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'Dogs have score to settle, title to win

December 05, 2003|by MARK KELLER

keller@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - For both the Martinsburg Bulldogs and the Parkersburg South Patriots, Saturday's West Virginia Class AAA championship football game is all about unfinished business.

The Patriots turned the ball over nine times in losing last year's title game to Morgantown, 38-13. Most of that team returned this year determined to erase the memory of that loss, which it did, in part, last week by beating Morgantown 14-13 in the state semifinals.

The Bulldogs also are trying to eliminate the sting that remains from their final defeat last season - a 24-21 semifinal loss at the hands of those same Parkersburg South Patriots.

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Martinsburg's David Walker took the standard coach's route after his team beat Cabell Midland 28-14 in the semifinals last Saturday, saying the Bulldogs (13-0) were happy to be playing for the title regardless of who their opponent was.

While Walker didn't change his view on the game, he said he understands how important it is to the Martinsburg players to have another shot at Parkersburg South.

"It's going to mean a lot to a lot of our kids," Walker said Wednesday. "There's a lot of the same kids lining up for this game, but there's three or four of our guys who also lost to them in the basketball playoffs last year, too.

"It would mean a lot to win the title, and it would mean a lot to those guys to beat South."

The Patriots (12-1) promise to be the Bulldogs' toughest test of the year, as should be the case in the final game of the season. The Patriots run from multiple offensive sets and their defense allowed just 78 points in the regular season - 35 of which came in their only loss to Marietta, Ohio.

Parkersburg South has allowed just 16 points in its three playoff wins.

While Walker said the Bulldogs have prepared for what the Patriots are going to try to do against them, the more important factor is what the Bulldogs do against the Patriots.

"They do tons of different stuff on offense that makes it hard to prepare for them," Walker said. "They change up a lot on defense, too. What it comes down to is players making plays. I feel if we play well and execute, I like our chances a lot."

The Bulldogs are chock full of players who can make plays, starting with quarterback Nate Sowers and receiver Brandon Barrett, the two leading candidates for the Kennedy Award, which goes to the state's top player.

Sowers and Barrett have made their share of big plays in the postseason, but if too much focus is placed on them, another less-known player is waiting to take the spotlight.

"Nate and Brandon are the ones that everyone looks at, but we've been fortunate to have someone else step up when we've needed it," Walker said. "Adrian (Haskins) made the big catch last week and (Mark) Richmond had a couple of big ones the week before. Brannon Hamilton's run for over 1,000 yards, so it's more than just Nate and Brandon."

Martinsburg is coming off a pair of close games against two of the more physical teams they faces all season - Huntington and Cabell Midland. Martinsburg had not been tested by an opponent since the second week of the season, a 30-14 win over Riverside.

Walker said he likes the fact that the Bulldogs had to put up a fight to win their last two games, a fact that should benefit the team's attitude, if nothing else.

"I think it was very important for us, because now they know they have it within them to win a close game," Walker said. "They didn't get down on each other or themselves. They knew it was time to pick it up, and they did.

"To me, that's the making of a good football team."

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