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Panhandle tries to collar 'Dogs

August 26, 2005|by MARK KELLER

keller@herald-mail.com

There are still four weeks of summer remaining, but the high temperatures have come down just enough in the last few days that it can only mean that high school football season has arrived.

Four West Virginia teams kick off their season tonight in the first of three opening nights in the area over the next three weeks.

The 2005 season could be one of transition in the Eastern Panhandle as Hedgesville, Jefferson and Musselman try to knock Martinsburg from its throne as the area's top dog.

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The Bulldogs have become a statewide power since 1998, making seven straight playoff appearances and advancing to the Class AAA championship game three of the last four years.

But gone are the superstar names like Nate Sowers, Brandon Barrett and Steve Roach, giving hope to other teams in the Panhandle and around West Virginia.

"It's going to be a challenge this year," Martinsburg coach David Walker said. "But I'm excited about that challenge. People think we're going to be down this year. I hope we're able to prove them wrong."

The Bulldogs do return Josh Twyman, a 1,100-yard rusher last year; their three top receivers in Sean Dozier, D.J. Porter and Jacquin Moore; and Brandon Fields, who battled with Sowers for the team lead in tackles.

Martinsburg travels to Hedgesville to face the Eagles at Mumaw Stadium in a Cumberland Valley Athletic League game tonight.

Hedgesville returns a strong core of players that fought through a 1-9 season last year and now has its sights set on the school's first playoff berth since 1997.

"We were extremely young last year. It was definitely a learning experience for us," Hedgesville coach Dave Lopez said. "It was something new every single week. Now we just have to take those learning experiences and turn them into positives."

The Eagles are led by junior Mike Lopez, who threw for more than 1,000 yards and was among the Tri-State leaders in interceptions last season, picking off seven passes.

Jefferson was the surprise team in the area last season, going 8-4 in its first season under coach Richard Mills.

The Cougars won as many games last season as they had in the previous four years combined and earned their first playoff berth in 12 years. They open their season at home tonight against CVAL foe Hampshire.

Denny Price returns for his 33rd season as Musselman's coach. The Applemen went 5-5 last year and are seeking their first playoff berth since 2001. They open at home tonight against Nitro.

Berkeley Springs, the fifth West Virginia team in the Tri-State area, has a bye this week.

Pennsylvania teams begin their seasons next Friday, followed by Maryland schools on Sept. 9.

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