After successful 2016 and 2017 post-season runs, the Cardinal Conference had a letdown last season during the playoffs.
Three conference teams - Poca (9-2), Wayne (8-3) and Mingo Central (8-3) - made it to the post-season but all three went down to defeat as the Cardinal went 0-3 in the playoffs.
Mingo Central, Poca and Wayne all lost playoff openers last season with the Miners falling 65-36 at Point Pleasant, the Pioneers losing 28-8 at Keyser and Poca dropping a 41-14 home decision to Weir. For the Miners, it was their second setback to the Big Blacks during the 2018 campaign.
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise successful season.
The three teams tied for league championship honors last season as the Dots, Pioneers and Miners all went 8-1 within conference play.
Mingo Central's lone league loss was a 45-27 setback at Poca.
The Dots lost 23-0 at home to Wayne in the regular season finale as the Pioneers tied for the conference title. Wayne's only conference defeat was a 29-24 setback in Week 2 at home to Mingo Central.
Two other Cardinal teams knocked on the playoff door last season as Sissonville went 6-4 and Chapmanville was 5-5.
Logan and Winfield finished 4-6, while Nitro was 3-7 and Herbert Hoover and Scott brought up the rear at 1-9.
After years of struggles, the Poca Dots turned it around in a big way last season.
Poca had its dreams of an undefeated season dashing in the finale however, as the Wayne Pioneers blanked the Dots. The win by Wayne forced a three-way split for the Cardinal Conference championship.
Poca's ascension to the No. 5 seed in Class AA was remarkable, considering that just two seasons ago the Dots broke a 39-game losing streak that had dogged them since 2013.
Despite its recent hardships, Poca holds quite the playoff resume, having captured three straight AA crowns from 2001-03, the first time a three-peat happened in that division. It marks the first time the Dots are in the postseason since 2010 (when they finished 5-6), and it's also their first winning record since 2006.
Poca was without leading rusher Ethan Payne down the stretch. Payne suffered a hip injury late in the season and had rolled up 1,083 yards on the ground on 110 carries and had scored 17 touchdowns before going down. Payne was a First-Team All-State selection.
Mingo Central, the 2016 Class AA state champions and the 2017 state runner-ups, expects to be especially strong again this fall with First-Team All-State wide receiver Drew Hatfield coming back along with his brother and WR Devin Hatfield and QB Daylin Goad, a Second-Team All-State selection.
Drew Hatfield was the state's leading receiver in three categories last season in catches (84), receiving yards (1,389) and touchdown catches (21). Hatfield finished with 25 total touchdowns.
Devin Hatfield caught 49 passes for 794 yards and seven touchdowns in his freshman season. The Hatfield brothers played basketball last season at Logan, but transferred back to MCHS.
Each Cardinal Conference team will again play nine league games and just one out of the conference.
Chapmanville and Logan will again play county rival Man. Logan opens the season on the road on Aug. 30 at Man, then plays nine straight league games.
It's the reverse for the Tigers, which open with nine straight conference games and close out the season on November 8 at home against Man.
Chapmanville's season opener is Thursday, Aug. 29, against Sissonville at Charleston's Laidley Field. The game was originally set for Friday, Aug. 30, at Sissonville but the game was moved to Laidley because of the Field Turf project at Sissonville which is not expected to be done in time for the opener.
With Sissonville's turf, the Indians will become the fifth Cardinal Conference team to have an artificial surface, joining Logan, Chapmanville, Mingo Central and Scott.
Mingo Central's only non-conference game is set for Saturday, Aug. 31, at 8:30 p.m. against Pikeville, Kentucky, in the annual Pike County Bowl at Pikeville's Hambley Athletic Complex. The Pikeville Panthers are a traditional Class A powerhouse in the Bluegrass State.
The Miners will then play nine straight league games beginning on Sept. 6 at Wayne. Mingo Central lost 42-35 at home to Point Pleasant in its season opener in 2018.
Same for the Pioneers, which are scheduled to open the season Aug. 30 at home against Class AAA county rival Spring Valley. The Timberwolves carved up the Pioneers in last year's season opener at home with a 49-8 victory.
The Scott Skyhawks, the fifth and final CC South Division team, hosts St. Marys on Sept. 6 in Week 2 in their lone non-conference game. The Skyhawks beat the Blue Devils, 21-14, at home last year for their only win of the season.
In the CC North Division, the Nitro Wildcats will once again play Class AAA rival St. Albans in the "Battle for the Bridge." The two teams meet in Week 2 on Sept. 6 at St. Albans. The Wildcats lost 32-28 to the Red Dragons last season. Nitro opens on Aug. 30 with a conference clash at home against Poca.
The Poca Dots' only non-conference game is Sept. 13 at Braxton County. The two teams did not meet last year. The Dots instead played old Class A Putnam County rival Buffalo and won 49-6 over the Bison.
Like Chapmanville, Sissonville opens the season with nine straight conference games. Then on Nov. 8, the Indians step out and close the season with a home game against Roane County. Last year, the Indians beat Braxton County (34-14) in its only non-Cardinal game.
The Winfield Generals open their season on Aug. 30 at Class AAA Hurricane for its non-league affair. The two teams also met in last year's opener with the Skins winning 24-13 at Winfield.
The Herbert Hoover Huskies open with three league games against Scott, Winfield and Nitro before stepping out of conference play to host Clay County on Sept. 20. Hoover played Point Pleasant last season in their non-conference game and lost 53-21.
With nine league games, that makes schedule-making easy, Chapmanville coach Rob Dial said.
"The good thing about the Cardinal Conference is that I never have to call anyone looking to schedule someone," Dial said. "Man's going to play us and we are happy to play Man year in and year out. Then we have the other nine conference games and it makes it easy from a scheduling standpoint but at the same time if you look there's only been three or four Cardinal Conference teams make it to the playoffs year in and year out because we kind of beat each other up, so it might turn out to be OK if we have to schedule a couple more teams from out of the conference. We'll just have to wait and see how it plays out."
Paul Adkins is the sports editor of the Logan Banner. Follow him on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.