Somewhere, Paul Bryant smiled on Saturday.
With a tip of his trademark houndstooth hat and a gravely sounding “good job,” Bear Bryant — the late Alabama coaching icon — probably looked down with a measure of admiration at the Martinsburg football team.
Bryant probably didn’t know Martinsburg from Spartanburg or Martinsville, but he did know quality football when he saw it. He lived it, as his 323 career collegiate victories prove.
When it comes to Martinsburg, though, Bryant probably would have noticed the Bulldogs’ 35-27 victory over George Washington on Saturday for their second straight West Virginia Class AAA championship. Bryant knew what that’s like, since he won six national championships and 14 SEC titles.
The Bulldogs’ repeat is a major accomplishment, but Bryant would have likely been more impressed with the way Martinsburg accomplished the feat.
Legend has it that Bryant once became upset with one of his players for his antics after scoring a touchdown. His response was short, to the point and very direct.
“When you get in the end zone, act like you’ve been there before,” he growled.
Bryant was known for a certain code of athletic ethics which has been lost over time. It was a belief in honor, discipline and a humbleness of character in individuals, matched with precise technique and execution of team play to get the job done.
He instilled in his players that they were no better than anyone else, except on a football field. And even on the girdiron, there is a level of respect.
Many of those beliefs have given way to the style of theatrics and one-upmanship these days, but a bit of Bear seems to have resurfaced in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.
If a formula exists to win a state title — or even repeat the act — the Bulldogs found it this year.
Last year, Martinsburg won its first state championship in five tries since 2000. It came in a perfect storm of great young players equipped with superior talent and the motivation of winning in memory of a fallen teammate.
Winners have an air of confidence and cockiness about them, but champions find a way to harness such arrogance. Celebrations of touchdowns, big plays and victories were minimal on the field as the Bulldogs allowed their fans to do all the talking.
The Bulldogs employed honor and discipline — with a measure of humbleness — because they had bigger things in mind. They accomplished those things Saturday to continue a run of 28 straight victories (two consecutive undefeated seasons) and cast an early vote to be West Virginia’s team of the decade.
After Martinsburg’s 38-14 win over Morgantown in the Nov. 27 state semifinal, quarterback Brandon Ashenfelter talked about being humble while preparing for the final. Coach Dave Walker gave reverence to Morgantown’s abilities, but readily admitted that his Bulldogs were the better team.
On Saturday, Martinsburg did what all championship teams have a habit of doing.
The Bulldogs overcame adversity — albeit self-inflicted — and believed in who they were to get what they wanted. Martinsburg is a resourceful team that took losing out of the set of options.
Martinsburg played some “Bear Ball” along the way, ignoring its reputation as a passing team to display a dominant running game, led by a technically sound offensive line.
The ’Dogs’ under-recognized but always stingy defense showed up once again in the second half to make the huge plays needed to gain control of a tight game and ultimately win the prize Martinsburg has coveted for an entire year.
Talk immediately turned to running the streak to 42 straight wins and a third title, but Walker refused to think about it — at least for now. First, the year’s events need to sink in while paying homage to this unprecedented class of seniors.
These Bulldogs acted like they had been there before … and knew what to do when they got there again.
That will always make them Bear-able in Martinsburg history.
Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.