The Class AAA playoffs just became a little more exclusive.
In the past three years, four teams with 5-5 records advanced to the postseason in West Virginia’s largest classification, but that’s not going to happen this time around. The price of admission has gone up — to at least six wins, to be exact.
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, 17 Class AAA teams have already secured six victories, including 6-4 Cabell Midland, which has finished its season, and five other squads are sitting at 6-3 — Hurricane, Capital, Parkersburg South, Princeton and Nicholas County.
There are also four 5-4 teams with one game left that could join the above group vying for spots in the 16-team field — St. Albans, Brooke, Fairmont Senior and East Fairmont. The latter two play each other Friday, meaning that as many as 20 teams could be left standing with six wins.
SA, seeking its first playoff berth since 1997, visits Huntington Friday and Brooke plays at Wheeling Park.
While some teams are scratching just to make the field, other teams are battling for the right to hold home playoff games.
Nitro, which knocked off previously unbeaten No. 1 Woodrow Wilson 32-21 last Friday, secured at least one home game for the postseason. A victory over Parkersburg South at Underwood Field this week could likely keep the Wildcats home for two postseason games.
“I would say this gets us one home playoff game,’’ said Nitro coach Scott Tinsley. “It’s nice to play at least the first round at home. But it’s not going to be an easy thing to beat Parkersburg South. We watched them lose 19-0 to [unbeaten] Morgantown. They have a really good run defense.’’
Woodrow, meanwhile, visits George Washington at Laidley Field Friday trying to bounce back from its first loss and finish in the top four, which could mean two playoff dates at Flying Eagle Stadium.
“I read [Tinsley’s] comments when they got beat by Hurricane,’’ said Eagles coach John H. Lilly. “It is very tough in this conference to go undefeated. [Nitro] was a great climate to play in. I think it’ll be a great learning tool for us. The place was packed and we had to play from behind almost on the very first play.
“Everything’s at stake. We’ve got to get that homefield advantage. To us, next week’s a playoff game. We’ve got to get that home field. That’s still an achievable goal for us, I think.’’
Laidley Field has been a quiet place several times over the past few postseasons, but things could heat up this year with eight of the Kanawha Valley’s 12 teams still alive for playoff spots.
South Charleston (7-2), which may find itself locked in a battle with John Marshall (7-2) for the No. 8 position — and the final first-round home berth — expects to have Oakes Field, its home base, approved for playoff games, but with the Black Eagles’ bevy of speedy skill players, it could opt to play on Laidley’s artificial turf.
Another team that could look toward Laidley is Scott (9-1), which was ranked No. 5 in Class AA last week and has locked up a first-round home game.
The Skyhawks’ home field in Madison is an approved site, but coach Shane Griffith said the grass field has “taken a beating’’ this season, and he would consider playing in Charleston if Laidley is available.
“We’re thinking about it,’’ Griffith said. “We’ll see what happens next week. It may be possible for us to play there because our field has just not been able to handle the weather conditions.’’
Nitro, Herbert Hoover and Buffalo — three more Valley teams with potential home playoff dates — either have approved fields or expect the SSAC to OK their status. But the fields for the first two have been considerably chewed up in recent games and the prospect of more mud might cause them to weigh other options.
While 5-5 teams don’t stand a chance of making the AAA playoffs, they will be welcomed in the AA division. That’s because there are only 14 AA teams in the state with fewer than five losses, so somebody has to go.
An enormous gap has developed in AA, with six teams separating themselves from the field — Wayne (9-0), James Monroe (9-0), Weir (9-1), Hoover (8-1), Scott and Liberty Harrison (8-1).
After that, it’s the have-nots. There are five three-loss teams — Mount View (6-3), Magnolia (7-3), Tolsia (6-3), Independence (7-3) and Liberty Raleigh (6-3) and three 5-4 squads.
Bluefield, one of the 5-4s, has concluded its regular season. The other two, Winfield and Logan, each face enormous challenges this week — the Generals visit Hoover and the Wildcats play host to Wayne.But they all have renewed hope because of the parity in AA this year
It also means that the three schools that have already ended at 5-5 — Ravenswood, Frankfort and Westside — must wait and watch out for the six 4-5 teams chasing them this weekend. Those would be (in order of last week’s ratings) Berkeley Springs, Philip Barbour, Grafton, Roane County, Keyser and Iaeger.
GW: Lesson learned
George Washington has qualified for the Class AAA playoffs in each of the past six seasons, but the Patriots disappeared from postseason contention weeks ago and fell to 1-8 with Friday’s 7-0 loss to Capital. Nevertheless, said coach Steve Edwards Jr., this season’s experience has been beneficial to his players.
“That’s life, baby,’’ he said. “We all have ups and downs and peaks and valleys. There’s a lesson in here somewhere, and we’re all learning. And our kids are growing up. I’m proud of them.’’
The Patriots, he added, have responded well to the challenges.
“We’ve come a long way since the first week,’’ he said. “There were a few times when I didn’t think we were playing very hard. I think it took us a long time to figure out that life just doesn’t give you things. You just don’t inherit playoff berths. You don’t inherit success. You’ve got to earn it.’’
Edwards added that senior wide receiver Tawon Wallace may sign with Eastern Kentucky University, a Division I-AA school in Richmond, Ky.
“He’s being recruited by them,’’ Edwards said. “They’re really interested in him. He hasn’t signed yet. If they offer, there’s a good chance he’ll sign. He really likes it there, and they really like him. Tawon Wallace is an all-state football player, and he’d be a good catch for somebody. He’s a good kid, too.’’
Wallace’s talents in football, as well as basketball, have caught the attention of Glenville State coaches, Edwards noted.
“I think they want him for both,’’ he said.