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Eastern Panhandle teams get the ball rolling

August 27, 2004|by MARK KELLER

keller@herald-mail.com

The beginning of a new sports season brings hope to every team. The fresh start helps players put past disappointments behind them and focus on what's ahead.

The 2004 high school football season opens tonight with a pair of Cumberland Valley Athletic League games, but even though every team has the same record for now, one team still seems to tower over the others.

The Martinsburg Bulldogs, the No. 1 team in the West Virginia preseason poll, start their quest for a third trip to the West Virginia Class AAA final in four years with a game against visting Hedgesville at Cobourn Field.

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The Bulldogs, who have lost just four games the last three years - three of those to teams from Parkersburg - return seven starters on offense, including their entire line and All-State quarterback Nate Sowers, one of the leading candidates for the Kennedy Award this season.

Sowers, who has already made a verbal commitment to West Virginia University, has taken the success and the attention in stride, though it's not necessarily the position he'd like to be in.

"I've always liked being the underdog," Sowers said. "But with the success we've had the last couple years and the success that Coach (David) Walker's had, team's really come after us. They play their hardest against us."

While Martinsburg continues riding its winning wave, Hedgesville is looking to turn the tide in 2004.

The Eagles are coming off a 4-6 season and have not had a winning record since 1997, which was also the last year Hedgesville beat Martinsburg. Hedgesville has finished 5-5 three times in that span.

It's a tough way for the Eagles to begin a new season, but Hedgesville Coach Dave Lopez sees it as an opportunity.

"With as many young players as we have, we'll play straight-up football," Lopez said. "It's a challenge for them to play Martinsburg in the first game, but the results will give us a gauge for the year. If we don't win we want to go out and beat Frankfort in Week 2."

n Elsewhere, the Jefferson Cougars travel to play the newest member of the CVAL, the Hampshire Trojans.

The Cougars are the unfortunate owners of the area's longest losing streak at 17 games after they had their two wins in 2003 stripped for using an ineligible player.

Richard Mills takes over as head coach of the Cougars following a one-year stint by Donnie Tucker, who is now on Rich Rodriguez's staff at West Virginia.

Mills has coached at the junior high level in Jefferson County for 26 years.

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