2019 1208 class AAA football 08.jpg

Martinsburg's Kai Walker (14) recovers a Cabell Midland fumble on a kickoff in the West Virginia Class AAA high school football championship on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, at Wheeling Island Stadium.

WHEELING — With less than five minutes to go in the second quarter, Cabell Midland had visions of pulling an upset against a Martinsburg team that has dominated Class AAA for years.

The Knights rattled off 14 straight points to tie the game and had the Bulldogs’ defense reeling a bit.

Even after Kevon Warren’s touchdown run gave Martinsburg a lead with 3:16 left in the half, the Knights had a chance to re-establish momentum prior to going to the locker room.

In little more than a moment’s notice, however, Cabell Midland’s hopes were gone in Martinsburg’s 49-21 win.

A bad punt, a fumble and two more botched kickoff returns led to a sequence in which the Bulldogs scored 28 points in the final 77 seconds of the half — all on touchdown passes by Martinsburg’s Elijah Banks.

“(There’s) four or five sequences there that you wish you had back, but that’s what it takes,” Cabell Midland coach Luke Salmons said. “We didn’t execute there. We’re going to kick ourselves over some of that stuff.”

It was the longest two minutes of the Knights’ 13-1 season.

The last of those miscues resulted in a 20-yard scoring pass from Banks to Jarod Bowie over the middle — Bowie’s third touchdown reception of the game.

It came with just three seconds left in the half and produced a 49-14 advantage at the break.

“I knew we were going to get 35 points, but definitely not in three minutes,” Banks said. “I’ve never seen a sequence with 35 points in three minutes.”

Banks said the mentality of the Bulldogs is to attack mistakes, and they did so consistently on Saturday.

It is the same type of mentality that led Martinsburg to playoff wins in which they scored 84, 70 and 57 points prior to Saturday’s 28-point victory.

When opportunities presented themselves in sudden-change situations, the Bulldogs struck quick.

“We always talk about punching it in after a turnover or any close field position,” said Banks, who earned game MVP honors. “We want to punch it in right there on that play.”

Considering what they went through to get back in the game, the second-quarter sequence was especially disheartening for the Knights, who had tied the game at 14 following a 1-yard plunge by J.J. Roberts on fourth-and-goal with 4:45 left in the first half.

Martinsburg coach Dave Walker said he wasn’t sure when the last time his team had been locked up that late in a ballgame — “probably last year, we had a couple close ones early in the year” — but they were prepared for such a situation.

“We talk about adversity all the time and we try to make them uncomfortable in practice so at least if they are in that situation on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon, they can answer that call,” Walker said.

While the Knights weren’t happy with the outcome, Roberts — who scored all three Cabell Midland touchdowns — said he was proud of the team’s fight through its mistakes.

Despite the loss, Cabell Midland outgained Martinsburg, 361-279, and had two 100-yard rushers with Jakob Caudill (31 carries, 164 yards) and Roberts (16 carries, 106 yards, 3 TDs).

“They scored like five touchdowns in the last two minutes of the first half,” Roberts said. “We hurt ourselves, but that second half, I think it shows how tough we are and that we’re not going down without a fight.”

Special teams was the root of many Cabell Midland problems on Saturday afternoon. In addition to the problems during Martinsburg’s 35-point surge, the game started with a pair of special teams blunders that produced a 14-0 lead for the Bulldogs in the game’s first 30 seconds.

Cabell Midland was not able to contain Bowie on the opening kickoff as he returned it 78 yards to set up a 9-yard run by Naieem Kearney. Then, the Knights didn’t cover the ensuing kickoff, resulting in Bowie’s first score that produced a 14-0 lead before the Knights ran an offensive play.

It set the tone for a long afternoon on special teams for the Knights.

While the Knights were able to overcome the initial surge, the second was too much to handle.

That ability to perform in sudden-change situations means there will be no change at the top in West Virginia high school football. Martinsburg is still the class of Class AAA, and to unseat the Bulldogs, a team will have to play mistake-free football in all three phases.