Tigers face dynastic Martinsburg in Class AAA state championship game Saturday

Dec. 1—PRINCETON — Princeton's Keith Taylor has made a pretty huge splash in the West Virginia high school football coaching ranks in his first season as a head coach.

On Saturday, he'll be across the field from a veteran head football coach whose career has basically been a tsunami.

The Tigers (12-1) will take on storied Martinsburg (13-0) in tomorrow's WVSSAC Super Six Class AAA state championship football game at Wheeling Island Stadium. Kickoff is set for 12 noon.

"We're just trying to wrap our heads around it. We've been so busy trying to get prepared, it's kind of surreal and kind of hard to take every thing in. Doing something that hasn't been done in school history is a surreal feeling, for sure," said Taylor, whose team earned its first-ever state championship game appearance with last Friday's wild 73-70 win over Bridgeport in the semifinals at Hunnicutt Stadium, in Princeton.

The euphoria has by no means affected Taylor's ability to critique even the most important win in Tigers program history.

"I thought offensively we played probably out best football game of the year. Multiple guys contributed. I thought Brad Mossor stepped up for is big-time and also his blocking on the perimeter was outstandimg. I thought Wyatt Cline did a great job blocking on the perimeter for [running back Marquel Lowe] and [wide receiver Dom Collins]. Dom went berserk like he always does, Marquel had a great game like he always does and [quarterback] Chance Barker passed for eight touchdowns and made great decisons with the football ... and our offensive line played the most physical football game they've played all year," Taylor said.

"Defensively, as a defensive coach, to give up 73 points kind of makes you sick to your stomach but I thought Coach McClanahan had a great game plan in the first half. I don't think it was a lack of effort in the second half. I think we just kind of ran out of gas. Hats off to coach Phares and Bridgeport for his kids staying in there and making it an exciting football game," Taylor said.

The Bulldogs have previously won eight Class AAA state titles in a 10-year span under head coach Dave Walker and one under Britt Sherman in 2021. The latter, a longtime Walker assistant coach, held the Martinsburg reins for three seasons while his mentor served as head football coach at Concord University.

One would be hard-pressed to have pick a worse time to transition to coaching at college: Concord played only one game Walker's first season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A near-universal unraveling of the conventions of college football at all levels followed closely on the pandemic's heels.

In spite of the dizzying distractions and setbacks, Walker put together a 9-2 finish in his third season with the Mountain Lions — flirting with an NCAA Division 2 playoff bid — before bidding adieu to Athens.

Shortly following his subsequent resignation at Concord, Sherman resigned his head position at Martinsburg and Walker was shortly thereafter hired back — a nearly seamless transition. Walker was back where he began, Sherman was back on his staff and the Bulldogs program momentum was back on the move.

Taylor did not have the opportunity to get to know Walker during his three-season stint at Concord.

"I've known a couple people who knew Coach Walker. They said he was a great guy ... an incredible individual. He's obviously built a powerhouse up at Martinsburg. You know you've done an incredible job when they name the field after you and you're still coaching," said Taylor, who finally met Walker in Sunday's pregame meeting in Parkersburg.

In the first season of Walker's return to his namesake field, Martinsville has overrun Clarkson North (35-17), Stone Bridge, Va. (41-7), Boys Latin, Md. (48-0), HD Woodson, DC (26-12), Jefferson (57-14), Musselman (42-0), Washington (68-0). Spring Mills (23-6) and Hedgesville (36-0). The post-season road to Wheeling included Parkersburg South (55-7), Jefferson (49-0) and Huntington (49-26).

The Bulldogs are obviously loaded with talent and depth at every position on both sides of the football. Offensive standouts include quarterback Murphy Clement, Koi Fagan, a running back with quarterback credentials and running back Nick Busky.

"I think Martinsburg is top to bottom the best team in West Virginia if you look at them on paper. When you turn on the film they've got a really good offensive line ... big, physical and athletic. They've got multiple receivers that could start anywhere in West Virginia. Their two quarterbacks are incredible back there," said Taylor, who said Clement will be the toughest football player his kids have faced all year.

"He's a two-way player. He's the heartbeat of their offense and defense. Then [Fagan] can pretty much do everything. He can throw the ball, run the ball, catch the ball out of the backfield. They've got weapons all over the field. We're definitely going to have our work cut out for us," Taylor said.

"They're more of a spread team. They like to power run with their quarterbacks, which is pretty interesting. You don't see man a lot of teams running power football with their quarterbacks but they did a great job against Huntington running between the tackles," he said.

"They want to be a physical run team, but also they can spread you out and throw some key screens and different things like that," Taylor said.

The Bulldogs have a few two-way starters, but not many. They are also basicallyl two-deep with capable players at all positions on the field.

"They'll have much more depth than us ... that will be a challenge for us," Taylor said. "If we're able to make it a game in the fourth quarter, we've got to make sure we're ready to go even though they'll have fresher legs."

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