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Hawks recall opener well

by Mike Nutter

SPORTS WRITER

South Harrison's Drew Toth vividly remembers last year's season opener with Grafton.

He's had no other choice.

"Coach (Brad) Jett flashes up the score on the scoreboard every once in a while to remind us about that game," Toth said.

In case they needed reminding, the Bearcats went on to a 40-7 win. Tonight, the two meet again at 7:30 p.m. at South Harrison to highlight the opening night of area high school football.

"It's really no bigger than any other game," Toth said. "The only thing that makes it big is that it's the first game of the season.

"You always want to get that first win to get the season rolling. Last year, (Grafton) blew us out and it got us down for a while."

Toth, who replaces first-team all-stater Ben Hall at tailback, rushed for 930 yards in 1999. However, just as big of a loss came to the offensive line with the graduation of three starters.

Mike Keener will lead the Bearcats (11-2 in 1999) who lost 16 starters from last season. Keener rushed for 372 yards and five touchdowns. However, he will have Travis Garrett blocking in front of him. Garrett (6-6, 290) already has verbally committed to West Virginia University.

In the Big 10's only other intraconference game, Liberty (8-4) visits Philip Barbour (2-8).

Both teams have new coaches this season. Former Robert C. Byrd defensive coordinator Mark Clayton will take over at Liberty, while former Buckhannon-Upshur coach Mike Michael is the new coach at Philip Barbour.

Just four starters return for Liberty, led by All-Harrison County receiver Chad Southern, who caught 28 passes for 423 yards. Lincoln transfer Jason Salentro (696 yards in 1999) will take over at quarterback for Liberty, while junior tailback Scott Mayle will lead the Colts.

Bridgeport returns 14 starters from last season's 8-4 team and opens its season at home against Preston.

Last season, Chris Cunanan had a breakout game with 157 yards in the opener at Preston. This year, Brian Berry replaces the All-Big-10 performer, while Jeremy Hinzman returns at fullback.

Last season's Big 10 champion, Robert C. Byrd (10-2) travels to Nicholas County.

Senior tailback Scott Ross is the Big 10's leading returning rusher. Ross gained 1,032 yards and scored 10 touchdowns during the regular season. Eight starters return for the state's top-ranked AAA defense in 1999 led by linebackers Mookie Mayer, Joey Gonzalez and Sam D'Annunzio. Gonzalez, however, is out with a partial tear in his medial collateral ligament.

All Big 10 utility player Cody Wilt will try to help Lincoln rebound from last year's 0-10 season when the Cougars visit Tyler Consolidated.

The Big 10's newest member, Lewis County, finished 3-7 a season ago and is home against Fairmont Senior.

Junior Curtis Holden rushed for 869 yards and seven touchdowns. However, Gilmer County transfer Pat Morrison will quarterback the Minutemen.

Morrison was a first-team all-state selection last season at Gilmer County.

Notre Dame (5-5) will try to overcome the loss of all-state tailback Jeremy Wright when it opens its season at Hundred.

Mark Calzonetti will take over at tailback, while Robert C. Byrd transfer Kenny Beerbower will be at fullback. Mark Jones and Casey O'Brien return at quarterback, while North Marion transfer Nick Carbacio could also impact the Irish offense.

In other area games, Morgantown and Kennedy hopeful Mark Wigal visit Buckhannon-Upshur. Cross-town rival University, led by another Kennedy candidate, Adam Cantoni, are home against North Marion.

Elsewhere, Doddridge County visits Braxton County, East Fairmont is at Elkins, Gilmer County is home against Calhoun County, Keyser visits Tucker County, Wirt County visits Valley Wetzel and Pendleton County is at Tygarts Valley.

Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444.

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