MARTINSBURG, W.Va- The road to the Super 6 was one of twists and turns for the Princeton Tigers.
It began with a rivalry win in round one from Oak Hill, then a clash with Parkersburg and quarterback David Parsons, pitting two of the best at that position in the state head to head. Princeton prevailed 41-37
The state semi final brought the Tigers into unfamiliar waters against a shark that knew them all too well in the Bridgeport Indians. The result: a 73-70 slugfest victory sending plucky Princeton to their first state championship game.
“As a defensive coach it makes you sick to your stomach to watch them score and score.” said Princeton head coach Keith Taylor. “We knew the way Bridgeport played their game they’d be ready, they wore on us especially in the second half, fortunately our guys on offense never let up and continued to make plays.”
One may argue no one in the state has more momentum than the Tigers, propelled by a high octane offense, young athletic defense, and a team/community that’s starting to believe.
“It’s hard to put into words what our team has done.” Taylor said. “First and foremost glory to God, but as a community they kind of rallied around us when we started going in the right direction and our kids bought into something that was bigger than ourselves. When I first took the job I knew in order to get to where we needed to go we needed to have a team is greater than me mentality.”
The Tigers have multiple players on offense trending toward a number of post season honors. Quarterback Chancer Barker threw an interception in his first start…then proceeded to throw just one more the rest of the season….to go along with 46 touchdowns and 3,340 yards.
“At the beginning we split reps down the middle, but he kept striving to get better and when he won the job he really took over.” Taylor said. “Stepping into Grant Cochrans role was big shoes to fill especially in a small town.”
Barker’s top target has been Dom Collins, another candidate for state player of the year, who’s hauled in 77 catches for 1,735 yards and 25 touchdowns (with another 5 on the ground).
“He’s always been undersized with a chip on his shoulder, he busted his butt in the weight room and is the second strongest kid on our team.” Taylor said. “I’m just glad the rest of the state is taking into context what we’ve known for years. Somebody is going to offer him, and whoever does is going to get a good one.”
The Tigers also boast significant talent up front.
“Eli Campbell is an air force academy commit, he’s been a leader and a four year starter.” Taylor said. “Chase Smith is a three year starter at center, being a lineman you may not get your name in the paper but those guys just go out there and grind.”
The Bulldogs road to wheeling may have been pathed by revenge. Martinsburg’s final step to the Island was a rematch on the road at Huntington, where the Bulldogs lost in the state semi final a year ago.”
“It’s really kind of unbelievable. You couldn’t write the script any better.” Martinsburg head coach Dave Walker said. “In my mind the scenario played out the way I wanted to. I was at the Huntington game last year, watching it for recruiting (for Concord). The fact things worked out to where they could go back and get redemption, they were just really excited. I really feel like in the post season we’ve turned it up.”
Martinsburg has outscored opponents 529-79 this season. Martinsburg’s defense has scored 62 points (9 touchdowns and 4 safeties)
Quarterback Murphy Clement has tallied 33 touchdowns for the Bulldogs (17 pass, 16 rush) and has led Martinsburg on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
“He’s got a great work ethic, he’s a really tough kid that brings a lot to the table.” Walker said. “He’s blessed that he’s surrounded by some good guys as well.”
Koi Fagan opened fall camp as the backup quarterback before finding a temporary home in the backfield beside Clement. He’s Martinsburg’s leading rusher to the tune of 17 scores and 935 yards on the ground.
Martinsburg has forced 23 takeaways, and sacked opposing quarterbacks 35 times. The Bulldogs have outrushed their opponents 2,836 to 373.
“It’s a credit to the type of players we have, they’re just relentless.” Walker said. “I think we’ve scored more this year defensively than we have in a number of years.”
Martinsburg comes to Wheeling in search of their 10th titles in the last 13 years.
“You just go to work everyday and hope you’re doing the right thing, and over time things keep happening.” Walker said about the program he’s built. “It’s been a really exciting ride and hopefully we’re able to keep going.”
But Dave Walker knows the Tigers are more than capable of giving the Dogs all they can handle.
“They’ve got some really good athletes. Dom Collins is an electric player and he isn’t the only one, their quarterback throws the ball really well.” Walker said. “You score 73 points, that gets everyone’s attention.”
Keith Taylor knows that playing the state’s perennial best is a challenge but also an opportunity.
“They’re the pinnacle of football in the state. We know what kind of caliber team that they have, but it gives us an opportunity to put Princeton on the map, we’ve never beat them so it would be great to check that one off the list. We’ve been the underdog in almost every game that we’ve played and we’ve embraced that mentality. We know nobody thinks we can win big games. And that’s something that Priceton needs to get over. There’s no pressure on us. We weren’t supposed to be here, nobody thinks we should be here, but at the end of the day we made it and we have an opportunity to handle business.”