NEWTOWN — After last year’s 30-14 beatdown by Kentucky the West Virginia All-Stars hope to turn the tables this year on their Bluegrass State counterparts.
Joey Fields might have the team to do it.
With a blend of talented skilled position players and a good group of big, beefy lineman — many of them from Logan County — West Virginia hopes to get back in the win column in the 17th-annual Hatfield-McCoy Senior Bowl, set for Saturday at 8 p.m. at the new James H. Buck Harless Stadium at Mingo Central High School in Newtown.
It will be the first Senior Bowl to be played on Field Turf and the first all-star game to be played at Mingo Central.
The first 16 Hatfield-McCoy Bowls from 1996-2011 were played at Matewan High School’s Tiger Stadium. Matewan closed its doors last year, however, then consolidated with Burch, Williamson and Gilbert to form Mingo Central.
Last year marked a turning point in the history of the Senior Bowl, which pits the best graduated high school football players from the southern West Virginia coal fields against those from the eastern Kentucky mountain region.
In last year’s game, Kentucky ended a seven-game bowl losing skid by pounding on the West Virginia All-Stars. It was also the last all-star game to be played on the grass at Matewan.
West Virginia still leads the all-time series 10-6 but last year’s poor showing has stung for an entire year.
This time, West Virginia, or the Hatfields, are out for revenge on the Kentucky All-Stars, or the McCoys.
Coach Fields, an assistant at Mingo Central and the West Virginia All-Star head coach, said he thinks last year’s weaknesses — particularly on the offensive line and at center — have been solved with this year’s crop of players.
Fields and the West Virginia All-Stars took to the field on Monday at Mingo Central for its first practice for Saturday night’s clash. A total of 30 players from Logan, Mingo, Wayne, Wyoming and McDowell County are on the roster.
“The roster looks great,” Fields said. “It’s a work in progress. As soon as they gave it to me about four months ago I started working on the roster. A lot of guys have come out and have responded. I picked 35 players and 30 showed up so we’re ready to go.”
As in most all-star games, it’s very difficult to put in an offensive scheme with just one week of practice but Fields said he’s got the personnel to put a pretty competitive football team out on the field.
“The good thing about this is that a lot of the guys from the different teams has the same terminology as we do so that makes it easier,” Fields said. “You want to stay simple but you also want to be effective.”
Fields said his offensive and defensive lines are one of the main strengths of his team.
Several of those linemen are from Logan County, including Chapmanville Regional All-Stater John Toler, who played in the North-South All-Star Game in June. Three other Chapmanville starting linemen — Caleb Belcher, Thomas Belcher and Michael Watts — also give the West Virginia All-Stars some strength up front.
Logan High School is also represented by three good linemen — including Matt Southers, Tyler Nelson and Marc Morris.
Morris, at 6-foot-8, 280 pounds, gives West Virginia some size up front with Southers (6-4, 250) and Toler (6-3, 305).
Like Toler, Thomas Belcher also played for Chapmanville coach George Barker on the South All-Star team at Charleston.
“Our offensive line is looking good,” Fields said. “Usually you will get a great class of linemen or a great class of skilled position players. This year, we’ve got some great linemen and also some great skilled position players. There are five guys from the North-South game on this team.”
Logan running back Joe Street, another North-South player, leads the West Virginia All-Star backfield. Mingo Central quarterback Ashton Cline also played in the North-South as did LeShon Benton of River View High School.
Street, who has signed on to play collegiate football at the University of Charleston, rushed 13 times for 76 yards and scored two touchdowns on runs of 7 and 6 to lead the South All-Stars to a 36-28 overtime win over the North in last month’s North-South Game. Street’s 7-yard TD in overtime was the game-winner.
“Those are great kids and they can play any position,” Fields said of his North-South participants. “They can play on both sides of the ball and they played fantastic in the North-South Game. I know they will do the same in this game. A lot of those guys from the North-South game come into this game in better shape and with the extra game experience under their belts.”
A total of 11 players from Logan County are on the West Virginia team, making up one-third of the roster. Shane Browning (WR/DB) and Jimmy Duba (FB) are representing Man High School. Logan also has Zach Ellis (WR/LB) on the team.
From Class AA state champion Wayne are Allen Bryant, Clay Haddix and Paden Thompson.
“This is a good group of players. I got three players from Wayne and they are the state champions,” Fields said. “Those are three great players.”
Also on the West Virginia roster are nine players from homestanding Mingo Central — Cline, R.J. Collins, Austin Compton, Alex Daniels, Corey Daniels, Nick Lee, Austin Reed, Matt Wellman and Jacob Staton. Cline and Staton will most likely be West Virginia’s two quarterbacks for Saturday night’s bowl game.
John Bailey, LeShon Benton, Brad Hardy, Kane McReynolds and Cody Stevens are representing River View High School.
Thomas Forren and twin brother running backs Dustin Tilley and Justin Tilley come from Westside.
A big crowd is expected for the game since it is the first Hatfield-McCoy Bowl to be played at the new Mingo Central field. Many could be coming to the game out of curiosity since they have not yet seen the facility.
Two things often plagued the game at Matewan — muddy field conditions due to bad weather and little parking.
It’s won’t a problem at the new first-class stadium with the near perfect Field Turf conditions and with almost unlimited parking.
The Hatfield-McCoy Bowl is being sponsored for the first year by Cliffs Natural Resources.
On West Virginia’s game uniforms is a tribute to John Fry, a Mingo Central assistant coach and former West Virginia All-Star head coach, who passed away recently at the age of 27. The tribute reads, “John Fry 1985-2012.”