(Story by Luke Wiggs)
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — With just three weeks left in the regular season, the eyes of football fans begin to wander toward the post season and where their club could finish. Earlier this season, I pontificated the possibility of five EPAC teams reaching the Promised Land of the elusive 11th game, now it appears it will be a fight to send four. Let’s look at the possibilities.
The Bulldogs have not lost a conference game since the Bush administration so I don’t think it is disingenuous to project them to win their remaining two games and finish 9-0. The Bulldogs should be a lock to be a top 4 AAA seed (ensuring home field advantage for at least the first two rounds), but it appears the highest they can finish is 2nd. Should Huntington win out, the 10-0 Highlanders will logically top the class, but that is easier said than done. Huntington plays AAA power house Cabell Midland on Friday and should Midland win, that would vault them over both Huntington and Martinsburg for 1st place and push Martinsburg to 3. Princeton, Jefferson and Oak Hill should all be too far to catch Martinsburg so the Bulldog future seems pretty simple, Huntington beating Cabell will give the Bulldogs 2nd place, the inverse would drop them to 3.
The Cougars set the goal at the beginning of the season to host in the 1st round, and Jefferson controls their own destiny to accomplish this. The most likely finish for Jefferson if they win out is 5 (they could finish 4th if Parkersburg South loses to Wheeling Park but then beats Princeton). Losing just one of the remaining three games could be detrimental for the Cougars. For example, a loss this Friday to Musselman could drop them as low as 13. Winning out is easier said than done in the EPAC, but Jefferson has been a tough team to beat all season long.
Currently the highest ranked team in the EPAC, the Cardinals still have a chance to finish that way, but they’ll have to beat Martinsburg on Friday. If they do, they can finish as high as 4 (potentially higher if Park South beats Princeton). However, a loss this week to the Bulldogs would put the Cardinals in the precarious place of middle of the pack playoff teams. It’s hard for me to find a way for the Cardinals to not finish 9th. Spring Mills would need Bridgeport to drop a game on their remaining schedule, or Cabell Midland to lose twice. The only way I see the Cardinals realistically hosting in the first round is if University is able to defeat Oak Hill, a Hawks win would propel the Cardinals as high as 8th, 7th if Jefferson loses to Musselman.
The Applemen are a tough nut to crack. Currently I have them at 16th even if they finish the year 4-6, meaning they could get in over a 5-5 University and a 5-5 Brooke. However there are two upsets, one major, one minor, that could stop this from happening. A Spring Valley victory over GW or University victory in the Mohawk Bowl over Morgantown would each keep a 4-win Musselman team out. Musselman can simply avoid having to get outside help by winning at least two of their next three games. The 5-5 Applemen could finish as high as 13 and the 6-4 Applemen could even finish 10th.
The playoff picture will become much clearer after this Friday but for now this is how I see the 1st round of the postseason projected out.
Huntington vs 16) Musselman
Martinsburg vs 15) Wheeling Park
Cabell Midland vs 14) Woodrow Wilson
Princeton vs 13) George Washington
Jefferson vs 12) Morgantown
Oak Hill vs 11) Parkersburg South
Hurricane vs 10) Spring Mills
Parkersburg vs 9) Bridgeport