MINERAL COUNTY - With both Keyser and Frankfort embroiled in a playoff race, and with a date with each other looming next Friday in Short Gap, it's crunch time for both the Golden Tornado and Falcons.

By Chapin Jewell
Tribune Correspondent
MINERAL COUNTY - With both Keyser and Frankfort embroiled in a playoff race, and with a date with each other looming next Friday in Short Gap, it’s crunch time for both the Golden Tornado and Falcons.  
Before they can strap it up against each other in the Mineral Bowl, a game that will have huge playoff implications, there were tough matchups slated for both teams this week.
As a result of COVID-related issues in the Frankfort District, however, Frankfort’s scheduled matchup against Oak Glen in Short Gap has been cancelled. Keyser, however, will still make the trip to John Marshall.
Keyser (6-2) will travel to the base of the Northern Panhandle to take on AAA John Marshall (5-3). The Monarchs, fresh off a 54-14 drubbing by Parkersburg, are embroiled in a playoff race of their own.
Frankfort (7-1) and Oak Glen (5-1) are embroiled in the same playoff race. Without their game happening, however, neither can help or hurt their cause against one another.
For Keyser and John Marshall, this will be the first ever meeting on the gridiron for the two schools. Frankfort and Oak Glen would have met for the fourth time, with Frankfort holding a two games to one lead in the series, having defeated the Golden Bears 21-20 in 1998, and 68-20 in 2014, and losing to Oak Glen 35-12 in 1999.
Without this game, that two to one advantage will stand.
Keyser currently sits as the seventh-rated team in the West Virginia class AA playoff ratings, while John Marshall is currently ranked 13th in class AAA. Frankfort holds the third spot in the West Virginia Class AA playoff ratings, while Oak Glen is currently rated fourth.
In John Marshall, Keyser faces an opponent that is battle tested, having played a full eight-game schedule thus far, unlike a lot of teams. The Monarchs have also faced the likes of AAA Parkersburg and Princeton, and AA power Oak Glen, all three losses.
“On offense, they like to run the ball. They’re an I-formation team that will run downhill. They’re a pro-style offense, do they use two backs, they’ll get into the shotgun a little bit. They’re predominantly run, but they’ll throw it a little bit. They’ve got a good running back who was over 100 yards last week against Parkersburg, so that tells you how good he is,” Keyser coach Derek Stephen explained.
“On defense, they’re going to run a 4-3, and they like to fly to the ball, so it will be a tough opponent for us. They are battle tested for sure. When you’re going against teams, especially like Parkersburg’s capabilities and size, you’re going to be battle tested. They’re coming off a loss, so I don’t know if that’s good or bad for us, because they’re going to be hungry to get back on that train,” Stephen stated.
Keyser will approach John Marshall from the perspective of having a playoff mentality, recognizing that certainly in a year as uncertain as this one, there simply is little margin for error.
“We’ve been preaching a playoff mentality, starting last week, not knowing how things are going to go with the COVID-condition playoffs. Normally, in AA, 7-3, you’re looking at the edge with nothing guaranteed,” Stephen stated. “We’re preaching that you have to win to get in, and we’re taking it one game at a time. I assume they are doing the same things, looking at this game with a playoff win or go home mentality.”
Despite the fact that every observer has noticed a much larger than normal contribution for the passing attack of the Golden Tornado, Stephen insists that there have been no wholesale changes implemented to the offense, but rather, Keyser is just taking what the defense gives them.
“It feels like to us that we’re being a little more loose. We’re practicing this stuff in practice, and it looks good. We’re not going to practice anything that we’re not going to use in a game. So, if we practice it and it works, and it has been the last few games, we’re going to stick with it. We’re taking what the defense is giving us. Everybody wants to stop our run game, so we’re going to try to air it out a little bit to loosen the defense up,” Stephen explained.
In Oak Glen, Frankfort would have faced a one-loss opponent that has drawn the attention of everyone as being one of the most talented AA teams in the state. They are senior laden, explosive on offense, and stingy on defense. The Golden Bears can tout wins over the likes of Point Pleasant and Keyser on their resume.
“Offensively, they come out in multiple sets and they have multiple weapons. Naturally, we would have had to be really focused on number two Hunter Patterson, one of the top running backs in the state. They do a lot of things well both running and passing,” Frankfort coach Kevin Whiteman said of the Golden Bears when in preparation for the game.
According to Whiteman, “Defensively, I am sure they were going to try and pack the box and try to take our run away.  They look decent up front and seem to move fairly well.  We would have had to continue to be physical and be attacking on every play.”
One thing that may have helped Frankfort were the wet, mushy field conditions projected for Friday after all the rain received, “We practice every day on the grass and on muddy fields. Our field drains well, but I can guarantee it’s going to be mushy with all the rain we are getting today,” Whiteman explained.
One disadvantage Frankfort would have had was the loss of two days of practice, resulting from the COVID-related issues at the school.
“The disruption of practice is huge, I can’t tell you how huge.  It’s driving me nuts, just totally eating at me. We spend Wednesday working mainly on defense and we have much stuff to go over to prepare them. Even if we would have practiced Thursday with the pouring down rain, we wouldn’t have had a productive practice, because in these types of conditions, it’s very hard to get anything done,” Whitman explained.
Oak Glen would have been a very formidable opponent, and indicative of Frankfort’s schedule this year, being the toughest at least in recent memory.
“This has definitely been the toughest schedule since I’ve been head coach. I know people probably get tired of me saying this but with the school with about 480 kids in it and playing some of these schools that have 1,400-1,500 kids in them, it makes a difference,” Whiteman stated. “We were fortunate to pull off the wins against Spring Mills and Jefferson.  I’m proud of the way the kids have battled. We had to really battle to get a few of those wins.  I just hope the next few weeks work out in our favor in terms of getting to play.