Column by BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The second season of high school football has reached Week 2.
Five of eight regional teams are still playing, with Graham, Summers County and Wyoming East now preparing for basketball or wrestling seasons.
Bluefield (9-2), the lone local representative left in West Virginia, returns to the field on Friday in a state quarterfinal game with Nicholas County (9-2), one of three lower-seeded Class AA teams to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
If the Beavers can escape the Grizzlies, which won at Wyoming East, a semifinal matchup could be on tap for next weekend at No. 2 Bridgeport (10-1), which will be a significant favorite over Fairmont Senior (9-2). The Polar Bears lost to the Indians 37-14 earlier in the season.
Wayne (11-0) appears poised to play for a third straight state championship, with Sissonville (10-1) on tap this week. Sissonville has lost once, a 58-19 setback to those same Pioneers.
The Pioneers would then play either No. 12 Ritchie County (8-3) — which upset Summers County — or No. 13 Robert C. Byrd (8-3) in the semifinals, with both of those teams pulling upsets of higher seeds last week.
Three teams, Wayne, Bridgeport and Bluefield, have been considered the best of Class AA this season, and two of those are expected to meet in Wheeling, and one will be Wayne.
On the Virginia side, it takes five wins — not four — to win a state championship, and four local schools have moved on.
It starts with Richlands (8-3), which defeated Graham in one rematch and now the Blue Tornado has another one, with Virginia High (6-5) visiting Ernie Hicks Stadium on Friday in Group 2A West second round action.
The No. 13 Bearcats shocked Gretna 43-40 last week, and will make its second trip to Richlands this season, losing 32-13 earlier to the Blue Tornado. Richlands has won five in a row, including last week’s rain-soaked 31-21 win over Graham.
One of the positive attributes of the new VHSL playoff format was supposed to be the opportunity to play someone different in the postseason, but it hasn’t worked out that way for the Blue Tornado, which played Graham last week and the Bearcats on Friday.
“We really thought in the playoff system, 1 through 16, you don’t have a really great chance to play somebody you have already played, but it is what it is,” said Richlands head coach Greg Mance, before last Friday’s win over Graham. “I wish they would make a rule that if you have played somebody in the regular season that you couldn’t play them again in the playoffs until the second or third round. That way you play somebody you haven’t played.”
Only two lower seeds in Group 2A West advanced to the second round of the Division 2 playoffs, including the Bearcats and ninth-seeded Appomattox County (7-4), which toppled Marion.
Giles (11-0), the top-seeded team in 2A West, will play Appomattox County (7-4) on Friday, with a win possibly setting up a third round contest with Richlands. The Raiders pulled a mild upset by knocking off Marion in the opening round.
The Spartans and Blue Tornado are the last two area teams in Virginia to claim a state title, with Giles winning it in 2005, and the Blue Tornado doing the same in 2006.
Win on Friday and those teams will play each other next week, which would be a coaching matchups of brother-in-laws with Mance and Giles head coach Jeff Williams.
The winner of that game would play the survivor of the bottom the Group 2A West bracket — Union (9-2), Dan River (9-2), Buckingham County (8-3) and Gate City (7-4) — in the semifinals with the winner playing the survivor in Group 2A East for the state title.
Only one higher seed on the Group 2A East fell to defeat in the opening round. No. 2 Clarke County is the lone undefeated team at 11-0, while No. 1 Wilson Memorial is 10-1. No. 4 Riverheads (10-1) is the third team in that bracket with 10 wins.
Black Diamond District schools Honaker and Haysi are also hoping to move on in Group 1A West. Haysi (11-0), the top seed, will host Steven Peoples and Galax (7-4) on Saturday, while No. 3 Honaker (10-1) will host Covington (8-3) on Friday.
Haysi faces the task of trying to slow down Peoples, who set a Virginia state record earlier this season with 502 yards against Graham. Peoples has run for 2.738 and 40 touchdowns, and needs 580 yards to break the Virginia single-season mark of 3,319 set by Thomas Jones, who starred at Powell Valley, the University of Virginia and in the NFL.
Haysi has a pretty good back of their own in Jeffrey Bowen, who has run for 1,934 yards this season, but missed last week’s win over Eastside with a sprained ankle.
The winner plays No. 13 Auburn (7-4) or No. 12 J.I. Burton (7-4), both of whom upset their way to the second round last week. The Raiders knocked off perennial power Clintwood, while the Eagles — which had lost 39 straight games entering this season — won at Chilhowie.
Honaker, whose only loss this was at Haysi, won four games last season in the postseason before losing to George Wythe in the Division 1 state championship game.
Up next is Covington (8-3), which was the only team in the regular season to defeat Summers County.
The winner of that one faces either Fort Chiswell (10-1), whose only loss was to Graham, or Radford (6-5), which lost to the Pioneers 49-13 early in the season. The Bobcats were one of three Group 1A West lower seeds to advance.
Leading 1A East is top-seeded Essex (10-1). Only one higher seed lost on that side of the bracket in the opening week. No. 3 Franklin and No. 2 Altavista also have 10 wins among the eight schools still playing.
The West Virginia state championship games will be held on Dec. 6-7 in Wheeling, while both the Group 2A and 1A title games will be played on Dec. 14 in Salem.
Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org