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Martinsburg gets righteous to earn trip to AAA finals

November 30, 2003|by MARK KELLER

keller@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The players who were on the Martinsburg football roster a year ago remember the disappointment of losing the state semifinal on their home field.

"We didn't want to leave the field with that feeling again today," Bulldogs quarterback Nate Sowers said.

Sowers saw to it that Martinsburg experienced the thrill of victory by passing for 200 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for key first downs on two second-half scoring drives as the Bulldogs beat Cabell Midland 28-14 Saturday at Cobourn Field to earn a trip to the Class AAA final next weekend.

The Bulldogs will play Parkersburg South - the team that eliminated them in the semifinals last year - at Wheeling Island Stadium at noon Saturday. The Patriots beat Morgantown 14-13 in the other semifinal on Friday.

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"I don't like to hold grudges, but when we saw they won last night and that we'd get to play them again, it meant a lot to get this win today," Martinsburg tailback Brannon Hamilton said.

It didn't come easy for the Bulldogs (13-0), who jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first seven minutes of the game on a pair of Sowers-to-Brandon Barrett touchdown strikes.

Barrett, the two-time West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year, wowed the crowd with his second TD run, catching a pass from Sowers around the 15-yard line and juking his way past three Cabell Midland defenders for a 24-yard score.

"I've seen him make a whole bunch of those plays over the years and that one's up there with them. That's as good as he's ever made," Martinsburg coach David Walker said. "You talk about what he's done and they all kind of cloud together."

The Knights (10-3) plodded their way back into the game in the second quarter after Charlie Johnson intercepted a Sowers pass in the end zone. Cabell Midland responded with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a 2-yard TD run by John Saunders, pulling the Knights within 14-7 at halftime.

Cabell Midland tied the score midway through the third quarter when Wade Midkiff capped a 9-play, 59-yard drive by going untouched through the line for a 12-yard touchdown.

The Bulldogs answered right back when Carl Redman took a squib kickoff at the Bulldogs' 30 and plowed over one would-be tackler while going for a 23-yard return.

"That was huge, because Carl's been playing hurt," Walker said. "He's really been kind of banged up, but he got that return and it really kind of set the tone from then on."

On second-and-11, Sowers tucked the ball in on a keeper up the middle, breaking three tackles on his way to a 15-yard gain. On the next play, Sowers hit Adrian Haskins in the middle of the field and Haskins weaved his way to a 33-yard touchdown to give the Bulldogs a 21-14 lead with 3:48 left in the third quarter.

"I knew it was zone and I knew the safety was going to go to Brandon," Sowers said. "Adrian got open and I got the ball out there to him."

Martinsburg started the fourth quarter deep in its own territory after forcing a Knights punt. On the first play of the period, Sowers found Barrett streaking down the left sideline. Barrett hauled in the pass, despite being face-guarded by a defender, for a 49-yard gain.

Barrett came up big again five plays later, getting open on third-and-14 and making a catch on the sideline right at the first down marker to extend the drive. Barrett finished the game with eight catches for 122 yards.

"I went through all my checks, but any time there's a tight situation you look for Brandon," Sowers said.

"Those were both huge plays," Walker said. "Great players make great plays and he's proven that throughout his career."

Sowers converted on another third down, picking up three yards to the Knights 9. Two plays later, Hamilton scored from three yards out for a 28-14 edge. Hamilton led the Bulldogs with 80 rushing yards on 14 carries.

For now, Walker said, the Bulldogs aren't worried about who they will play in the final and the reality of a rematch with Parkersburg South has not fully set in.

"We're happy to be playing for a championship. We didn't really care who we would be playing," Walker said. "I'm sure (last year's) loss is still fresh in the minds of some of these guys, but we're glad to have the opportunity, regardless of who we play."

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