WHEELING, W.Va. — Returning state finalist Keyser hopes to make the first of two trips to Wheeling Island, while Frankfort, Petersburg and Hampshire all open in the safety of their home fields as high school football returns to the area with West Virginia’s kickoff weekend.
While fans of the Golden Tornado must travel 150 miles to catch their team take on Wheeling Park in the opening game of a bid to get back into the West Virginia Class AA championship game, area fans have three options to get their fix as the Falcons host North Marion, the Vikings host Moorefield and the Trojans welcome Preston all at 7 o’clock. Keyser at Wheeling Park is also scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Keyser at Wheeling Park
The plan wasn’t to start this season at the same place they finished last year’s, but when Keyser’s coach Sean Biser was stuck with an open date and the one of the only places he could look to fill it was back on Wheeling Island even he found the irony.
“We’re going to start there, and we want to finish there.” That’s what Biser, entering his 10th regular season opener, has been telling his players since Wheeling Park was found as a replacement. It will be the second-straight game in Wheeling for the Tornado after they lost the 2012 Class AA title game, 35-0, to Wayne. They finished with a 12-2 record.
Keyser will be bringing back a multitude of players who remember and want to help erase the loss in the finals by beginning this year with a win over the Patriots.
The Golden Tornado will return eight starters on each side of the ball, as well as many other players that saw significant playing time. Cumberland Times-News Player of the Year Danny Fife leads the roll call of returning players after rushing for 1,200 yards and 25 touchdowns, and heading a Keyser defense that was statistically one of the best in the state.
Wheeling Park also has an experienced group coming back after losing only six players from a team that went 8-4 and made the Class AAA playoffs a year ago.
North Marion at Frankfort
The Frankfort faithful will get their first chance to see a potentially devastating Falcons air attack tonight when Gage Shaffer returns from a 1,500-yard season as a sophomore to try and lead his team back to the Class AA playoffs for a second-consecutive season.
The Falcons rode the tandem of Shaffer and receiver Thane Cutter to a 9-3 record and a trip into the second round of the playoffs. With Cutter gone, Frankfort will look to a new crop of receivers that includes Trent Lloyd, Johnny Hedrick and Tyler Crock, among others, to fill his void.
When Frankfort isn’t looking to the Class AA All-State and Times-News All-Area second-team quarterback’s arm, they will turn to Brady Watson in the backfield. Watson gained 475 yards on limited carries, but showed breakaway potential by averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
The Huskies, who opened the season last year with a 55-27 loss to the Falcons, try to rebound from a season that saw them go 2-8. North Marion began the season with losses in their first eight games before pulling out a 21-0 win over Lincoln and a 21-3 victory over Grafton in the final two weeks.
Moorefield at Petersburg
The Yellow Jackets enter Petersburg looking to improve on a 5-4 regular season that got them into the playoffs a year ago, while the Vikings hope to take the next step up from a 4-6 mark to pick up their first winning season in 17 seasons.
Moorefield returns at least 18 players that saw significant time on the field due to a rash of injuries the Yellow Jackets suffered last year. Being forced to use so many players has left Head Coach Josh See with plenty of experience going forward.
It will be one of the players who missed last season due to injury that Moorefield will turn to for leadership with quarterback Dakota Vetter returning from hurting his hamstring. Vetter will be relying on the duo of Will Schoonover and Tyheim Franklin out of the backfield to lighten the load on his arm.
Schoonover and Franklin will look to fullback Colton Bramsen, Moorefield’s leading rusher from a year ago, to give them some extra blocking room.
The Vikings are hoping to get off to a hot start like last season, but avoid the end of season slump that cost them a potential winning record and a shot at a playoff berth.
Petersburg started 4-1, but then dropped their final five games to finish 4-6. Getting some key players back in the skill positions should really help the Vikings stay more consistent throughout the season.
Kelson Thorne returns from last year to play tailback again, and fullback Trevor Harman is back as well. Quarterback Ryan VanMeter started at the end of the year last season as a freshman, and will throw to returning starter Josh Inskeep at tight end. The experience at the skill positions and the fact that the Vikings have 10 more players on their roster than a year ago has Petersburg a little more optimistic about their chances.
“We need to keep this upbeat, positive attitude, execute on both sides of the ball and stay healthy,” said Vikings’ coach Jeff Dodd.
Chris Appel is a sportswriter for the Cumberland Times-News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.