The Mingo Central Miners travel to Bob Brewer Stadium in Naugatuck on Thursday to battle the Tug Valley Panthers for only the second time in history. It’s a contest that’s 12 years in the making.
The two teams first met in 2011 during Mingo Central’s first year as a school. The Miners won that battle, 71-12, but much has happened with both programs since then.
For Mingo Central, the Miners rose to the top of the mountain in Class AA, including a state title in 2016 under then head coach Yogi Kinder. The Miners have had a couple of seasons below their typical standards, but new head coach David Jones has already injected a lot of life back into the program.
Tug Valley became a consistent playoff team after that 2011 clash, including a semifinal appearance in Class A in 2014 under former head coach and Tug Valley Athletic Hall of Famer Tony Clusky. Hady Ford became the head coach in 2019 and has this Panther squad primed to make a playoff run this season.
Mingo Central comes into the game with Chris Ross at quarterback. He’s been working hard with assistant coach Josh Sammons and will give the Miners an experienced hand.
Dylan Vance will line up with him in the backfield. Bruising back Amanti Lovett will join him. Nathan Hynd, Davion Joplin and Jace “Bam” Coleman could also get some carries.
The Miners have a talented group of receivers with Aidan Burke, Malaki Sheppard, Michael “Deuce” Prater, Tyler Mitchem, Donovan Valdelamar, Keziah Joplin and Zach Davis. At tight end, Alex Muncy will come into play with LeQues Strother also seeing some time.
On the offensive line, Chaz Waine, Rilee Hatfield, Logan Hurley, JC Lester, Evan Breeding and Gary Pope will see time.
For the defensive line, Lovett, Jace Harmon and Ashton Kinser will be in the trenches. At the linebackers, Muncy, James Moore, Taegan Hackney, Strother and Dylan Mounts will all see time.
The defensive backfield will have Valdelamar, Joplin, Prater and Jacob Blankenship at the conerbacks. Burke and Sheppard will see time at the safeties.
For Tug Valley, Jaxon Nenni-Mills and Preston May could each see playing time.
In the backfield, Adam Slone and Bryson Elia each return after seeing a lot of carries last season. Austin Smith and Cane Thompson both should see some action as well. Returning first team all-stater Buddy Marcum, Thompson and Ashton Davis should see time at the H-Back position.
Riley Damron, Davis, Dakota Ooten, Michael Curtis and Brady Brewer should help lead the receiving unit in this match up.
In the trenches on the offensive line, Luke Bartram will see some time along with Dakoda Walker, Gage Preece, Noah Canterbury and freshman Marshall Jarvis.
Defensively on the line, look for Marcum, Bartram and Walker to handle a lot of the work on the interior. Damron and Davis will spend a lot of time at defensive end.
Starting linebackers Adam Slone, Smith and Brewer return. Thompson, Nenni-Mills and Curtis all could see time at the position as well.
Elia and May will see time at safety. Ooten, Paul Preece, Cameron Slone and Gavin Fitzpatrick could all see time at cornerback.
This game will be the biggest rivalry game in Mingo County in over a decade and set the tone for the 2023 season for both the Panthers and the Miners. The opening kick is set for 7:30 pm, but fans will want to arrive at this one early.
Photos Courtesy of Samantha Waine and Karen Watts