POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — The lessons learned over time.
Flash back to the end of the 2011 gridiron campaign, a season that saw Point Pleasant post a program-best 13 wins while earning the school’s first-ever state final appearance as the top seed in the Class AA playoffs.
A few weeks after its 34-7 loss to Wayne at Wheeling Island Stadium, PPHS learned that it was headed to the Class AAA ranks when the new four-year classifications were released — and Point was also the smallest of the big schools by enrollment numbers.
It also meant that a group of promising young eighth graders had to realize that the stakes were going to be a little higher during their tenure with the Big Blacks. And, much like the previous three classes before them, these remaining 13 seniors have not disappointed against the big boys.
The second-ranked Big Blacks (10-0) will make their fourth consecutive Class AAA postseason appearance Friday night when they host 15th ranked Musselman (6-4) in an opening round matchup at Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field in Mason County.
Point Pleasant has amassed a 39-5 overall mark during the four-year run of this senior class, which is currently tied with the 2013 squad (39-9) for second place all-time for most wins in a four-year span. The 2014 team owns the program’s all-time mark with a 42-6 record over four seasons.
None of those storied teams, however, had to run the Class AAA gauntlet for four consecutive seasons — and this senior class has more than left its own mark during an otherwise golden age for PPHS football.
This year alone, the Big Blacks set a state record by scoring a whopping 613 points in the regular season. Point also set a new school rushing record with 3,953 yards and finished the season with an astounding 5,255 all-purpose yards.
The Red, Black and White also own the state’s longest regular season winning streak, which heads into next fall at 33 consecutive decisions.
In looking back at how far this program has come in four short years, one cannot help but be impressed with the successful transition from Class AA to Class AAA. And in discussing both the past and the present with Point’s six senior captains, it has proven to be one collectively remarkable journey.
“The 2011 team pretty much set the tone for a lot of what has happened here over the last few years. We knew coming in as freshman that we were going to have to step up our game to compete against Class AAA competition,” lineman James Patterson said. “Rather it was being on the scout team as a freshman or working every day to stay in those starting lines the last three years, it has always been about working harder to make the team better.
“We’ve had some good times during our four years at Point Pleasant because of all of that hard work, but we are also still hungry. We still have a lot to prove at this level.”
The Big Blacks have playoff wins in each of the last two seasons, but they enter the 2015 postseason with a 2-3 mark in the Class AAA tournament since moving up in the fall of 2012.
This senior class is 15-2 all-time in contests at OVB Field, with the last setback coming in the Class AAA quarterfinals against Wheeling Park (28-7) back in 2013.
Friday will mark the third straight postseason in which Point Pleasant hosts an opening round playoff game, and it will also be only the second time in program history that the Big Blacks are assured of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs on their quest in getting to Wheeling.
Having that 12th-man advantage will definitely serve as a big plus for Point Pleasant, or at least linebacker John Sommer believes.
“I think being at home makes a huge difference for us. We don’t lose games at home very often,” Sommer said. “We really love performing in front of our fans, but it is extra-special when we are at home. You just look up in the stands and feed off of that energy. There’s just something better about the game because it’s at home.”
As these seniors prepare for what will be the sixth playoff game of their respective careers, linebacker Cody McDaniel admits that those previous experiences will make a big difference come Friday night. He’s also quick to note that the feeling never gets old, no matter how many times it’s been done before.
“It’s always a great feeling to be back in the playoffs, mainly because of all of the hard work we’ve put in over the last year,” McDaniel said. “Once again the hard work has paid off in getting here, but now we find out if the hard work makes a difference in the playoffs. This is what all of us have really been working for.”
Hard work is something that all six captains mentioned while looking back, particularly the efforts made in the offseason. As multi-year starter Alec Stanley noted, it’s that kind of work ethic that has allowed Point Pleasant to sustain heavy losses to graduation and still maintain its successful ways.
“I’ve started on that offensive line for three years and I don’t think I’ve had the same person next to me during any of those three seasons. I think it speaks volumes that we can lose players to graduation, have someone step in the next year and not miss a beat,” Stanley said. “The other thing in working with new people every year is that you have to build a chemistry together. It helps when you know that you can trust the person next to you, mainly because we’ve all put in the same work to get on the field.
“I’ll also tell you as a three-year starter, I do not have any job security. I have to work my tail off every single play to stay on the field because we have some hard-working guys over on the sideline waiting for a chance. We are competitive within, and it translates to the field.”
The Big Blacks have scored at least 27 points in their last 21 outings and own a 20-1 mark during that span. Conversely, Point’s defense has surrendered more than 20 points in only two of those 21 contests.
In a lot of ways, it’s been about as perfect a high school football career as any player could possibly wish for. But, as Cody Mitchell — a verbal commit to Marshall — noted, it’s just been a cycle of great players over the last four years. The common cause for each of those people has ultimately made the difference.
“When you are a little kid, you always dream of going perfect during your high school football career. We’ve been very fortunate to do that in three of our four years. It’s been an amazing experience, for sure,” Mitchell said. “We’ve always had great linemen and great skilled players during my time here. I think back to how much Chase Walton opened things up for us my sophomore year or how much fun it was playing with Aden (Yates), Jon Peterson, (Gage) Buskirk and those seniors. It was already a good career before this season.
“This year, we’ve just continued to have people step up in big ways. I honestly think this is the best offensive line we’ve had during my time here and several of the underclassmen are making major contributions, much like we did with the groups before us. We believe in one another, and that is why we have always had success here at Point Pleasant. It’s about the team.”
As good as things have gone on the gridiron, there is a deeper issue at hand with these kids. Sports are supposed to teach life lessons and prepare these young men and women for the future.
Lineman Dakota Swann is quick to point out that the players at PPHS have learned a lot more than football during their time in the Red, Black and White.
“Outside of the football, I think there are several things that I’ve learned in being part of this program. I’ve learned discipline, respect, the importance of preparation and how to successfully work with others toward a common goal,” Swann said. “There are a lot of important little things that go into being successful and I know a lot of us have learned that message over the years. It’s been a great experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Past and present aside, the Big Blacks’ future starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday night with Musselman.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.