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Big Reds’ football season comes to heartbreaking end

Photo by Duane West Parkersburg’s Carter King (2) carries the ball during a high school football game against Jefferson earlier this season at PHS Stadium Field.

PARKERSBURG — Like a lot of leaders in 2020, Parkersburg High School head football coach Mike Byus wonders what could’ve been.

The Big Reds were able to finish the regular season with a 6-2 record and earn Byus’ group their fourth straight postseason appearance, which like the end of year rivalry game against Parkersburg South wasn’t able to be played.

Instead of PHS playing host to Spring Mills in the opening round, the red and white were the wrong color on the state COVID map and were banned from the postseason.

“It is possible for someone to win a state championship and never play a game, in which case should we actually be having the playoffs,” Byus pondered.

“The three-time defending single-A state champ (Wheeling Central) got knocked off by COVID and they don’t get a chance to defend because of that. I don’t know how many teams are in jeopardy of not playing this week and turning orange.”

The No. 8 seeded Big Reds weren’t the only Class AAA program in the same mess.

No. 7 Wheeling Park had to forfeit to Princeton, No. 11 Hurricane didn’t have a chance to face No. 6 Spring Valley, 15th-seeded Ripley was unable to have an upset bid versus No. 2 South Charleston and top-seeded Cabell Midland waltzed into the quarterfinals as John Marshall was ousted.

“When our senior class came in and there wasn’t that many of them. We couldn’t even play a freshman schedule,” said the coach. “When they came in as freshmen there just wasn’t that many of them. We thought we’d have to work around this class all the way through because there wasn’t very many players.

“As we moved forward a group of those seniors got together and really put in a lot of time and a lof effort to make themselves good football players. Like I told a few of them (on Monday) where you came from and where you are now is a bunch of seniors who are really going to be hard to replace.”

Coach mentioned of his starting seniors “you got (Justin) Waybright, Casey Mahoney, Keenan Curry, Carter Mills, Deavan Francis, Charlie Bauman, Will Coffman, that’s three of our linemen,” Byus noted.

“Jake Barnette was a starting D-lineman. Mike Owens, who knows the offense and defense inside and out, Mikey Owens is going to be a good coach someday and he’ll be a great one and Aaron Kupfner and Teddy Turner.”

Byus was hoping to secure his second postseason victory for PHS and the team was ready to give Cabell Midland its best shot.

“Our kids wanted to and it took a long time to get our kids physical and strong enough to want to go play Cabell Midland to be quite honest,” Byus admitted. “I’m so proud of them because they put the work in to get there.”

All that work went for naught as the Big Reds’ final game was a 37-20 victory the day before Halloween at Stadium Field against Jefferson.

“There was a lot of tears shed in the locker room, I promise you that,” Byus said of the heartbreak and disappointment. “The kids care and that’s what took them a long way. They care.

“Sometimes I can remember telling teams it doesn’t matter how much I care, it matters how much you care. This bunch really did care, worked hard and got themselves where they could play. They were as upset about not getting to play the South game as they were about making the playoffs.”

Overall, things could’ve been much worse for PHS and the teams in Wood County.

That’s something the coach definitely didn’t lose sight of.

“From the positive standpoint, they got to play eight football games,” Byus said. “Even though we turned gold we couldn’t play the South game because they got quarantined. We didn’t start having map issues until the end of the year.

“My thought to the kids was I know how much it hurts. I know it stings, but you got to understand you got to have the experiences, got to go through the battles of playing eight games with your teammates.”

Yes, it was eight games and that was more than a lot of teams in the Mountain State were able to get in.

“We didn’t get to make the playoffs and not play our rivalry game, that hurts. It does and they deserved a chance,” Byus continued. “I do feel like these kids deserved a chance to show what they can do. If they are going to get knocked out of the playoffs, they deserved the chance to do that on the field. They put in four years of work to get there to have that opportunity and the team was gelling and playing well together.

“I”m glad they got to play eight games, but at the same time I really wanted those guys to have an opportunity to get into the playoffs and see what they wanted to do. It didn’t happen. We have to live with it and move on. It’s a tough deal. There was a lot of tears in the locker room the other day. A lot of good words said, mature young men who made very positive comments. Almost every senior stood up and said something.”

The void left from 2020 never will be forgotten.

Byus and everyone in the programs always will wonder, what if, but the head man was more than proud of what this entire senior group was able to accomplish.

“Seriously, what I’m going to remember, don’t get me wrong, they were a fun-loving group who likes to play pranks on each other and mess with each other,” said the coach.

“The thing I’ll remember most about this bunch is the time and effort they put in to make themselves good football players.”

Contact Jay Bennett at jbennett@newsandsentinel.com

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