POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — The third time was indeed a charm.
The Point Pleasant football program secured its third state semifinal appearance in school history Friday night after dismantling seventh-seeded Huntington by a 49-0 margin in a Class AAA quarterfinal playoff game at Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field in Mason County.
The second-seeded Big Blacks (12-0) were simply dominant from the start, as the hosts forced five first half turnovers that led to 21 points en route to an impressive 42-0 halftime advantage. PPHS, which churned out 274 of its 421 yards of total offense in the first half, also finished the evening plus-6 in turnover differential.
Point Pleasant not only handed the Highlanders (9-3) their worst postseason loss since a 46-7 setback to eventual-state champion Martinsburg in the second round of the 2011 playoffs, but the hosts also set another school record for the largest margin of victory in any playoff game.
The history didn’t stop there, however, as senior Cody Mitchell — a verbal commit to Marshall University — became the first Big Black to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season after finishing the night with 267 yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries.
It’s also the first time in the program’s Class AAA history — and second overall — that the Big Blacks are 12-0 on their way to the state semifinals. The 1979 AAA squad won only one game before losing in the state semis during an 8-team format, then Point eventually went 13-0 in Class AA before falling in the 2011 state final.
In all, it was a great night for the Big Blacks — who improved to 7-2 all-time in playoff contests at OVB Field. Ninth-year PPHS coach Dave Darst was practically all smiles following this kind of showing.
“What else can I say except our defense did an outstanding job this evening. To post a shutout against a football team like Huntington High is just a fantastic night for us,” Darst said. “Here we are in the quarterfinals of triple-A and we’re still scoring those kind of points. I mean wow, what a year we are having. We’re never going to have another year like this offensively, and it’s just unbelievable to watch every week.
“We’re in the triple-A semifinals for the first time since 1979, and we only had to win one game back then to get there. We’re just really having a blast with this right now.”
Point Pleasant advances to the Class AAA semifinal next weekend, which will be held at Point Pleasant either Friday night or Saturday. The Big Blacks will face Wheeling Park, which defeated South Charleston 41-0 on Friday night. The day and time will be determined Sunday.
After all of the outside talk about Point’s weak schedule and how the Big Blacks hadn’t played anyone, Darst was asked afterwards if he took any pride in the final outcome against Huntington — a state semifinalist in each of the last two years.
“It’s satisfying. I’m not going to tell you that it isn’t,” Darst humbly noted afterwards. “We’ve known that we have a good football team, and we are just proud of the kids and the effort that they put in. We did a lot of things well tonight.”
The Big Blacks forced a three-and-out on Huntington’s opening possession, then went 67 yards in five plays for an early 7-0 lead. Mitchell capped a 2:03 drive with a 48-yard run out of the Wildcat formation at the 8:57 mark of the opening canto.
Sophomore Tucker Mayes recovered a fumble at the Point 11 on Huntington’s ensuing possession, but the Big Blacks were unable to do anything with the first of their five takeaways before the break.
HHS had a bad snap on a punt attempt during its next drive, which ended up giving the hosts possession at the Highlander 31. Grant Safford capped a three-play, 31-yard drive with a two-yard TD run at the 2:42 mark to make it a 14-0 contest.
Safford then recovered a fumble on Huntington’s next possession, which in turn led to a 38-yard TD pass from Mitchell to Jason Wamsley with 59 seconds left for a 21-0 advantage.
Huntington’s ensuing drive resulted in a fumble that was picked up by PPHS senior Dakota Swann, who rumbled 40 yards to paydirt for a 28-0 edge with 25 seconds remaining.
Huntington committed its fifth turnover of the first quarter after Mitchell intercepted a pass with 16 seconds left before going down at the HHS 29-yard line.
PPHS needed only three plays and 41 seconds to pad its lead as Mitchell scored on a 12-yard scamper with 11:35 left until halftime, making it a 35-0 contest. Mitchell also capped a seven-play, 49-yard drive with 1:47 left in the half following a two-yard run that gave Point a 42-0 cushion headed into the break.
The hosts claimed a 10-3 edge in first downs and owned a 274-78 overall advantage in total offense during the first half, which included a sizable 218-51 lead in rushing yards.
Mitchell wrapped up the scoring in thrilling fashion after breaking loose on a 50-yard run, which gave PPHS a 49-0 advantage at the 7:44 mark of the third canto.
Cody McDaniel and Garrett Litchfield also had an interception apiece for the Point defense, while kicker Jason Schultz was a perfect 7-for-7 on PAT kicks.
Point Pleasant outgained the guests by a substantial 421-157 overall margin, which included a 342-78 advantage in rushing yards. Both teams had 78 yards through the air, but the hosts finished the night with a 17-6 edge in first downs. The Big Blacks were penalized seven times for 70 yards, while HHS was flagged four times for 36 yards.
Safford followed Mitchell with 80 rushing yards on 21 carries, while Nathan Bowman added two runs for 16 yards. Mitchell was 2-of-2 passing for 40 yards and a touchdown, while Cason Payne went 4-of-6 passing for 39 yards.
Wamsley led the hosts with three catches for 47 yards, followed by Litchfield with two catches for 18 yards. Mitchell also hauled in one pass for 14 yards.
Jaylen Adaway led the HHS rushing attack with 44 yards on six carries, followed by Terrance Tate with 29 yards on 11 totes and Seth Finnegan with 19 yards on five tries. Adaway was also 4-of-16 passing for 79 yards and three interceptions. All four completed passes by Adaway went to Dionne Jackson.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.