When the high school football playoffs commence this weekend, seven schools which call the Little Kanawha Conference home will be among the 16 Class AA and Class A programs looking to capture state championships.
Looking to wrest the Class AA title away from defending champion Wayne will be No. 8 Ritchie County, No. 12 Roane County, No. 13 Braxton County and No. 16 Clay County while No. 5 St. Marys, No. 12 Wirt County and No. 15 Williamstown will take their best shots at defending champ Wheeling Central Catholic in Class A.
Surprisingly, with a little break here or there, two other programs-Doddridge County and Parkersburg Catholic-were in a hunt for a playoff spot until the final week of the regular season.
"It (having seven teams in the playoffs) doesn't surprise me," said St. Marys head coach Jodi Mote. "The LKC has proven for years that it is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, football conference in the state.
"Having half of your conference make it into the playoffs simply proves that point."
It is unlikely, however, that all seven will advance past the opening round.
Mote and his Blue Devils will have a rematch with Jason Hickman's Wirt County Tigers-the only team to register a win against the Pleasants Countians this season-while Terry Smith's Yellowjackets from Williamstown will travel to New Martinsville to take on a No. 2 Magnolia squad that registered a 24-7 win over the Wood Countians early in the regular season.
"We will definitely have our work cut out for us on Friday night," continued Mote. "Wirt has shown that it can play with anybody and our kids remember what happened up here the second week of the season.'
Coming off an impressive come-from-behind win over Ritchie County in the season opener, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 22-7 lead with only one quarter remaining. But it turned out to be the worst 12 minutes played by the purple and gold this season as Wirt tallied 28 unanswered points to pull out a 35-22 victory.
"We really haven't had to say too much to our kids about it (the loss)," said Mote. "They understand that they let that one slip through their fingers and they don't want to let it happen again."
Same could be said for the maroon and gold from Williamstown.
The Yellowjackets were coming off an opening-week blowout over LKC rival Tyler Consolidated and had beaten the Blue Eagles the previous year. That would not be the case this time as standout passing duo Tanner Hanna (quarterback) and Stephen Rogalski (receiver) proved to be too much for a young Williamstown defense.
That defense, however, has grown, witnessed by consecutive victories over Ritchie County and Roane County as well as a 7-0 shutout of archrival Parkersburg Catholic, which would have slipped into the Class A playoffs with a win.
In just his second season with the blue and gray, Dawson has led the program to back-to-back playoff berths and, now, a home playoff game for the first time since 1995.