MAN — It was a bright, sunshine-drenched Saturday afternoon at Man’s George A. Queen Memorial Field last November when the season came to an end for the Man High School football team.
The homestanding Hillbillies had rallied from a three-touchdown deficit to Bishop Donahue by scoring a pair of TDs and two-point conversions.
Time, though, ran out on Man as the Billies lost 21-16 to the Bishops in the first-round Class A playoff game.
It was an opening-round exit for Man.
But instead of it being the end the Billies hope that it was just the beginning.
Back track to 2009 and Man was in the Super Six at Wheeling. The Billies had lost 27-7 to Weirton Madonna in the Class A state championship game at a bitter-cold Wheeling Island Stadium but had reached the state finals for the fourth time in school history with the others coming in 1977, 1980 and 1984.
It was the furthest a Man football team had went in 25 years.
But then what followed was three straight losing seasons.
Last year, the Billies put themselves back on the West Virginia high school football map with a 9-2 season. After a 40-20 loss to Class AAA county rival Logan in the opener, some thought the Billies might sweep the rest of their games.
They did just that, running the table for nine straight wins and gaining homefield advantage for the playoffs.
With many starters, key backups and a slew of newcomers expecting to contribute from the very start, Man expects to have another successful grid season this fall.
The Billies are scheduled to open the season on Friday, Aug. 29 at Logan.
Man coach Harvey Arms, now in his 13th season, said he hopes the Billies’ good fortunes continue this season.
“It always helps when you have a successful season,” said Arms, who has led Man to the playoffs five times in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2013. “We have a lot of those players coming back. It spurs you on to want to do better this year. With all of the players that we have coming back from last year, with added growth and maturity and with an attitude of wanting to get better and making it to the playoffs last year, we want to make it back this year and do better. It’s a good goal for the team.”
Man is experienced and has a deep roster for a Class A team with 53 total players. That should bode well for the Billies as the season progresses.
“The number one strength is experience,” he said. “We also have a good amount of players who have played two years. A lot of these kids are juniors but they started as freshmen. We have that strength. We have people back at all of the positions, even though we lost some of the seniors who were starters. We still have starters coming back at every position whether it be on the line or in the backfield or on defense. We have some receivers coming back.”
Returning for Man at quarterback is three-year starter and junior John Thomas Keffer, who has started for the Billies under center since his freshman year.
Man football over the years has been a run-oriented, I-formation kind of team.
But with Keffer, especially last season, the Billies mixed up the offense and the formula worked well.
Last fall, the the strong-armed Keffer completed 104-of-185 passes (56.2 percent) for 1,316 yards with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Keffer also ran for 105 yards and scored five touchdowns, including a QB keeper for a score in the playoff game.
Keffer was 15-for-29 passing for 146 yards in last year’s playoff game.
With Keffer, Man is sound at quarterback.
“For a young player his knowledge of the game is exceptional,” Arms said of Keffer. “He gives us leadership ability and he has great skills. He’s had two really good seasons for us and hopefully he can keep getting better and better.”
Backing up Keffer at quarterback is sophomore Josh Vanover, who was Man’s JV QB last season. Buren Maynor, a sophomore, and first-year player, will most likely be the Billies’ third-string quarterback.
“Maynor is a first-year player but he’s making great strides at practice,” Coach Arms said.
The Billies, just like Man’s teams of the past, are strong in the backfield.
Man has a solid one-two punch at running back with bruising fullback Neil Mullins and halfback Mikle Scott Rowe.
Mullins led Man’s running back-by-committee scheme last year with 99 rushes for 583 yards (5.9 ypc.) and six TDs. Rowe ran for another 293 yards on 71 attempts (4.1 ypc.) and had four touchdowns.
At well over 250 pounds Mullins is a load to bring down. Seeing him crash between the tackles with a head of steam is always an imposing site to opposing team’s secondaries.
Man, however, does not have the services of senior Braden Griffin, who rushed for more than 500 yards last season. Griffin, an all-state baseball player who led the Billies to the 2014 Class A state baseball championship, has opted out of playing football this fall.
Jace Duba, Tyler Blair, Jake Frye, Patrick Wiley and Derek Messer give the Billies depth in the backfield. Wiley ran for 193 yards on 19 carries and scored a touchdown last season. Frye ran for 117 yards on 19 attempts in 2013.
“All of those backs have shown good quickness and toughness,” Arms said. “Pretty much last year we were running back-by-committee and hopefully we will be able to get a lot out of these guys this year.”
At wide receiver, Man’s top two targets — Tracy Jones and Cayce Mullins — have been lost to graduation. The two combined for 91 catches for 1,266 yards and 14 touchdowns last year.
The Billies have others to step up.
Two basketball players — Kenny Jo Adkins and Gabby Brown — are out for football this fall and expect to see action at wideout.
Ross Osborne, a junior, and sophomore Tyler Grimmett are returning wide receivers. Grimmett had three catches for 63 yards and two TDs last year. Osborne had one catch for 12 yards in 2013.
At tight end, senior Gage Harvey is back. Two more basketball players are also out for football for the first time in Daniel Buchanon, a sophomore, and Jake Adkins. Harvey is 6-foot-4, while Buchanon is over 6-5. Adkins is 6-2.
“That’s a good group of athletes there,” Arms said of his tall tight ends.
On the offensive line, junior starting tackle Ritchie Nelson returns. Grant Gambill, a junior, and last year’s backup center, is back. He expects to start at tackle as well.
Tyler Vance, a junior, seems to have the nod as the starting center.
The two likely starters at offensive guard are junior Austin Compton and senior Caleb Adkins.
Battling for playing time on the O-line are senior Dustin Hurley and junior Christian McCoy, who saw action last year on the D-line with 54 tackles and eight sacks.
Mullins returns as a two-way starter on the defensive line. He had 43 tackles and four QB sacks last year.
“This makes four years for Neil Mullins as a starter on the defensive line,” Arms said. “He’s started every game since he was a freshman.”
Kayne Brown also could see action on the Billies’ defensive line.
At defensive end, Buchanon, Jake Adkins, Compton and Austin Bragg are competing for playing time.
At linebacker, Harvey returns as a starter. He had 45 total tackles last year as an outside linebacker. Caoch Arms said he could be Man’s middle linebacker this fall. Rowe, who started at outside LB last season, is also back. He had 34 tackles and two interceptions a year ago.
Junior Tanner Bailey (33 tackles, 1 sack), is another returning linebacker for Man. Duba and Blair are also pressing for playing time.
“We have a real good group of linebackers,” Coach Arms said.
In the defensive secondary, Man returns Osborne and Grimmett. Grimmett preserved Man’s 26-22 home victory over county rival Chapmanville Regional last season by intercepting a pass at the Billies’ 10-yard line. Osborne had 16 tackles and two interceptions last season and Grimmett had 13 stops and two picks.
Kenny Jo Adkins and Gabby Brown, two of Man’s newcomers, are also expected to see time in the defensive backfield.
Sophomore Matt Sanders is also competing for playing time along with Nick Collins. Bryce Goff gives Man even more depth.
Arms said he has a good competition going on in Man’s special teams as several are vying for the starting punting and kicking chores.
Jake Adkins, Rowe and Blair are Man’s punters. Grimmett and Rowe are the two kickers.
The Billies play the same 10 teams this fall as they did last season.
“It’s exactly the same but we will just change the places we play,” Arms said. “The only change is that last year our open date was Week 5. This year, Week 6 will be our open week.”
The Billies open Aug. 29 at rival Logan, then play host to 2A Mount View on Sept. 5 in the home opener and Man High School Hall of Fame Game.
Week 3 has the Billies hosting 2A Westside on Sept. 12.
Then in Week 4, Man is set to travel to Bradshaw to take on Class AA River View.
The following week, the Billies are scheduled to host fellow Class A team Fayetteville in the annual Man homecoming game on Sept. 26.
After a bye week on Oct. 3, Man plays at 2A county rival Chapmanville on Oct. 10. The two teams are 7-7 against each other since the county series was resumed in 2000.
The Billies are then scheduled to close out the season with four contests — Oct. 17 at home against Sherman, Oct. 24 at Pocahontas County, Oct. 31 at home against Tug Valley and Nov. 7 at Van. Man beat all four of those teams last season. Only the Tug Valley Panthers gave Man much of a fight in a 24-14 decision at Naugatuck.
Arms said his team is not looking past anyone on the schedule.
“We always look for everyone we play to be a challenge,” he said. “Logan is always going to be tough. Mount View has been down for the last little bit but they can be tough. They always have speed that makes it hard sometimes to compete with their skilled people. Westside has the Cogar kid back. They will be tough. We got a tough game from Tug Valley last year and we have split with them in two seasons. River View always has a lot of players. Fayetteville is always pretty tough and so is Chapmanville. Sherman had a lot of young players last year but they have a lot returning. This year, we have to make the trip to Pocahontas County and that’s tough just in itself. Then we go to Van in the final game of the season.”
Mark Kennedy is new to the Man coaching staff this season. Other Arms assistants are James Toth, Bill Lusk and Charles Collins.
— The Chapmanville Regional High School football team is previewed in Wednesday’s sports.
2014 Man High School
Aug. 29: at Logan, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 5: Mount View (Hall of Fame Game), 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 12: Westside, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 19: at River View, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 26: Fayetteville (Homecoming), 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 3: OPEN DATE
Oct. 10: at Chapmanville, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17: Sherman, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24: at Pocahontas County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 31: Tug Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 7: at Van, 7:30 p.m.
2013 Man High School
Football Schedule (9-2):
Aug. 30: Logan, L 20-40
Sept. 6: at Mount View, W 44-0
Sept. 13: at Westside, W 22-14
Sept. 20: River View (Hall of Fame Game), W 46-8
Sept. 27: OPEN DATE
Oct. 4: at Fayetteville, W 30-25
Oct. 11: Chapmanville (Homecoming), W 26-22
Oct. 18: at Sherman, W 36-6
Oct. 25: Pocahontas County, W 42-0
Nov. 1: at Tug Valley, W 24-14
Nov. 8: Van, W 61-6
Nov. 16: Bishop Donahue (Class A playoffs), L 16-21
2014 Man High School
No. NAME CL. POS.
1 Ross Osborne 11 WR/DB
2 Bryce Goff 12 WR/DB
3 Nick Collins 10 WR/DB
5 Mikle Scott Rowe 12 RB/LB
6 Dustin McCoy 10 RB/LB
7 Buren Maynor 9 QB/DB
8 Derek Messer 12 RB/DB
10 Brian Lester 12 RB/LB
12 Kenny Jo Adkins 11 WR/DB
15 Allen Files 10 WR/DB
17 Josh Vanover 10 QB/DB
18 Caleb Hoosier 9 WR/DB
19 John Thomas Keffer 11 QB
20 Hunter Epperheart 9 RB/DB
21 Matt Sanders 10 WR/DB
22 Patrick Wiley 12 RB/LB
23 Marquel Brown 11 WR/DB
24 Josh Workman 12 RB/LB
25 Tanner Bailey 11 WR/LB
26 Jake Frye 10 RB/LB
28 Trey Whitt 9 WR/DB
30 Jake Adkins 11 TE/DE
31 Tyler Blair 10 RB/LB
32 Seth Osborne 9 RB/LB
33 Jace Duba 11 RB/LB
34 Chase Harvey 9 TE/DE
40 Neil Mullins 12 RB/DL
42 Tyler Grimmett 10 WR/DB
45 Shane Sansom 9 RB/LB
47 Ben May 11 RB/DB
48 Zack Maynard 9 WR/DB
50 Caleb Adkins 12 OL/DL
51 Auston Huffman 9 OL/DL
52 Zach Gent 9 OL/DL
53 Jaxxon Ellis 11 OL/DL
54 Christian McCoy 11 OL/DL
55 Dennis Browning 9 OL/DL
61 Austin Bragg 10 OL/DL
62 Steve Ramey 10 OL/DL
63 Jordan Wright 11 OL/DL
64 Thomas Bartley 9 OL/DL
65 Austin Compton 11 OL/DL
66 Drew Adkins 9 OL/DL
68 Tyler Vance 11 OL/DL
70 Ritchie Nelson 11 OL/DL
74 Kayne Brown 10 OL/DL
75 Grant Gambill 11 OL/DL
76 Dustin Hurley 12 OL/DL
77 Trey Roberts 11 OL/DL
79 Zach Asbury 11 OL/DL
81 Justin Morgan 9 WR/DB
86 Gage Harvey 12 TE/LB
88 Daniel Buchanon 10 TE/DE
Head coach: Harvey Arms
Assistants: James Toth, Charles Collins, Bill Lusk, Mark Kennedy