CHAPMANVILLE — The Cardinal Conference has been known over the years for its top-level brand of high school football in the state of West Virginia.
Just about every year you can count on a at least three or four Cardinal Conference teams making it to the playoffs.
And with the state powerhouse Wayne Pioneers, you can count on deep post-season runs, often ending up on the carpet at Wheeling Island Stadium.
The Cardinal Conference always seems to be strong and the upcoming 2014 season should be no different.
Last year, Wayne’s two-year reign as as Class AA state champions came to an end as the Pioneers lost 14-13 to Bridgeport in the state championship game at a snowy Wheeling in the Super Six.
Wayne finished 13-1 and were the Cardinal Conference champions with a 7-0 mark, but they weren’t the only league team to making a post-season run.
Sissonville, which took second place in the Cardinal last fall, closed out 10-2 with a state quarterfinal loss to Wayne.
Mingo Central, the third-place team from a year ago, had its best season of football as the Miners were 8-3, falling 46-6 to league foe Sissonville in the opening round of the playoffs.
Fourth-place Chapmanville was 5-5 last year as the Tigers had a 4-3 mark in the tough league.
The fifth-place Tolsia Rebels also had a break-even 5-5 season in 2013.
Chapmanville Regional coach George Barker said it should be another good season of Cardinal Conference football.
“I don’t think that you can count Wayne out,” Barker said. “We got to take a look at a couple of those teams earlier in the summer. Sissonville again is going to be good. They were a playoff team last year. Mingo Central was also a playoff team last year. Wayne was a playoff team and a state runner-up team. All of those teams are coming back with most of their players returning. Wayne graduated a few kids up front but they still got their quarterback coming back and their running back coming back. Those are probably two of the better players in the state.”
Wayne is led by senior all-state quarterback Grant Ferguson, a two-way player who was a first-team defensive back in 2013 and a first-team all-state QB in 2012.
Coach Tom Harmon’s Pioneers also have first-team all-state linebacker Mason Hodge (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) returning, along with second-team linebacker Nathan Spurlock.
In the playoffs last year, the Pioneers beat Philip Barbour (53-25), Sissonville (48-7) and Robert C. Byrd (44-20) en route to the state finals.
Wayne had a close call in the regular season finale, beating the Bluefield Beavers 29-27.
The Pioneers rolled to league wins over Tolsia (28-0), Sissonville (58-19), Mingo Central (40-12), Scott (55-10), Herbert Hoover (53-20), Poca (54-27) and Chapmanville (64-36).
Wayne went 14-0 in 2012 and won the state championship. The Pioneers were 12-2 in 2011 and also won the state crown.
Wayne went 9-3 in 2010, 13-1 in 2009, 11-2 in 2008 and 12-1 in 2007.
The Pioneers are the preseason No. 1-ranked team in the state.
Mingo Central, led by head coach Yogi Kinder, was one of the most-improved teams in the conference last fall.
The Miners, however, lost all-state wide receiver Alex Lee to graduation. Lee played in both the North-South and East-West all-star games.
Mingo Central also lost all-state running back Deonte Joplin, who transfered to Belfry (Ky.) along with Logan High School quarterback Noah Corbett.
The Miners werre 5-5 in 2011 during their first season and 5-6 in 2012, falling 61-14 at Keyser in the Class AA playoffs.
Mingo Central was ranked No. 8 in the state in the preseason media poll.
The Sissonville Indians of head coach Eddie Smolder, lost second-team all-state running back Dominic Walker to graduation.
Sissonville improved to a 10-win season last fall after going 5-5, 2-8, 1-9 in the previous seasons. The Indians hope to keep going in the right direction this season. Sissonville was ranked No. 5 in the state in the preseason poll.
Perhaps the league’s biggest surprise came from the Tolsia Rebels, which were 5-5.
After struggling in recent years, the Rebels jumpstarted their 2013 season after an 0-3 start. Tolsia beat Herbert Hoover at home, 24-20, then beat Tug Valley at home, 34-14.
After a 38-26 loss at Roane County, Tolsia then won at Scott (14-13) and lost 34-20 at home to Chapmanville.
Tolsia closed out with two wins over Boyd County, Ky. (21-16) and Poca (59-6).
“You look at us and Tolsia. We both almost made it to the playoffs,” Barker said. “We could have very well beat Mingo Central last year. We played Tolsia in a battle. We were right here. Tolsia was also 5-5 last year. They are going to be better this year. I look for everyone in the conference to be good. Poca has a new coach. That’s a program that won three state championships in the 2000s. Then you add Logan and Man to our non-conference schedule along with Mount View and that makes for a pretty good schedule. We traded Mount View for James Monroe and I understand they have a new coach, too, so we don’t know what to expect out of them.”
Herbert Hoover (3-7, 2-5), Scott (3-7, 1-5) and Poca (1-9, 0-7) brought up the rear last season in the conference.
The Dots, led by new coach Teddy Stewart, are looking for improvement from a slide in recent years.
Poca was 2-8 in 2012, 4-6 in 2011, 6-5 in 2010 and 3-7 in 2009.
The Dots’ 2010 season produced one of the highest scoring games in West Virginia high school football history as Poca lost 69-66 at Chapmanville. The game featured a combined 1,100 yards and a seven-touchdown, 408-yard rushing performance by Chapmanville’s Jake Robinson.