WHEELING, W.Va. — Over the last decade, Martinsburg has established itself as the premier high school football program in West Virginia.
In the last few minutes of the second quarter during Saturday’s Class AAA final against Cabell Midland, the Bulldogs showed exactly why.
No. 1 Martinsburg scored 35 unanswered points in the final 3:16 of the first half to break a 14-all tie and cruise to a 49-21 win over the Knights at Wheeling Island Stadium.
“We noticed we had them athlete for athlete so we started throwing the ball,” Martinsburg senior quarterback Elijah Banks said. “I just delivered the ball to the athletes.”
The win extends Martinsburg’s state-record win streak to 56 games and gives the Bulldogs a fourth consecutive Class AAA crown and eighth in 10 years.
“I’m really happy for our seniors, school and community,” MHS head coach David Walker said. “These kids put in a lot of work and really care about each other. I know everybody says that and everybody’s kids do because they spend a lot of time together. But these guys are really talented, they worked hard and it paid off for them.”
The Bulldogs (14-0) took the lead for good at 21-14 on Kevon Warren’s 8-yard TD run with 3:16 to play in the opening half.
After forcing a three-and-out, Martinsburg capitalized on good field position and doubled its lead when Banks connected with Malakai Brown for a 33-yard touchdown pass.
“The play-calling from coach (Britt) Sherman was amazing,” Banks said. “He put me in situations to where I had to make the right decision.”
The Knights (13-1) lost a fumble on the first play of their ensuing sequence, allowing the Bulldogs to score another TD with 1:05 remaining when Banks found Jarod Bowie on a 25-yard pass.
Cabell Midland lost a fumble on its next two kickoff returns, enabling the Bulldogs to score twice more in the opening half — first on Banks’ 25-yard pass to Teddy Marshall and again on Banks’ 20-yard pass to Bowie.
“It’s tough. You can’t do that against anybody, especially against a good football team,” Cabell Midland head coach Luke Salmons said. “We didn’t execute there. We’re going to kick ourselves over some of that stuff, but I’m proud of the kids’ effort.”
Banks threw for 180 of his 187 yards in the first half and five touchdowns, while Bowie had all 73 of his receiving yards and three TDs over the first two quarters.
“We were able to get some guys out in space and Elijah threw the ball really well,” Walker said. “Our guys made some plays. It’s a great combination to have. I know we’d go as Elijah went and he played well.”
Bowie’s 77-yard return on the opening kickoff set up Naieem Kearney’s 9-yard touchdown run 20 seconds into the contest for a 7-0 MHS lead.
Cabell Midland then mistakenly let the Bulldogs’ first kickoff fall into the field of play, and it was recovered by Martinsburg’s Anthony Smith at the Knights’ 14.
“It’s a third of the game,” Walker said of special teams. “We spend a good bit of time on it.”
Banks found Bowie to cover the 14 yards and give Martinsburg a 14-0 lead a mere 26 seconds into the contest.
Cabell Midland settled in nicely over the next 20 minutes of action.
The Knights got a 2-yard TD run from J.J. Roberts to finish off a 32-yard drive and cut their deficit in half with 3 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
Cabell Midland followed with a 92-yard drive on its next sequence and got even at 14 when Roberts scored on a run on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 4:45 to play in the half.
But it was all Bulldogs for the remainder of the opening half and by the time the Knights received the second half kickoff, they faced a five-touchdown deficit.
“I was telling the team we had to step the tempo up and we had to turn it up on them,” Banks said. “We had the tempo and we kept going from there.”
Roberts’ 36-yard touchdown run with 2:19 to play marked the lone score of the second half.
Roberts rushed for all three of his team’s scores and 106 yards in the loss, while teammate Jakob Caudill led the Knights with 164 rushing yards.
Story by Greg Carey