Football season is long.
It can be grueling.
Yet, it can also be rewarding.
Ripley’s best season since 2009 came to a finish on Friday night in the state’s Eastern Panhandle against Musselman High School.
The Applemen topped the Vikings in a Class AAA quarterfinal round playoff game by a final of 52-7.
Turnovers (four fumbles) doomed the Vikings. Not to mention Musselman is a very talented football team.
The loss ended a 10-game Viking winning streak. The 10 straight wins tied the mark for consecutive victories in a season. The Vikings matched the 1989 squad, which won all 10 regular season games. The Viking squad that year is the first and only undefeated team in school history to go undefeated. They did so under the late Frank Marino.
This year’s squad became the third to win ten games in a season. Marino’s final team of 2002 also won 10 games.
After winning that 10th straight game over Greenbrier East in the opening round of the playoffs at home the weekend before, Ripley had to go on the road for the quarterfinals.
As the lower seeded team at No. 5, Ripley had the choice of day and time. Wanting to stick with the Friday night routine, head coach Eddie Smolder and his crew chose that evening over a possible Saturday afternoon or Saturday night game that is also permitted at this time of season.
With No. 4 Musselman’s venue (Waldeck Field) deemed unplayable, the game was moved to Spring Mills High School’s Cardinal Stadium, which features artificial turf.
The Vikings set sail on a pair of chartered buses Thursday just before noon for the more than six-hour journey.
Unfortunately, a smooth trip was not to be.
By the time Ripley’s buses had hit Interstate 79 word came out that getting to the Eastern Panhandle could be an issue due to a heavy blanketing of snow in the area.
The plans had called for Ripley to spend the evening in the Eastern Panhandle and then play the Applemen on Friday.
After much discussion, the Vikings were put up for the night in Morgantown. The team got in a workout at University High, one of two high schools in the city.
(Being in Morgantown at this time of year had to bring back fond memories for Smolder. As a senior in 1997, Ripley topped Morgantown High in a Class AAA first round game. The Vikings were the No. 16 seed and MHS was No. 1. It’s the only time a No. 16 has beaten a No. 1 in AAA playoff competition since the field was expanded in 1991).
The Vikings moved on to Martinsburg early Friday and got to a Cardinal Stadium that had been cleared of the heavy snowfall. (The folks at the school did a tremendous job of getting the field ready after the winter-like storm hit).
By late Friday a Viking football season officially starting back in January with weightlifting sessions had come to an end.
“We had a great trip considering everything,” said Smolder of the trip to the Panhandle, which is about an hour from Washington D.C. “It didn’t end the way we wanted, but we had a great season.”
Football is about challenges, and Smolder was proud of the way his team handled the adversity they were hit with on the trip to the Panhandle.
“We got two extra weeks of practice (by making the postseason),” Smolder said. “We got to the playoffs and won a game. That has been a goal for four years.”
Now Smolder and company are ready for more.
He loses 15 seniors who contributed so much to the program.
The time has come for others to step up.
For all of those involved with this 2018 season, the memories will be lasting.
It was a long and at times grueling season.
But so, so rewarding.