KEYSER - A season ago, the Mountain Ridge Miners improved greatly, thanks largely to the spectacular play of transfer Iosefa Pua'auli. After six straight losing seasons, the Miners turned things around in 2018, and would ultimately finish the season with a winning record of 6-4.


By Chapin Jewell
Tribune Correspondent
KEYSER - A season ago, the Mountain Ridge Miners improved greatly, thanks largely to the spectacular play of transfer Iosefa Pua’auli. After six straight losing seasons, the Miners turned things around in 2018, and would ultimately finish the season with a winning record of 6-4.
A winning record was most certainly a goal for the Miners, but so too was making the Maryland football playoffs, something they hadn’t done since 2011. In fact, the Miners entered last year’s regular season ending matchup needing a win against the Golden Tornado to become playoff eligible.  
Making the story more interesting is the fact that Mountain Ridge needed a ton of help from other teams to even be in that position.  Several unlikely things needed to happen, in addition to a win over Keyser, and somehow they all did. All this made Keyser’s ultimate 35-34 overtime victory over the Miners in Frostburg all the more bothersome for the team that bears the colors of the Maryland flag.
It was quite a thriller, and the win certainly put Keyser in a much better playoff position, hosting a home playoff game against Wayne to be exact, in lieu of hitting the road for the first round.  For the Miners, it triggered heartbreak over what might have been.  After all, Mountain Ridge truly had turned the corner and making the playoffs would have been just reward for all their efforts.
Obviously, Mountain Ridge would like nothing more than a little payback against Keyser as the two square off tonight, this time in Keyser. To add to the excitement, as Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, “It’s déjà vu, all over again.” It turns out Mountain Ridge may need a victory over Keyser to qualify for the playoffs again this year, depending on what happens with a few other games.
Currently, the Miners sit in the eight position in the Maryland 1A West Playoff Ratings, with Southern just .13 points close behind.  In this year’s expanded Maryland playoffs, the top eight get in. A win against Keyser, despite being a tall task, would go a long way at helping Ridge realize their playoff goal, and get a little revenge from the tough loss to Keyser a year ago.
It’s a series that Keyser dominates, with the Golden Tornado leading with an 8-2 record against the Miners all-time. Keyser won the first matchup in the Miners’ inaugural season in 2009, but Mountain Ridge responded by winning the next two games in 2010 and 2011. Since that time, however, Keyser has run off seven straight victories in the rivalry. Six of those seven straight victories, excluding last year’s game, have been in blowout fashion.
Keyser coach Sean Biser has coached in every game of the series with an 8-2 record against the neighboring Miners. Mountain Ridge coach Ryan Patterson has never defeated Keyser in his three attempts.
This year, Keyser enters the contest as the prohibitive favorite.  Despite last week’s 28-7 loss against traditional juggernaut Bridgeport, the Black and Gold has otherwise dominated the competition. Mountain Ridge, by contrast, has struggled with a record of 3-5 entering tonight’s game.
The Miners opened the season with crushing defeats to Maryland 1A West leading Fort Hill and Catoctin by a combined score of 99-7. Then came back-to-back wins over now two-win Allegany and now winless Hampshire by respective scores of 37-14 and 36-0.  
After a 35-20 loss at Frankfort, Mountain Ridge responded by bouncing back to defeat University 27-15. In the last two games, the Miners have suffered losses to Northern (33-14) and Williamsport (27-23).  
Despite their record, Keyser coach Sean Biser views Mountain Ridge as a quality opponent more than capable of challenging the Black and Gold. “They’re a good football team, we’ve already seen that. They’ve got some players, they’ve got a real nice quarterback and I’m sure they will have a couple kids back they’ve had injured. We’re going to have our work cut out for us.  We’ll see what kind of football team we have.”
In terms of his own team, Biser isn’t concerned that the Bridgeport loss will somehow affect Keyser’s efforts moving forward. “It doesn’t phase them. My gut feeling is that it doesn’t affect them at all. If anything, it might bring them closer, if that’s possible. One thing you didn’t see was any infighting out there, they just kept trying to play. Like I’ve said before, that’s kind of their calling card.”
Despite the Bridgeport loss, the Golden Tornado, with a record of 7-1, has built an impressive resume and has outscored their opponents 404-35 on the season. This includes wins over Robert C. Byrd, Berkeley Springs, Weir, Petersburg, Nicholas County, Hampshire and Allegany, with a loss only to Bridgeport, the now second ranked team in the WVSSAC playoff ratings.
With the loss, Keyser slipped from the third position to fifth in this week’s ratings, behind top seed Fairmont Senior, Bridgeport, Poca and Frankfort. With a win over Mountain Ridge, the equivalent of a West Virginia AAA squad, the Tornado could certainly improve their lot this week. Next week, Keyser and Frankfort will battle it out in a game with big implications as well.
This matchup between neighbors and rivals Keyser and Mountain Ridge comes with major implications for both teams. Mountain Ridge has to be feeling a bit salty after losing out on a playoff spot a season ago by losing by one point in overtime at home to Keyser.  Keyser, no doubt, is looking to rebound in a big way from the loss at Bridgeport on Friday and do everything within their power to improve their own playoff situation.
Sean Biser knows his team better than anyone and he believes his squad was able to put the Bridgeport loss behind them and immediately get back to work, fully subscribing to Keyser’s “this play” and “this game” philosophy. Keyser certainly has a golden opportunity tonight to stay on track, beat a neighbor and rival, and keep plugging forward towards bigger goals.