PARKERSBURG, W.Va. - A year after playing the role of the tenuous kid getting shoved in an ice-cold pool by the Secondary School Activities Commission, Point Pleasant finds itself the host of a Class AAA playoff quarterfinal game with an 11-0 record.
After the Big Blacks were bumped up to Class AAA from Class AA prior to the 2012 school year, coach David Darst fumed about the effect it would have on the team's scheduling. Darst's arguments were easy to see. Point Pleasant was forced to leave the Cardinal Conference as a result of the class change.
The move also came immediately after the Big Blacks reached the Class AA state championship game in 2011. The program went from a burgeoning powerhouse to facing an uphill battle to compete in a division in which the largest schools possess about 500 more boys than attend Point Pleasant.
Take Friday's opponent, for example. No. 5 seed Wheeling Park (10-1) had a four-class enrollment of 1,694 students when the SSAC redrew class lines in 2011, then implemented them a year later. Point Pleasant's enrollment at that time was 782.
Instead of bemoaning the obvious disadvantage his school faces, Darst is instead playing the gratitude card in 2013.
"We're just trying to keep it light. Our kids have really been enjoying it. They've worked really hard," he said Sunday at the SSAC offices. "We got our first taste of triple-A, we knew what we needed to do to try to be successful, and the kids - like I tell people all the time - there's not a lot to do in Point Pleasant other than play football, so I'm blessed with some athletes right now.
"Our expectations are what they are," Darst said. "We're going to play hard every week and if we get the right situation, great, it works out."
The fourth-seeded Big Blacks have also continued to benefit from strong community support that is more commonly seen among Class AA and even Class A programs, Darst said.
"If we have a night where there's 3,000 people at the stadium, that's a small night," he said. "That's a bad night. I think our game was $13-or-$14,000 the other day (for the team's first-round win over Logan).
"The smaller communities stick behind their teams, and we're lucky to be in a good situation right now where the community is behind our football team," Darst said.
There's good reason for the support. The Big Blacks have what fans pay to see: talent.
Senior running back/linebacker Chase Walton (5-foot-10, 195 pounds) is the leading scorer and leading receiver in school history. This season, he has 136 points while rushing for 1,068 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has 394 receiving yards and six TDs.
Sophomore Cody Mitchell leads the Big Blacks with 1,373 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, but Walton is the apparent heart, soul and mind of the team, Darst said.
"Chase Walton is one of the most respected players Point Pleasant has had in a long time," Darst said. "He's the type of kid who's at practice every day encouraging the young kids, and he's such a student of the game."
Darst added that Walton's independent use of the game-film website hudl.com has turned him into a coach-in-the-making.
"He'll come in and know everything," Darst said. "By Monday he's putting a game plan in with the kids, going 'Hey, I saw this guy doing this,' or 'This guy's doing that.'
"You don't get that our of sophomores and freshmen."