Prep football playoffs notebook: Huntington’s turnaround complete
Turning in the first 10-0 regular season in the history of consolidated Huntington High is noteworthy enough, but to do it four years after an 0-10 record, well, it's a bit remarkable.
The Highlanders accomplished the ultimate turnaround this year, improving steadily from a winless record in Billy Seals' first season as coach in 2009 all the way to capturing the No. 1 seed for the upcoming Class AAA playoffs.
"I think all the credit goes to our kids,'' Seals said. "The kids bought into our program, bought into what we teach as a coaching staff, bought into our offseason program. All the credit goes to them.
"We try to put them in the right spots and make good calls and things like that, but they understand championships are won from December to August, and our kids put in a tremendous amount of work in the offseason to get prepared.''
Seals still recalls the sting of the 0-10 mark, which led to a 13-game losing streak that finally ended in 2010.
"Our first year,'' he said, "I couldn't sell anything to anybody who'd listen. After we went 0-10, we brought the kids in and I said, 'I promise if you buy into this, we're going to be successful.'
"We had a great offseason from the entire team. The next year, we went 4-6 but lost our first three. Really, all it took was to get that monkey off our back and get that win. We've played pretty good football since then. That old saying: The proof's in the pudding? The kids know what's going to occur in the offseason and what they've got to do to be successful.''
It's culminated in the first unbeaten regular season since the old Huntington High and Huntington East consolidated in 1996.
Seals is especially proud of his team's recent road record. The Highlanders have won 13 of their last 14 away from home, with the only loss at Martinsburg in the quarterfinals of the 2011 playoffs.
Some teams aren't equipped to play offense when the weather's nasty or the field's muddy. Others are in trouble if they get behind a couple of touchdowns and are forced to pass more than their comfort zone allows.
Then there's teams like South Charleston, which feels at home doing either.
Sophomore Kentre Grier has thrown for 1,969 yards and 25 touchdowns against just five interceptions. Junior running back A.D. Cunningham averages better than 100 yards rushing with 10 TDs.
Cunningham, who missed one game with an injury, stands 13 rushing yards shy of 1,000 for the season and also figures prominently in the Black Eagles' screen game with 13 catches for 202 yards and three scores.
"It's nice to have a quarterback who can throw the football,'' said SC first-year coach Donnie Mays, "and a running back who can get you the tough yards.
"A.D. can put the team on his shoulders and say, 'I'm going to carry the load.' What gets overlooked sometimes is how well we can play up front and how well our receivers can block. All that makes for a good rushing attack. A.D. has such good vision that he sees the smallest crease and takes it.''
All six teams that appeared in the Super Six finals last year have made it back to the postseason - Martinsburg and Cabell Midland in AAA, Wayne and Keyser in AA and Wahama and Madonna in single-A.
Several teams in that group have made multiple appearances in the Super Six after it moved to Wheeling 19 years ago:
Once teams get a taste of the big show, they want nothing less than a return trip.
"I'll be pretty upset if we don't make it this year,'' said Josh Martin, Madonna's senior tackle. "It's redemption this year. It's a big year for us juniors [from last year's loss]. Our biggest goal that we have is to make it down to that stadium and play in front of all those people again, and get that ring.''
After Point Pleasant moved up from AA to AAA following a trip to the state finals with a 13-0 record in 2011, a lot of people thought the Big Blacks were going to slip back into the pack like so many other programs do.
Only it didn't happen.
Point chalked up its second 10-0 regular season in three years on Saturday and takes the No. 4 seed into the AAA playoffs.
Coach David Darst hopes the rest of West Virginia doesn't go to sleep on his team, which hasn't received a lot of attention statewide because it doesn't belong to a power conference and has been forced to play a makeshift schedule.
The Mountain State Athletic Conference swallows up most of the teams in southern West Virginia, and Point had nowhere to go once it departed the AA Cardinal Conference.
"It's been a problem with our schedule coming into triple-A,'' Darst said earlier this season. "It was definitely easier in the Cardinal Conference. Obviously, we can't get into the [MSAC] and play those teams, but we did manage to get Ripley and Winfield.
"We're doing the best we can do with our schedule. We're a small triple-A school. We play eight triple-A schools bigger than us in West Virginia, and we were lucky to get them.''
Darst understands that his program doesn't get the respect of some of the other AAA teams lurking at the top of the ratings like Huntington, Martinsburg and Capital.
"I really don't worry about those kinds of things myself,'' he said. "As far as respect and winning ballgames, our kids play hard and we make sure we're taking care of the Point Pleasant kids. With any program, you've got to go out and perform, and that's how you get respect.
"With us being in triple-A, it can be hard to get recognition for our kids. You used to have all-conference, but now we're kind of out here on our own, right between all the big cities. Obviously, [the media's] got to cover triple-A schools, [but] we're playing good football down here, too. We're blessed with a bunch of kids who enjoy football right now. We're having fun and playing hard.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.
Streaking in West Virginia
The state's top winning streaks and unbeaten streaks in high school football:
ALL-GAMES WIN STREAK
35-Wheeling Central, 2005-08
ALL-GAMES UNBEATEN STREAK
42-Ansted, 1970-73 (40-0-2)
35-Wheeling Central, 2005-08 (35-0)
33-Wayne, 2011-active (33-0)
32-Martinsburg, 2010-12 (32-0)
32-Mannington, 1975-78 (32-0)
32-Bluefield, 1967-69 (32-0)
32-Charleston, 1968-71 (30-0-2)
REGULAR SEASON WIN STREAK
31-Valley Wetzel, 1992-95
REGULAR SEASON UNBEATEN
57-Williamstown, 2001-07 (57-0)
47-Ansted, 1970-74 (45-0-2)
42-Sistersville, 1979-84 (42-0)
41-Winfield, 1968-72 (41-0)
33-Cameron, 1997-2000 (32-0-1)
32-Wahama, 2009-13 (32-0)
31-Valley Wetzel, 1992-95 (31-0)
31-Bluefield, 1966-69 (31-0)