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ALBRIGHT: Bulldogs versus Yellowjackets is as big as games come

One hearty “Thank you” goes out to the Williamstown and Doddridge County football teams. The Bulldogs and Yellowjackets successfully executing the game plan against Parkersburg Catholic and Valley (Wetzel) respectively last week brought to life this column.

For now, Mid-Ohio Valley sports fans are in for a late Halloween treat Friday night at Williamstown High School. One of the game of the year candidates play out under the light at the northern Wood County high school.

Much like one season ago, Bobby Burnside’s Bulldogs (8-0) and Terry Smith’s Yellowjackets (8-1) enter this matchup risking numerous high stakes. The LKC title is on the line again, home-field advantage until Wheeling is up for grabs as is another quality win over a playoff opponent in the closing weeks of the season.

The importance of home-field advantage grew bigger following a game neither team participated in. Wheeling Central quarterback Curtis McGhee III’s unfortunate tear of his ACL against Martins Ferry opened the state championship door in Class A.

Without McGhee, the Maroon Knigts outlook changes dramatically on offense. Mike Young’s team also has too many losses to earn a top seed barring chaos in the closing weeks.

Wouldn’t fans of either team have the reigning state champions come to your home field?

Burnside and Smith’s groups along with Ritchie County now have the opportunity to fling this door wide open.

For two of those three teams, it starts Friday evening.

What makes this matchup even better is no driving rain storm. Clear skies make up most forecasts. The offenses certainly should open up more though I wouldn’t expect each coach to dip into their entire bag of tricks. I will touch on that more later in the piece.

Wet conditions turned the old Cline Stansberry Stadium into a mud bog in 2018. Footing for route and running cuts and blocking often ended in a slide or squelch thanks to standing water and the slippery conditions. After Carter Haynes connected with Eric Brown on an 18-yard out route to tie the game at 7, focus quickly shifted to finding the end zone just once more and holding on for a victory.

Doddridge County running back Hunter America found the end zone once more. Then the Bulldogs survived his late fumble that allowed Williamstown one final chance to tie the score in regulation.

Doddridge County won the matchup between an up-and-coming program (the Bulldogs) and an established power (Williamstown), 14-7.

This was a big deal in West Union. Until the game against the Yellowjackets, the biggest annual test on the Doddridge County schedule was South Harrison. One team Williamstown regularly handled several times in the playoffs in the previous seasons.

This was a defining contest for a team on the rise. They passed the test. And I would certainly call Dave Burnside’s defense holding the Yellowjackets’ lethal offense to 188 yards a victory.

The main trick will be for the Bulldogs to win again in an unfriendly environment. The visiting stands are small and the home crowd is right on top of the field. I would bet the house the Yellowjacket fans are ready to root their group on to a ninth straight win.

A streak coming into focus thanks to the continued development of the home team’s defense and offensive lines. Doddridge County’s fronts pushed around the Yellowjackets last season. They paved the way for America’s 310 yards on 42 carries. There will be no shock factor to America’s or the Bulldog lines’ strength and ability in this rematch.

But every spectator at the game should be excited for much more than just rooting for their own team.

The storylines capable of playing themselves out over the evolution of the entire game makes this an even better follow-up to last season.

Last year’s game featured America opening eyes with his performance on the way to leading the state in rushing and the Curt Warner Award, given annually to the top running back in the state. This game could, or shall we say should, have two all-state running backs in America and Williamstown’s Ty “The Bulldog” Moore. Trying to bring those two down will be another pair of all-state potential linebackers in Doddridge County’s Austin Kelly and Williamstown’s Eric Brown. This is the same Brown who finished fourth in the linebacker of the year voting last season. Of course, this assumes Brown or Kelly can get past offensive lines with you guessed it, an all-state lineman. Big Cole James leads the way for Doddridge, while Leewood Molessa grades out as the ‘Jackets top trench man.

Full health adds another level of intrigue. The regular bumps and bruises at this time of year will fade away as the adrenaline sets in upon game time.

While there will be a loser, the chance for vengeance won’t be a one year wait. It is clear both groups are primed for long playoff runs and a meeting in a state semifinal or at Wheeling Island Stadium is in the cards.

But before we arrive at this scenario, we need to crown a winner Friday night.

I picked Williamstown as the Yellowjackets’ defense has risen to the occasion in big games during an eight-game winning streak. Doddridge pulling the upset wouldn’t shock me in the least.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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