Until last December, either Moorefield or Wheeling Central won the West Virginia Class A state football championship for 12 consecutive years.
The Yellow Jackets won four straight from 1996-99, one in 2001 and another in 2003. The Maroon Knights took the crown in 2000, 2002 and from 2004-07.
Last year, Williamstown, the runner-up four times to either Moorefield or Wheeling Central, broke the mold with a 23-7 victory over Madonna in the small-school championship. That final could mark a changing of the guard in Class A football.
Moorefield hasn't been a regular contender since its former coach, Alan Fiddler, became head coach at NCAA Division II Glenville State College in 2004. Wheeling Central reached the semifinals last year, only to fall to Williamstown 14-13.
Are the winds of change blowing? Perhaps, although Wheeling Central made a statement with a 15-14 road victory over Martins Ferry (Ohio) last week.
A 63-yard drive inside of four minutes remaining in the game lifted the Maroon Knights, who were playing the Purple Riders for the first time in 15 years.
Wheeling Central has had trouble in recent years finding in-state Class A teams to play, resulting in a diverse schedule – which includes four Ohio teams. Coach Mike Young's team hosts Pittsburgh Brashear – the alma mater of former WVU star Major Harris – on Thursday at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Included on the Knights' schedule is Mountain Ridge (Md.), Holy Trinity (Ontario, Canada) and Akron Buchtel (Ohio). While Wheeling Central wades through one of the state's strongest schedules, the Maroon Knights are sixth in the SSAC playoff ratings. Holding down the top spot in the Class A ratings is Man – the only team in the top three with a loss (16-14 to Class AA Chapmanville).
The Hillbillies should finish the regular season 9-1 and atop the ratings, giving them homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Last week, Man – playing without injured starting running back Brandon Plymale – defeated Class AA Wyoming East 61-0.
Also in the Class A race, again, is Madonna.
The Blue Dons are riding an eight-game winning streak and haven't lost since last December's Class A title game. They've given up only 22 points – an average of less than three per game – and have five shutout victories.
Meanwhile, Richwood is hoping to reach the playoffs for the first time since it was a Class AA school (1998). That year, the Lumberjacks were 13th and lost their first-round game to James Monroe. Richwood – which is coming off a 47-46 victory over Valley-Fayette – finishes its regular season with home games against Summers County and Gilmer County.
Richwood and Valley combined for 43 points in the fourth quarter of last week's game, which was completed on a Dustin Brown 35-yard field goal as time expired. Richwood quarterback Sam Tindal ran for 182 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. He also threw for a touchdown. Valley running back Marcus White had 229 yards on 26 carries.
"I'll be honest with you. I believe that the two best quarterbacks in single-A played in the game," Richwood coach Jason Rogers told the Register-Herald.
There's one relative newcomer near the top of state's middle division.
The Sherman Tide, which last made the playoffs in 2004, is rolling with an 8-0 record – although the combined record of Sherman's opponents this year is 21-47, and only three have winning records (Herbert Hoover, Liberty-Raleigh and Shady Spring).
Sherman visits Boone County rival Scott on Friday night. The Skyhawks have arguably the state's toughest schedule among Class AA teams.
Three unbeaten teams remain in the state's big-school division, with two of those set to play on Friday night. Fairmont Senior visits Bridgeport in a battle of 8-0 teams, while Brooke – also with eight wins and no defeats – will be heavily favored when it visits John Marshall.
Among the three teams, the Bruins appear to have played the strongest schedule – its opponents are a combined 32-37. The combined record of the Polar Bears' opponents is 27-42, but two of Fairmont Senior's victories came against North Central Athletic Conference powers University and Morgantown.
The combined record of Bridgeport's opponents is 22-46 with the Indians' biggest wins coming against Robert C. Byrd and Lewis County.
Rich Stevens, a sportswriter for the Charleston Daily Mail, covers West Virginia for MaxPreps.