By GARY DOVE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A little more than two years ago, when River View High School first opened, veteran head football coach Mitch Estep talked about his hope the Raiders would build a tradition on the gridiron, much as Big Creek and Iaeger had done before forming the new school.
That hope has come closer to reality the last three football seasons, as the Raiders have earned a spot in the 16 team Class AA football playoff field each November.
This Saturday, the 6-4 Raiders, ranked #14 in the final standings, will travel to Harrison County to face #3 Bridgeport, boasting a 7-2 worksheet.
The entry into playoff contention was not a certainty for the View until this past Saturday, when the Raiders stopped Westside 18-12 to earn the berth for post-season play.
River View started 4-1, dropping only a 34-12 decision to Mingo Central in week 3. However, three consecutive losses evened the balance sheet at 4-4 heading into the final two weeks of the regular campaign. Wyoming East started that string with a 10-6 win over the Raiders, followed by Bluefield's 49-14 victory and finally Nicholas County scored the final 21 points of the game to down River View 28-14.
Back-to-back verdicts over Lincoln County and then Westside, however, vaulted the Raiders into the playoff mix.
Remarked Coach Estep of bouncing back to make the playoffs, "We've lost to four teams and all four of them are in the playoffs. They're (Raider players) so resilient. We've had so many obstacles in our way all season long. The kids just kept coming back...They never lost focus of what their task was all season long: it was to win and hopefully at the end to have a chance (to get in the playoffs)."
2012 is Estep's 33rd season as a head football coach, including the first 30 at Iaeger, his alma mater, and the last three at River View.
This will mark the 13th year he has taken his team to post-season action.
Bridgeport isn't a stranger to Coach Estep, as Iaeger played the Indians in the opening round of the 1995 Class AA playoffs, a game won by the Harrison Countians. The starting quarterback for the Indians that season was Jason Nicewarner, currently an assistant coach for Bridgeport and older brother of head coach Josh Nicewarner.
Head coach Nicewarner is in his third season as head mentor, after serving eight years as a Bridgeport assistant. He was a senior on the 2000 Indian team that won the Class AA state championship, the sixth state football title at Bridgeport.
Nicewarner owns a 29-5 record over the past three campaigns.
This year's Bridgeport team suffered losses to Wheeling Park (14-13) in week two and second ranked Class AA Keyser (25-0) in week eight.
Bridgeport moved from AAA to AA this season with the reclassification by the WVSSAC.
Offensively, the Raiders are averaging 24.0 points per game, while allowing 20.2.
Senior quarterback Austin Walker, who has rushed the pigskin 90 times for 249 yards and five touchdowns on the season, leads the Raiders' offense. Walker has completed 39-of-77 pass tries for 547 yards and six touchdowns.
Sophomore scatback Jordan Wilson, the leading rusher in River View history, both career and for a single season, has 1158 yards on 173 attempts and 13 scores in 2012.
He is joined by senior Sammy Brewster at fullback. Brewster, who started the season on the offensive line because of his blocking skills, has three TDs, running the ball 46 times for 258 yards.
Junior Joseph McClanahan, who has 599 yards rushing in 85 tries, and six scores, will also see playing time in the backfield.
Junior Ryan Blankenship will be the wing in the Raider wing-T set, while seniors Jordan Dotson and Jamie Miller also will see action in the backfield.
Senior Zach Shelton anchors the offensive line at center, flanked by senior Cody DeLong and junior Tyler Blankenship at the guards and junior Chris Mullins and sophomore Steve Bowman at the tackles. Sophomre Justin Ward will also see playing time on the offensive line.
Senior Brandon Thomas and junior Dee Duff are the starting ends.
Defensively, Shelton, Tyler Blankenship and sophomore Tyler Walker will split time at the two nose guard spots in the Raider 4-4 alignment.
Thomas, McClanahan and Duff will all see action at the defensive end posts.
Brewster, DeLong and Ryan Blankenship will share duties at inside linebacker, with Dotson and Mills on the outside.
Austin Walker, Wilson, senior Aaron Akers and freshman Tyree Baker will all see action at the three defensive secondary positions.
Mills and Thomas lead the defensive stats with 62 and 51 total tackles respectively. Thomas has eight sacks included in those 51 tackles.
Dotson is right behind with 41 tackles, while Shelton has 37.
Related Coach Estep of the upcoming contest, "We're excited we get a chance to play in the playoffs. We'll prepare and give our best effort and see what happens. That's what we always tell the kids, 'Give it everything you have.'"
Game time is 1:30 Saturday afternoon on the artificial turf of Wayne Jamison Stadium in Bridgeport.