October 28, 2009

There are cross-town rivalries throughout the country. In Morgantown, West Virginia, it goes one step further.

When Morgantown and University highs get together, it's an intra-town rivalry between two schools that seemingly no one can figure out the boundaries.

The kids grow up playing in the same leagues, attending the same churches and hanging out in the same hot spots, but when it comes to high school, some go one way and some go the other. Good luck trying to figure it out.

"I think they got some drunken sailor on a mule to draw the boundaries for this county because there is no rhyme or reason as to what is where," University head coach John Kelly said.

Kelly should know. Many kids who grow up within sight of University actually go to Morgantown instead. And vice versa.

The only thing that is clear: Both teams have become football powers, which is one of the biggest reasons why their matchup Friday night at Mylan Phamaceutical Stadium is the RivalsHigh Game of the Week.

"It's not just for bragging rights,'' Kelly said.

How it got this way is a story in itself.

In the early part of the 20th century, students from Morgantown proper attended Morgantown High. Students from the county had a choice, attend smaller one-room schoolhouses in the country or pay to attend the school in the city.

Many county kids, however, couldn't afford the tuition. West Virginia University, which is located in Morgantown, remedied the situation by building and operating University High.

City kids vs. country kids. Haves vs. have nots. Big school vs. little school. It had all the makings of a rivalry - even after the county took over University High from the college.

There was just one problem: The results were so lopsided in Morgantown's favor that the series was suspended in the 1980s.

Then in the early 1990s, the rivalry was reborn with a new name, the MoHawk Bowl, derived from the schools' mascots - Mohigans and Hawks.

The renewal coincided with a rise in both teams' fortunes.

Morgantown became a powerhouse, winning AAA big school state championships in 2000, 2004, and 2005, and making the playoff semifinals eight times in the last nine years.

Meanwhile, University was growing from a AA school into a midsize AAA school as affluent suburbs were growing like weeds on Morgantown's outskirts. The team which had won only five games in eight years prior to Coach John Kelly's arrival in 1987 became one of the top 10 programs in the state, beating Morgantown in 1999, 2000, 2004, and twice in 2007, in the last game of the season and then the following week in the playoffs.

Last year, University was undefeated going into the game and probably the better team, but the Hawks couldn't stop the Mohigans' running attack and lost 27-14

Now you've got a rivalry.

A traveling trophy is awarded to the winning school, and community events are planned around it. Games became big enough that they were moved to WVU's Mountaineer Stadium. The first year there, both were 9-0, and the game drew 22,000 people, but attendance dropped over the years until last year it was moved back to a home-and-home series. This year is the first at University's new location.

But it figures to be a good one.

In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year after graduating 22 seniors and seven first-team all-staters, University is 7-2. The team runs a multiple set offense and, according to Kelly, "We never line up the same twice."

Key players include quarterback Travis Maraney, a 6-2, 195-pound quarterback who has passed for close to 1,000 yards and runs well, and Steven Bohon, a fullback/middle linebacker. Their most dangerous player is Demetreas Cunningham, a Division I-level wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner who Morgantown Coach John Bowers said must be stopped.

"We have to keep him from breaking our backs," he said. "If he does catch the ball or he does return a kick, (we must) tackle him, get him on the ground, live to play another down."

Morgantown is 6-3, but Bowers likes where the team is headed. After a disastrous first game against Wheeling Park, now 1-8, the team's only losses have been close ones against the state's two top-ranked teams, Brooke and Fairmont Senior High.

"If there's a better 6-3 team out there, I don't know who it is. ... I think we're a very, very, very good football team right now," Bowers said. "I think we will be a nightmare for whoever draws us in the playoffs."

Unlike University's multiple set offense, Morgantown runs a straight wing T. Its two halfbacks, Joey Musick and Anthony Vecchio, average around 10 yards a carry; it's two fullbacks, brothers Jeff and Christian Allen, average around 8 yards a carry.

Quarterback Matt Saab has thrown for 13 touchdowns and run for four, while wide receiver Chris Glover is capable of running the Wildcat offense. Vecchio also is a shutdown cornerback who leads the team in interceptions and is third in tackles.

University's Kelly said his team can't get into a shootout with Morgantown.

"I think the key is just to get them off the field," he said. "The longer they possess the ball, the more likely they drive the field and score. That's what the wing T does to you."

Once the game is over, the players go back to their respective schools. If they can find them.

"It's kind of neat to have kids that, they're friends, but they're also for one night, they're antagonists and get after each other pretty good," Kelly said.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Morgantown (WV) vs. University (WV)
KEY TO THE GAME: Morgantown Mohigans
Morgantown The Mohigans must stop Demetreas Cunningham, who is a threat to score whenever and wherever he touches the ball. If they limit mistakes on both sides of the ball, their offense should be able to churn up a lot of yards. "If they're going to score, make them snap it 10, 12, 14 times," Coach John Bowers said. "Great high school teams will make a mistake if you make them snap it that many times. We just can't let a cheap one go over our heads or something like that. We've got to make them chop wood to beat us."
KEY TO THE GAME: University Hawks
University Somehow the Hawks must stop the Mohigans' Wing-T running attack, led by fullbacks Jeff and Christian Allen and tailbacks Joey Musick and Anthony Vecchio. "If we get into a shootout, I don't think we can stay with them, but if we can keep the score under 20 and get a break, anything could happen," University coach John Kelly said.
Note: Big game atmosphere
Morgantown is the traditional power, but University has been competitive recently in this series. This is the first Mohawk Bowl played in their new stadium.
Note: Just what is a Mohigan?
The name has been around a long time. It comes from the name of the high school yearbook - MOrgantown HIGh ANnual.
RivalsHigh Game of the Week Prediction. 2009 record (7-3)
Any rivalry game is a big one, this one may be the most intertwined with kids growing up across from one school attending another. Both are very good, and very different teams. Whoever can set the pace will win the contest. Right now, it looks like Morgantown is playing better football and that is our pick in the MoHawk Bowl. Morgantown 32, University 24

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