It should come as no surprise to most that Bluefield owns the area’s best playoff mark over the last decade (2010-2019).
Bluefield has made the playoff in eight of those 10 years over that span, with a collective 15-7 mark (10-2 in the last three seasons).
Nicholas County also has eight playoff seasons, going 3-8.
Aside from Who’s next being a great album by The Who, the next three – with six, are Greenbrier West (7-6 and the only team not named the Bluefield Beavers to make it to Wheeling in the last 10 seasons, falling to Madonna), Summers County (2-6) and Meadow Bridge (1-6).
Any of those surprise you?
Greenbrier West has, for a long time, had a pretty good football tradition. Of course, especially in Class A – and this is true more among the public schools – there exists the talent ebbs and flows, but West has maintained a really good tradition for a long time. Many forget – maybe because of just that, and the fact that for a long time West was a Class AA school – that West went into the 2013 postseason a No. 7 seed.
And Meadow Bridge – a team with a state title in 1988 – has long been a Class A playoff participant and is the only team making six straight appearances to start the decade.
Summers County might qualify as the biggest surprise of those three, which are separated by about 32 miles off Route 64.
In the previous decade (2000-2009) the Bobcats has exactly zero playoff appearances.
Before qualifying for the postseason (Summers too was Class AA at the time) in 2012, Summers County last playoff appearance had been in 1997 (falling to Weir 42-14 as the No. 13 seed.
Hinton had some great teams in the 1960s and won a state title in 1968.
But as Summers County, which opened in 1995, only two teams have made the playoffs prior to 2012.
Summers County is rightfully recognized for its girls basketball program. The Lady Bobcats have earned that with seven state titles, a national record 105-game win streak and three undefeated championship teams.
In the last decade the football team has made an inroads.
Coach Chris Vicars has seen the growth, the change in culture.
“My first year coaching in West Virginia I was an assistant at Summers County,” Vicars said. “We had a good team, that was the team with Isaiah Brown and Eric Lindsay. Everyone was just happy to make the playoffs, it was our first one since 1997.
“I saw the growth from the inside and outside. I saw it when I was (the head coach) at Independence (2013-2016). Coach (Nate) Tanner really did a great job building the program. I can’t say enough about the job he did. By that time we not only wanted to make the playoffs we wanted to win.”
The Bobcats run to the semifinals in 2017 is the least likely playoff run of the decade on the strength of its improbability alone.
You could put the 2013 Greenbrier West run to Wheeling Island in there. The Cavaliers were ranked No. 7 but they were also a darn good team. Ironically, aside from the loss to the Ross Comis-led Madonna team in the state championship game, Greenbrier West’s only other loss was to then-Class AA Summers County, 27-20.
In 2017, Summers County wasn’t assured of a playoff berth heading into the final week of action. The Bobcats lost to Richwood 28-14 to fall to 5-4 with one game remaining against Fayetteville.
“Really we started the playoffs before they actually started, which is the message I preached to the kids that week (of the Fayetteville game) that the playoffs start now,” Vicars said. “It seemed like that whole season was a playoff game after we started 3-3.
Defense was such a huge key for the Bobcats.
Try three straight victories to make the semifinals. All on the road. All by shutout.
The Bobcats first shut out Fayetteville 22-0 in the season finale to finish No. 10. Fayetteville was led by all-state running back Jordan Dempsey. Keeping Dempsey to 57 yards rushing on 17 carries (a season-low 3.4 yards per game, he was averaging 7.2 coming into the game) was a feat. The junior was held without a TD for only the second time on the season, the other was against Midland Trail.
“We really did a good job of never letting him get into space where he could hurt us,” said Vicars.
The defense led by defensive end Andrew Richmond, linebacker Ben Neal and defensive back Tucker Lilly (better known for his offensive exploits as a 1,000-yard passer rusher as a dual threat quarterback after starting the season as a receiver) was just getting started.
Up first in the actual playoffs was a second trip to Upper Glade to face Webster County, which Summers County beat 28-22 on Sept. 29.
In that first game Webster County rushed for 212 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
Not in the rematch. Reece Nutter had rushed for 109 and a TD in the first game. He had seven carries for minus-4 yards. Dustin Williams had 50 yards and a touchdown in that first meeting. He had 10 on 11 carries. All told, the Highlanders had eight yards rushing on 34 carries. The end result. A 28-0 shutout.
Next was No. 2 Midland Trail at Hico.
The Patriots had knocked Faytteville out of the playoffs the week before and we led by Thomas Ferris, who was looking to pass school’s single-season rushing record of 1,976, held by Shawn Cooper.
It was a defensive slugfest, Richmond scoring the games lone touchdown on a pass from Lilly earlier game. But it was coming down to this. Trail ball inside the three with time running out. Everybody in the house knew Ferris, who early broke the record and would finish with 2,042 yards) would get the ball.
“I thought about saving the timeout but Dave (Smith, the Bobcats defensive coordinator) asked me to take it,” Vicars said. “I will never forget this. He went on the field to the huddle and he looked right at Christian Pack and told him ‘When he gets the ball he is going to go over the top and when he does try to punch that ball out.’ And that is what happened. Christian was able to knock the ball out. I saw the ball on the ground and (freshman) Keandre Sarver fell on it.”
The Patriots won that game 6-0. Ferris, a first-team all-state RB, had 93 yards but it was the first time he didn’t break 100 and the third time he didn’t score after scoring multiple touchdowns in the previous four games.
It was a run made against some of the best players in the state.
It would come to an end on a Saturday afternoon the next week at Wheeling Central, 42-14. But it was a heck of a run, one that won’t be forgotten in Bobcat Country anytime soon.