The countdown is on.
In less than four weeks, the 2014 high school football season kicks off in both Ohio and West Virginia as nine area teams take aim at winning league championships and qualifying for the postseason.
Three Ohio Valley Publishing schools — Point Pleasant (11-1), Wahama (10-2) and Southern (8-3) — qualified for the playoffs a year ago, with SHS being the only squad to not win its opening round matchup.
Two more schools — Meigs (7-3) and South Gallia (6-4) — came up just short of a postseason qualification, while Gallia Academy (5-5), Eastern (2-8), River Valley (1-9) and Hannan (2-8) all posted .500 or below records to finish the 2013 campaign.
The good thing about a new season is the chance to start anew, as the successes and failures from a year ago no longer matter. Everybody starts over again.
In examining the 89 local regular season football contests this fall — yes, 89, because PPHS only has nine games on its schedule — there are several things of interest that stand out in each of the three counties.
There are also a total of 24 new games on the collective 2014 schedule in comparison to a year ago.
The most notable game of interest in the area is the return of the Gallia Academy-Point Pleasant game, which is commonly referred to as ‘The Battle of the Bridge.’ The series returns after a five-year hiatus and will be played Week 5 at Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field in Point Pleasant.
GAHS leads the all-time series by a 40-34-5 overall margin and brings a 10-game winning streak into the renewal of the cross-river rivalry. The Blue Devils won every game against PPHS between 1999 and 2008 by a combined score of 285-85.
The Blue Devils and Big Blacks, however, are not the only big game in the area this year. In fact, there are several outings that will need some special attention.
Here’s a brief look at each local team and some of the changes from last year to this year.
The Big Blacks — who enter 2014 with the area’s longest regular season winning streak at 14 games — will have three new opponents this year in GAHS, Wayne and Parkersburg South. Point’s opponents combined for a 41-49 overall mark in the regular season last fall.
Wahama begins the first full season under head coach Dave Barr, who replaced Ed Cromley in midseason a year ago. The only change on the White Falcons’ schedule this year is in the opening week, as WHS will travel to Ravenswood for a Week 1 matchup.
Wahama enters 2014 with an eight-game regular season winning streak and takes on a schedule that collectively finished 46-54 a year ago.
Half of Hannan’s 2014 schedule is new from a year ago, with those opponents accumulating an 18-73 overall mark last season. The new additions include South Floyd (Ky), Bellaire St. John, Tygarts Valley, Green and Pike Eastern — which will officially begin varsity football within the OHSAA next fall.
Gallia Academy has two new opponents on its schedule in PPHS and Chesapeake, and the 2014 schedule combined to go 58-42 last season. GAHS has lost four straight regular season contests entering 2014 and will also be on the program’s third head coach in three years.
South Gallia made only one change to its 2013 schedule, picking up former rival Symmes Valley in place of Van. The Rebels — who enter this season with a two-game regular season winning streak — will take on a schedule that combined to go 52-48 last year.
No local school made more changes to its schedule than River Valley. Then again, no other team in the tri-county area is joining a new league either.
The Raiders have six new opponents as they officially join the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division in 2014, with half of those new contests coming against league foes Athens, Vinton County and Wellston.
RVHS has also added Southeastern, Eastern and Northwest to its non-league schedule — which makes the overall strength of schedule a combined 41-59 from a year ago. River Valley enters 2014 having lost five straight regular season tilts.
The Tornadoes enjoyed a magical run in 2013 after earning the school’s first playoff berth, and building on that success will be a key rallying point for SHS this fall.
Southern enters 2014 with a one-game regular season winning streak and two new opponents in Portsmouth Notre Dame and Frontier. Southern’s current schedule went a combined 53-47 a year ago.
Meigs made major strides in the second year under coach Mike Bartrum, as the Marauders followed up a 3-7 campaign with a 7-3 flip. MHS also suffered all its losses to playoff teams and went a perfect 5-0 at Farmers Bank Stadium in 2013.
Meigs has added Logan and Ironton to its 2014 schedule, which finished last fall with a combined 47-53 overall mark. MHS also enters this year with a one-game regular season winning streak.
Eastern will be on its third head coach in three years as it enters the 2014 campaign. The Eagles have two new opponents in River and River Valley, giving their 2014 schedule a combined 52-48 record a year ago.
The 2014 football season will officially kickoff at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 29, at a stadium near you.