MADISON — It was a banner year for Mingo County football in 2014.
The Mingo Central Miners, playing their fourth sesaon of high school football, advanced to the Class AA playoffs, beating Sissonville 35-13, before falling to Wayne 35-17 in the state quarterfinals to finish with a 10-2 record.
The big story, however, was the Tug Valley Panthers, which were a surprise across the state, being just one win away from reaching the carpet at Wheeling Island Stadium in the Super Six.
Tug Valley went 11-2, beating Man (16-12) and Buffalo (36-19) in the Class A state playoffs before falling to Williamstown (36-19) in the Final Four round.
Tug Valley and Mingo Central, of course, are big rivals in all sports even though the Panthers and Miners have only met once on the gridiron back in 2011, the first year of the consolidation into the new MCHS school.
The Panthers played well throughout the 2014 season, but on Halloween Night in Man, Tug Valley nailed down homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a big 26-20 road victory at Man over the homestanding Hillbillies.
Two weeks later, Tug Valley beat Man again in the first round of the playoffs.
Since Tug Valley’s football field at Naugatuck was not playoff-sanctioned by the WVSSAC, TVHS asked Mingo Central for the use of Buck Harless Stadium for its post-season games.
That’s where Tug Valley beat Man again and Mingo Central would prove to be Tug Valley’s home throughout the playoffs.
Tug Valley’s players will be coming again to Mingo Central on Saturday night for the second-ever East-West All-Star Classic.
Game time is set for 8 p.m.
Representing Tug Valley in Saturday’s game will be Austin Baisden and Daulton Spaulding. Baisden is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound wide receiver and Spaulding is a 5-7, 250-pound lineman.
Baisden posted impressive numbers for receiving last season, compiling 21 receptions for 402 yards. He averaged 19.1 yards per catch. On defense, he had 36 tackles and snatched five interceptions.
Baisden said he’s thrilled to be able to play one more football game and happy to return to Mingo Central on Saturday night.
“That meant at lot to me,” said Baisden, when asked about last season before getting ready for West All-Star practices at Scott High School’s football field in Madison. “It also meant a lot to everyone in the community. We came from having a 2-8 season losing season and we improved to an 11-2 season and making it to the Final Four. It was nice to get those playoff wins.”
Baisden said the West is loaded with talent from around the southern Coalfields and the Charleston area.
“There’s a lot of talent on this team and there’s a lot of quickness and strength,” he said. “Some of these boys I grew up with and I played against some of the guys from Mingo Central and Chapmanville all my life. Now, that we’re on the same team it’s pretty weird to think about but it’s pretty good.”
Baisden said this will be his last football game.
“I’m going to go to Southern, so this will be my last game,” he said. “I have mixed emotions about it but I’m just glad to be here and have a chance to come play one more time.”
Spaulding kept the middle field safe last year for the Panthers, compiling 19 tackles, forcing one fumble and recovering three fumbles throughout the 2014 season.
Spaulding said the West has a complete team.
“It looks like we are going to have a lot of power and strength,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good players on this team. I think that we’ll be pretty good. I think that we can pull it out with a W, honestly. I believe that we can do it.”
This will also be Spaulding’s last game. He said his goal is to eventually get a job as an electrician.
“This will be my last game,” Spaulding said. “I’ve been playing ball for about 10 years.”
Spaulding said he also has great memories of last year’s season by the Panthers even though Tug Valley fell short of reaching the Class A state championship game in Wheeling.
“Going into the playoffs we knew that Tug Valley had never won a playoff game,” Spaulding said. “Winning a state playoff game and then winning another one was exciting. The atmosphere was great. It was just amazing.”
Tug Valley’s football field is currently being redone, with a raised playing surface, new grass and new scoreboards. On-site locker rooms and other improvements are also in the works.
“It looks nice up there right now,” Spaulding said. “It’s going to be a good year for them.”
Mingo Central representatives in Saturday night’s game will be Zach Holt, Ethan Jones, Chance Lester, Chase Justice and Clay Ellis.
Justice led the Miners last season with 1,120 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns. He was Mingo Central’s leading rusher with 1,056 rushing yards on 149 attempts.
Justice said he’s looking forward to the game.
“It feels pretty good and I think that we’ve got a pretty good chance of winning,” he said. “It’s kind of like when we first started this school at Mingo Central. All of my teammates we were against each other before that and then we got together and made a good team. This is the same thing this time.”
Holt finished the 2014 season for the Miners with 35 tackles and two interceptions.
He also said the West is stacked.
“We’re definitely good,” Holt said. “We’ve got the talent, we just need to come out and play and we won’t have any problem.”
He said he’s happy to play another football game.
“Oh, absolutely,” Holt said. “But I hate that it’s going to be my last game. I’m glad that I’m going to end it right here at Mingo. I grew so close to that team and it was a strong bond.”
Holt said he plans on going to Southern this fall and then possibly transfering to the University of Pikeville where the wants to major in physical education.
(Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached at 304-752-6950 ext. 1730, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner).