters for the Red Devils is the fact they graduated standout all-stater Leonard Farrow while Nicholas County returns all-state running back Kaleb Clark and four starters on the offensive line.
The other three area Class AAA teams – Princeton, Beckley and Greenbrier East – will all be in action with tough tests. Beckley will travel to Riverside looking to build on a playoff campaign while breaking in a new QB in Jay Jones and looking to replace the production receivers Keynan Cook and Elijah Redfern gave the program last season. Greenbrier East opens with a strong Point Pleasant team that earned the No. 3 seed in last year’s Class AA playoff field before falling to Bluefield in the first round. It will be a good opportunity for the Spartans to establish and tinker with their offense as they replace several starters along their offensive line. Last but not least, Princeton opens at home, hosting a Lincoln County team that Tigers QB Grant Cochran shredded with five touchdown passes a year ago.
Along with Liberty and Independence, Shady Spring will get started on Thursday when it travels to Tug Valley to take on the Class A Panthers. Shady dominated Tug a year ago but brings back a different squad that’s manned by new QB Brady Green.
In Class A Greenbrier West will look to avenge last year’s loss to Buffalo; Midland Trail will host Clay County in Jeremy Moore’s first game as the new head coach; Meadow Bridge will travel to Van and James Monroe will open with Sherman – a team that made the playoffs a year ago.
Let your voice be heard! Cast your vote for the Week 1 winners here!
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @tjack94