Three Putnam County football teams saw their seasons — and playoff hopes — end Saturday evening in a most agonizing manner.
When the Department of Education released its weekly color-coded COVID-19 risk factor map, Putnam remained in orange status, meaning Hurricane, Poca and Buffalo could not compete in their respective first-round playoff games set for Sunday, and their scheduled opponents thus advance unopposed to the quarterfinals.
Hurricane (Class AAA) was set to play at Spring Valley, Poca (AA) was scheduled to visit Robert C. Byrd and Buffalo (A) was prepared to travel to Midland Trail. Putnam was one of 16 orange counties on Saturday’s latest WVDE map, a fact that wiped out 10 of the 11 playoff games that had been moved to Sunday as counties were given a chance to improve their COVID counts.
The lone Sunday game that will go on is Clay County at Bluefield with a 2 p.m. kickoff in Class AA. Earlier this week, two other Sunday AA first-round games were called off because of high COVID totals in Mineral County — Independence at Frankfort and North Marion at Keyser. In fact, only 12 of the 24 scheduled first-round games will be played across all three classes.
Some of the more prominent erasures coming out of Saturday’s map were: three-time defending Class A champion Wheeling Central, current Class A No. 1 seed Tug Valley and reigning Kennedy Award winner Ethan Payne of AA No. 9 Poca.
“You never know what would have happened,’’ said Poca coach Seth Ramsey of his team’s game against RCB. “Obviously, I liked our chances in it. I liked the team we had, and we had three really good weeks of practice — the best we’ve had in a long time.
“The hardest thing since the map came out is calling the kids and talking to them and letting them know, and you can just hear the disappointment and frustration and emotion in their voices, everything. I guess the curse of youth is that you don’t understand that things aren’t infinite and there is an end at some point. It’s kind of setting in for some of them, and I hate that it happens this way. I’m glad we got a chance to play and got some games in and got a chance to get to the tournament.’’
Poca’s senior class was there for the end of a 39-game losing streak — second-longest in state history — in 2017, and helped rebuild the once-proud program that captured three consecutive state titles in 2001-03.
“It stinks for the kids, especially for the seniors,’’ Ramsey said, “because they’ve meant so much to the program and turned this thing around. I can’t be more proud of them. I’m really honored and blessed and happy I got to watch them grow and watch this thing build up and turn this thing around. I’m glad I had a small role in it. They’re phenomenal people — good ballplayers, but even more impressive human beings.’’
Ramsey said he’d like to schedule one more regular-season game for his team — allowable by the SSAC before the end of November — if Putnam County’s COVID status improves.
Hurricane coach Jeremy Taylor was able to tell his players in person about their Class AAA playoff game at No. 6 seed Spring Valley being called off, as they had a team meal on Saturday. He said the weather forecast for Sunday didn’t look promising, especially against the Timberwolves’ feared ground game, but was more than willing to give it a shot.
“We had tough sledding anyways,’’ Taylor said. “It was supposed to start out about 60 and drop to 40 with rain and wind, but I’d have rather found out and see what happened.
“Our kids have learned this and will learn this in life: A lot of times, people above you make decisions that profoundly affect you and there’s nothing you can say or do about it, and this is one of those times. But a lot of parents would like to have their kids in school next week but won’t because someone more powerful said no. I hate it for our seniors, but I hate it for all the kids and I hate it for our volleyball team that didn’t get to play in the state tournament. It’s been a terrible year, but I’m glad we at least got to play. Look at baseball [last spring] — boom, done.’’
Buffalo was set to play Sunday at No. 5 Midland Trail, a team the Bison beat 7-0 in double overtime three weeks ago.
Coach Brian Batman hadn’t been able to talk to his players in the hours right after the map came out, but was prepared for the worst all week because Putnam’s COVID numbers weren’t improving much. Also, if Fayette — Trail’s county — fell into orange on Saturday’s map, it would advance even if Putnam improved to gold or better status, because it had waited a week for Buffalo’s county to improve.
“I was kind of expecting it, really, all week,’’ Batman said. “We not only had to worry about Putnam, we had to worry about Fayette. The thought there was having to get two of them [to improve], the odds were smaller at that point.’’
Batman said his team had one final practice at 10 a.m. Saturday and discussed the situation.
“We looked at the numbers,’’ he said, “and talked to the kids about it. They were aware of our color situation every day. We told them it’s unfortunate and that they weren’t the only kids that’s disappointed. There’s tons of kids disappointed through this whole thing. It just stinks.
“I really feel like we had a chance at this thing. Now [Sunday] we could have gone out and lost — and I would still say that. But hey, we’ll never know that now.’’
Other teams that saw their seasons end with the map’s release were — AAA: John Marshall (No. 1 Cabell Midland advances), Ripley (No. 2 South Charleston advances), Wheeling Park (No. 10 Princeton advances), Parkersburg (No. 9 Spring Mills advances); A: Tug Valley (No. 16 Tygarts Valley advances); Wheeling Central (No. 4 St. Marys advances) and Williamstown (No. 11 Tolsia advances).
No forfeit victories or losses will be come out of the 12 playoff games that weren’t held — they’ll be ruled no-contests. Five first-round games were called off in AAA, three in AA and four in A.