Midland No. 1, by a whisker
HUNTINGTON -- Cabell Midland will keep the Shield, and likely the No. 1 spot in the state Class AAA ratings after knocking off Huntington High, also No. 1, by a razor thin margin, 14-13, at Bob Sang Stadium on Friday.
A blocked extra point was the difference, as the Knights won the annual "Battle for the Shield" traveling trophy on the field of their cross-county rival.
With both teams atop the ratings at 4-0 coming in, the hype for the game was enormous and fans turned out in droves more than an hour-and-a-half before kickoff.
Even Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was on hand to conduct the coin toss.
"The atmosphere was crazy," said Cabell Midland running back David Gaydosz, a transfer from Winfield. "I've never played in a game like this, and I'm blessed and fortunate to have played here."
The Highlanders' defense, which had only given up 11 points in its first four games, kept Midland's vaunted ground game bottled for most of the contest.
But it was Gaydosz who finally broke out at the end of the third quarter, finding a hole after a penalty put Midland at first-and-25. Gaydosz cut, turned up field and cruised 36 yards into the end zone for the score that put the Knights up, 14-7.
"We just told our line to keep pushing," Gaydosz said. "Our line works harder than any other line that I've ever been around, and they just kept telling me 'It's going to be there, it's going to be there. You're going to break one,' and I did."
After 48 minutes of being pursued by the Highlanders' defense, Gaydosz gave the rivals a nod of respect.
"Solid defense, absolutely," he said. "They lived up to the hype."
The Highlanders matched Midland's big play on the next possession, when Huntington High quarterback Mark Shaver was facing a third-and-12 and connected with Lamar Thompson on a 74-yard bomb for a touchdown.
That's when things started to get a bit strange.
Midland jumped offside on the ensuing extra point, which Highlanders' kicker Zach Stephens put through the uprights. But instead of allowing the point to stand, the referees had blown the play dead, and decided to enforce the penalty on the next kickoff, meaning Stephens would have to put the extra point through again.
The attempt was blocked.
Later, the Highlanders moved into field goal range and a Midland player jumped offside, but this time no flag came out, and the attempt was blocked again.
"We felt they were definitely offside," HHS head coach Billy Seals said. "But no one call or play made the game. I'm not going to blame anything on the officials. They did a good job and they can't see everything."
The Highlanders mounted one last drive and got into Knights territory, but the Cabell Midland defense stiffened up, forcing HHS to attempt a fourth-and-10 play to keep the game alive.
Shaver dropped back and was sacked on the play.
Midland took over, and took two knees to run out the clock.
"Huntington played a great game, and it lived up to everything we thought," said Knights head coach Luke Salmons.
"I thought both defenses played well. Huntington is going to go on and win a lot of football games and it was a great atmosphere for high school football and it's just a great feeling to be a part of it."
After a hard-fought win over a rival at the top of the ratings, Salmons said the Knights need to keep their focus and keep plowing ahead.
"This is an emotional game, win or lose," Salmons said. "You win games like this and it gives you a bit of an edge I think, but at the same time, it's emotional."
The Highlanders are heading into a bye week, and Seals said he believes that will give Huntington High time to shake off the loss.
"Whether you win or lose, it's a week to sort of calm down and get our heads together," Seals said. "Last year, after losing to Midland, we went 4-1. So I expect our team to come back and persevere, and we're going to be fine.
"Our goal at the beginning of the season was not to beat Cabell Midland. Our goal was to play in December in the state championship in Wheeling, and we're going to continue to take it week-by-week."
The first half was a bit of a grinder, with both teams turning the ball over twice and neither able to put together many sustained drives.
Highlanders running back Brandon Morrison fumbled the ball over to the Knights at the goal line, and the score was 0-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The Highlanders showed a spread formation early in the game, but had trouble getting its speedsters to the perimeter. The team had more success going straight up the middle out of the flexbone formation.
After Gaydosz fumbled the ball on a fourth-and-three attempt, the Highlanders looked to take advantage.
Even then it was a struggle, as a trick play backfired and the Highlanders were looking at an uphill climb.
Another mistake by the Knights, a pass interference penalty, bailed HHS out, giving them an automatic first down.
That's when the Highlanders started going up the gut, and the drive was capped with Shaver going untouched for a 17-yard touchdown run at the 9:16 mark in the second quarter.
Midland answered on the following drive, as Gaydosz and fullback Lowell Farley started to find running lanes.
Farley leaped over the Highlanders' defense for Midland's first score at 6:25 in the second quarter, tying the contest .
In the late stages of the game, Midland began to stop the middle run, and it wasn't there when the Highlanders needed it the most on their final drive.
Both coaches said they were proud of their teams and that the event drawing so much attention from around the state was good for both communities.
At 5:30 p.m., traffic was backed up for miles on W.Va. 10, and some fans were parking alongside the road or in the business plaza below the high school and hiking their way up the hill to the stadium.
The visitor stands were already full an hour prior to the start of the game, and some Midland fans were braving the wrath of the Highlanders' faithful by sitting on the home side. Not that there was much room there, either. Several fans on both sides settled for standing along the fence that surrounds the field.
CABELL MIDLAND 0 7 7 0 -- 14
HUNTINGTON HIGH 0 7 0 6 -- 13
H -- Shaver 14 run (Stephens kick)
CM -- Farley 1 run (Molina kick)
CM -- Gaydosz 36 run (Molina Kick)
H -- Thompson 74 pass from Shaver (kick blocked)