40 years ago: Viking football team of 1980 was oh, so close

Mark Martin
Sportswriter
Frank Marino poses with the 1980 team after the Hatchet victory. The win gave Ripley a fantastic 9-1 record, but unfortunately they missed making the playoffs.

So close.

How close?

Thisclose.

Ripley’s 1980 football team came within one-tenth of one rating point from being the first team in school history to reach the postseason playoffs.

Instead, the late Frank Marino’s fourth Viking team (he coached 26 in all) had to deal with being on the outside looking in when the playoffs rolled around.

A 9-1 record left Ripley in the No. 10 position when the final set of Class AAA ratings (which determine the playoff field in West Virginia) was released that weekend by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.

In 1980, only eight teams made the playoffs compared to the present (since 1991) where the field is 16-strong in the three classes.

Prior to the 1980 campaign, Ripley football had been knocking on the door two other times of a perfect 10-0 season and potential playoff spot.

The 1957 squad of the late Paul Lanham, who would go on to coach in two Super Bowls, and the 1965 team, led by a vibrant young head coach named Steve McMillion, both finished 9-1.

The lone blemish for the Vikings of 1980 came against Bluefield in the season’s fifth game. The Beavers pulled out a 7-6 win with 36 seconds left in the game.

It was a loss that would ultimately prevent the talented, hard-nosed Viking team of 1980 from reaching the promised land of postseason play.

The hurt still lingers, we’re sure, for many to this day.

Ripley defeated Spencer, 22-0, Valley-Fayette, 12-0, Parkersburg South, 14-0, Magnolia, 29-27, Nitro, 20-14, Mt. View, 41-3, Pt. Pleasant, 12-0, Hurricane, 8-7, and Ravenswood, 16-6, in that glorious season.

Ripley had gone into its final game of the regular season against Ravenswood at No. 9 in the ratings. First, and foremost, Ripley needed to defeat Ravenswood to stay alive in its playoff hunt.

Then, they needed help in the area of bonus points.

Two opponents the Vikings had beaten – Sissonville and Magnolia – each had Saturday games. Victories by either the Indians or Blue Eagles would give Ripley the bonus production needed to secure a playoff berth.

Marino attended both games and gave pep talks to Sissonville and Magnolia prior to their season finales. Sissonville’s game with Herbert Hoover was in the afternoon while Magnolia’s was at night against St. Marys.

For Ripley, it simply wasn’t meant to be as both Sissonville's Indians and Magnolia's Blue Eagles fell in defeat. Hoover handed Sissonville a 27-6 setback and St. Marys slipped past Magnolia, 6-0.

If just one more win could have been recorded by any of Ripley’s defeated opponents during that year the Vikings would have been making history by extending their season.

Ripley would have met North Marion, the defending state champs, in the first round of the playoffs at East-West Stadium in Fairmont.

The 12.3 final rating for the Vikings had them just short of such an opportunity.

“You know we did everything we had to do to get in the playoffs,” Marino said in an article of the 1981 preseason issue of Viking Illustrated. “We went 9-1. We had a 12.3 rating which is generally good enough to get in. And I think we had the best defensive team in the state. We faced unbelievable pressure every week because we knew we couldn’t afford to lose again.

“Every game was like a playoff game to us. But we never buckled. We did everything we could do. But we didn’t get the help (bonus points) we needed, and that’s the frustrating part.”

Finally, in 1986 a Marino-led Viking team would become the first in school history to reach the playoffs. The Vikings not only made it but reached the semifinal round.

Since then, nine (six led by Marino) more Ripley teams have qualified (including the 2020 squad) for the postseason.

Ripley’s 1980 crew featured two Class AAA First Team All-Staters in nose guard Terry Ocheltree, who was a senior, and the late Mickey Marino, the head coach’s son who engineered the Viking offense at quarterback.

Two other seniors – linebacker Jim Stravakis and defensive end Andy Robinson – and sophomore fullback Scott Walters earned Honorable Mention All-State.

The Ripley team of 1980 was a senior-laden bunch with a bevy of outstanding players.

And while making the playoffs wasn’t meant to be, those who donned the royal blue and white that season brought the school and community plenty of wonderful memories.