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Keep Neal Brown
Then-athletic director Shane Lyons celebrates with Mountaineer head coach Neal Brown after defeating the Oklahoma Sooners. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia University should keep Neal Brown as the head football coach, and that decision should be made quickly.

It feels as though Brown has been hanging by a thread.  Disappointing defeats and subpar performances in multiple games this year increased the possibility that Brown would be fired after four seasons.

The story took an unexpected turn two weeks ago, when President Gordon Gee fired Director of Athletics Shane Lyons and announced that no decision about Brown would be made until Lyons’ replacement is hired.

It is hard to imagine that a new AD will be able to thoroughly evaluate Brown.  Gee will have a say in what happens to Brown, and my sense is the president wants to keep him.

Brown’s record is 22-25, but that losing record has asterisks.

The previous coach left a mess behind. Recruiting had fallen off and the program was disorganized. Brown returned order to the Puskar Center and refocused attention on recruiting and player development.

Brown’s efforts have been hampered by player departures, said long-time Blue and Gold News editor and publisher Greg Hunter.  “Unfortunately, the player development hasn’t borne as much fruit as hoped to this point because a number of promising young players have left the program just as they seemingly were starting to maximize their talent,” said Hunter.

However, Hunter and others who follow the sport closely believe Brown and his staff are having recruiting success, especially with the 2022 and 2023 classes. “Those players are too young—or are not even here yet—to have a huge impact to this point, but if they stay, they appear to have the talent to lead WVU to better moments in the future,” Hunter said.

Despite the losses and the NIL temptations from other schools, Brown has been able to keep the locker room. That was evident when the Mountaineers played with grit and determination last Saturday, winning on the road at  Oklahoma State.  That says something about Brown’s ability to build strong bonds with his players.

A change now would destroy the most recent recruiting and send even more players to the portal. The program would take steps backward before a new coach could get his feet firmly planted and start the long rebuild.

Then there is always the money. WVU is paying Lyons $2.4 million over the next two years. Brown would be owed $16 million over the next four years, minus anything he would make from his next job. WVU would also owe fired assistant coaches, meaning the University is looking at a problem of over $20 million.

Lyons was openly critical of the on-field performance of the football team. Lyons had candid conversations with Brown, and he would have been willing to make a change if he thought it necessary. However, Lyons said on Talkline Monday that he does not believe WVU should fire Brown.

“I would want to keep him. I think he checks every box that we’re looking for as a head coach,” Lyons said. “Unfortunately, the big box he needs to check is to win more football games. I believe that’s coming in the future.”

That is no longer Lyons’ decision. However, he has been closer to the program over the last four years than anyone else in WVU’s administration. His opinion, even on the way out the door, should count for something.

 

 

 

 

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Ability to overcome adversity has Herbert Hoover in Class AA final

As Class AA No. 9 Herbert Hoover prepares for its first appearance in the Super Six, the Huskies do so as the only team not seeded first or second in their classification that’ll be playing for a state championship.

That’s just fine for third-year Huskies’ head coach Joey Fields, whose team brings a 10-game win streak into Friday’s 7 p.m. matchup with No. 2 Independence at Wheeling Island Stadium. 

“This group went through so much adversity and just continued to respond and play,” Fields said. “The ball bounced our way throughout the season after that 0-2 start. We had a little bit of luck and you gain confidence when that happens. Our guys fed off that and continued to get better, press on and found a way to win.”

Hoover (10-2) has certainly found a way to prevail in the postseason. Following a 63-26 victory at No. 8 Clay County to start the playoffs, the Huskies then avenged one of their two regular season losses by edging top seed Winfield 27-26 on a touchdown with 2 seconds remaining.

That setup a three-and-a-half hour trip to Short Gap to face No. 5 Frankfort in Saturday’s semifinal. After trailing 10-3 at halftime, the Huskies turned things around and pulled out a 17-10 victory.

“Making adjustments is what we do every time,” quarterback/defensive back Dane Hatfield said, “and in the second half our defense plays better because we listen to [assistant coach Tim Meyer] and do what he tells us to do.”

Hatfield, a sophomore, is the focal point of the Huskies’ offensive attack. One week after throwing three touchdowns to Jacob Burns, including a 5-yard scoring strike that erased a 26-20 deficit and led to a one-point win over the Generals, Hatfield did damage with his legs against the Falcons, rushing 36 times for 185 yards and two touchdowns.

Herbert Hoover secured its first trip to the Super Six with a 17-10 victory at Frankfort in a Class AA semifinal. Photo by Greg Carey/WVMetroNews.com

“He’s a young kid, but they believe in him and he’ll go make plays,” Fields said. “He’s the first one to congratulate his teammates. He’s a special kid on the field but he’s even better off the field.”

Fields noted continued improvement from the Huskies’ offensive line as one of the team’s pleasant surprises this season and Hatfield credited a tight bond across the roster as playing a large role in Hoover’s success.

“With all the stuff we’ve been through, we know we have to dig deep and never give up,” Hatfield said. “We trust teammates and trust the guy beside us that it’ll all be alright.”

That includes tailback, where junior Randy Hughart has become the Huskies’ top option at that position after sophomore Rocco Frye suffered a torn ACL in the playoff opener against the Panthers.

In the victory over the Falcons, Hughart gained 112 yards on 12 carries. Ten of his rushes went for at least 5 yards and five amassed 13-plus yards.

“A great running back and a great teammate,” Fields said. “His teammates love him. He’s had to step up for us big time. He’ll do what it takes to win. If that’s one or two carries and block the whole way for his quarterback or he has to pack it 15 or 20 times, he’s able to do that as well and catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s a complete back. We lost Rocco Frye in the first playoff game to an ACL tear and Randy stepped up. We’re a different looking team than we were even two weeks ago.”

The Huskies’ defense has also stepped up in a big way and after blanking the Falcons in the second half, it marked the sixth time Hoover has held the opposition to fewer than 20 points this season.

That was accomplished after defensive lineman Gavin Allison, who Fields described as one of the team’s better defensive players and leaders, left the game with an injury suffered in the first quarter.

“Our kids continued to fight and we had a lot of guys in there that are usually second string guys battling in those last couple quarters,” Fields said. “I’m so proud of this team. We believe that we’re a second-half team and they play like that.”

Now a major challenge awaits in the Patriots, who are on a mission to finish the season with a victory after suffering a loss to Fairmont Senior in last year’s Class AA final.

The Patriots (12-0) have recorded six shutouts this season and they’ve yet to allow an opponent to score 20 points.

Independence also possesses one of the state’s most productive and explosive players in tailback Judah Price, who enters with 2,204 rushing yards and 47 touchdowns for a single-season state scoring record.

Save for a 20-12 victory against Bluefield in its postseason opener, Independence has scored 40 or more points in each of its 11 other games.

The Huskies and Patriots have an element of familiarity with one another having scrimmaged in August.

“We can go back and look at that film. It’s not a lot of it,” Fields said. “But [Independence coach John Lilly] has done a fantastic with his program and just like us, he’s not in this position because of what he’s done this year. It’s what he’s done the last three or four years that’s gotten him to this position. It’s a hard thing to do.”

As a result of the seeding, records and Patriots winning 11 games by at least 28 points, Independence will enter as a clear favorite in many people’s eyes.

Yet Fields is well aware that doesn’t mean much, particularly after guiding the Huskies to an unbeaten regular season and No. 1 seed in 2021 before they suffered an opening-round loss to eventual state champion Fairmont Senior.

“When there’s so much success last season and then you have the expectation coming in and drop two off the bat, there could have been a little bit of doubt,” Fields said. “We told our guys last year they told you that you were the best team and you found out you weren’t. This year, they told you you’re not very good. Well they’re wrong again. 

“Our guys kept fighting, leaning on each other and continued to get better in practice. It’s not been an easy season. A lot of adversity in multiple ways, but I’m proud of our guys to fight and be in the position to play for a championship.”

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Friends remember life of Greenbrier County mother, newlywed husband charged with murder

ALDERSON, W.Va. — There was a lot of emotion at a candlelight vigil Monday night in Alderson for a mother of five who police say was murdered by her newlywed husband.

Marissa Dawson (Facebook)

Family and friends of Marrisa Dawson (Marissa Mann-Bennett) gathered to remember her life.

Dawson died Friday morning after what police describe as an all night beating at an Alderson residence.

Investigators have charged Zach Dawson, 34, of Alderson, with murder.

MORE Read criminal complaint here

According to a criminal complaint, Dawson admitted to killing Marissa Dawson during a violent argument that began Thanksgiving night and stretched into early Friday morning. Marissa Dawson’s bloodied body was found by a friend at 9 a.m. Friday.

Zach Dawson (WVRJA)

Police said Marissa Dawson suffered major facial trauma. There was blood found throughout the residence on both the second floor and in the basement, according to the criminal complaint.

Investigators said it also appeared Marissa’s body was “thrown through the residence and striking what appeared to be her head on several items in the residence.”

Police allege after Zach Dawson changed his wife’s clothes and attempted to clean-up the residence, he took off in her car. Police found him later Friday along U.S. Route 219 in Lewisburg.

According to the criminal complaint, Dawson “admitted being responsible for her death and takes responsibility for it.” Dawson told police he hit his wife during the argument.

“Zachary Hess Dawson informed the officer he killed his wife,” the criminal complaint said. “Subject stated that after striking his wife he blacked out and when he came to he knew he had messed up. Subject admitted that he changed her clothes to have clean clothes on her.”

Greenbrier County Prosecutor Patrick Via told MetroNews Monday the investigation is in its early stages. He said Zach Dawson’s statement to police will not cause authorities to let up on finding out what happened.

Candlelight vigil set for Monday night.

“Statements taken sometimes are subject to different interpretations later, so it’s critical that we proceed just as if we didn’t have a statement at all, quite frankly,” Via said.

He said there’s a lot of physical evidence including blood and clothing.

“It’s my understanding that there was a very consequential amount of blood at the scene as well as articles of clothing that were gathered by the investigators,” Via said.

The investigation will also include researching the history of the relationship between Zach and Marrisa Dawson. They were married Oct. 24, a month before her death occurred.

“It’s extremely early,” Via said describing the work of investigators. “All of those facts have been or will be gathered by the investigators and supplied to me through briefings as well as through a complete written report of the investigation.”

Dawson is in the Southern Regional Jail without bail.

According to Facebook posts, Marissa Dawson was the mother of five children, including a son who was born in August. She worked as a housekeeping attendant at the Greenbrier Resort.

A news release from the Alderson Police Department said the children were not at home at the time of the beating. They had spent the night at a friend’s house.

Via said four police agencies are working together on the investigation including Alderson Police, Lewisburg Police, State Police and the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department.

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PSC approves interim natural gas rates, tries to lessen sticker shock

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Public Service Commission is trying to lessen the sticker shock of rising natural gas rates for the winter months.

West Virginia Public Service Commission headquarters in Charleston. (Photo/MetroNews)

The PSC announced Monday that it has approved what the commission describes as “much lower interim purchased gas cost rates” for the two largest natural gas utilities, Mountaineer Gas and Hope Gas.

Natural gas utilities are allowed to seek money from customers each year on what it has cost the utility to purchase gas. Those costs, which have been relatively low during the past decade, have shot up in the past year with natural gas prices going up significantly.

The natural gas utilities requested significant increases for the winter in their annual filings a few months ago but the PSC put the brakes on the proposals and asked the utilities to suggest other ways to recover the costs. Monday’s announcement is a result of that back and forth.

Mountaineer Gas originally requested a nearly $10.00 increase per Mcf used for residential customers which would raise the average customer’s bill to nearly $200.000 a month, a 38% increase. Instead, the PSC approved a 15% increase. The average customer’s bill will now be about $166.00 a month, about $22 more a month compared to last winter’s rates.

Hope Gas was seeking a 62% in its purchased gas rate which would raised the average customer’s bill from the current $135.51 a month to $219.50 a month. The PSC instead granted a 28% increase which will add about $38 a month to the average customer’s bill.

The PSC pointed out Monday that the rates it approved are interim rates and will be subject to a “true-up” in future cases.

Moses Skaff

Mountaineer Gas Senior Vice President Moses Skaff told MetroNews earlier this fall the company expected to receive the rest of its increased cost for natural gas next spring.

“What we’re trying to do is to give our customers a break during the high heating seasons that are coming up and then we’re levelizing through the rest of the year,” Skaff said.

The gas distribution companies don’t have a lot of choices, Skaff said.

“This is the best alternative that we could come up because of the price of the gas, the commodity price, that we have to buy at this time,” Skaff said.

Mountaineer and Hope have about 89% of the natural gas customers in West Virginia.

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Three Guys Before The Game – Shane Lyons Speaks – Football Victory – Basketball Rolls (Episode 421)

Outgoing athletic director Shane Lyons has made his first public comments about his departure.

In an exclusive interview with Hoppy Kercheval, Lyons gave his thoughts on why he was dismissed.

In this episode, the “Guys” discuss Lyons’ interview and review successful weekends for WVU football and basketball.

Listener questions and comments complete the show.

The crew returns on Thursday with a preview of Saturday’s Big 12/Big East showdown between the Mountaineers and Xavier.

Three Guys Before The Game is sponsored by Burdette Camping Center Komax Business Systems  — and  Daniel’s Men’s Store.

Don’t forget to check out Three Guys merchandise.

Never miss an episode, it’s free, subscribe below.

                                              

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Troopers investigate Beckley Travel Plaza robbery

BECKLEY, W.Va. — State police are investigating an alleged robbery at the Beckley Travel Plaza along the West Virginia Turnpike.

According to troopers, a man wearing a dark-colored ski mask, dark-colored hoodie, dark-colored sweatpants and carrying a duffle bag approached a travel plaza manager outside the travel plaza Sunday night at around 9:15 and demanded money from an ATM machine.

Troopers said the manager, who works for the travel plaza contractor Applegreen, complied with the demand and gave the man “an undisclosed large amount of currency.” The man then started walking toward Harper Road and state Route 3.

The manager told state police the man never produced a weapon nor did he threaten her.

Anyone with information about the active investigation is encouraged to call state police at the agency’s Troop 7 Office at 304-256-6786.

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$200 million upgrade planned for Huntington’s aging sewer system

Huntington’s sanitary board has announced plans to upgrade a nearly century-old sewer system that is both at capacity and under threat of a federal takeover for repeated water quality violations.

The Sanitary Board approved the proposed infrastructure upgrades at its regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 10. City Council’s Finance Committee voted unanimously on Nov. 14 to forward the project to the full council, which was scheduled to proceed with a first reading today. Council’s final approval is expected in mid-December.

The $200 million project will also separate the lines at 3rd and 5th Avenues to reduce flooding risk and improve public safety along the primary corridors that connect the east end of the city to the west end.

Federal and state grants and loans, including through the American Rescue Plan Act, will pay for most of the planned improvements. A stepped increase in user rates will be phased in over several years to cover the repayment of the loans for the upgraded system.

The stepped fee increase, which eventually will add $27.20 a month to customers’ minimum bill, will allow the city to access critical grant and low-interest loan financing while providing customers with time to adjust to the increased infrastructure costs

Steve Williams

“Inaction is not an option,” Mayor Steve Williams stated in a news release. “We’ve put this off for too long, kicking the can down the road rather than dealing with our decaying sewer and storm water systems.

“This once-in-a-generation opportunity to access $40 million in grants and $160 million in low-interest loans will make certain that Huntington can chart its own future, allowing the city and region to grow while keeping our children and families healthy and ensuring that critical public infrastructure can serve us for another 50 years.”

The existing wastewater treatment plant is currently operating at 98 percent capacity and hasn’t seen a major capital improvement since the 1980s. That could limit the city’s ability to connect any new industry, homes, schools, churches or other public and private facilities to the sewer system.

“Huntington’s flooding woes are well-documented,” stated Brian Bracey, executive director of the Huntington Water Quality Board. “It only takes an hourly rainfall of one inch to flood our city streets – and the combined overflow of both storm and sewage water poses significant safety hazards, from submerged vehicles to potentially life-threatening delays in emergency vehicle response times.”

From 2015-2021, state regulators cited 143 violations of the city’s water pollution control permit for excessive discharge from the wastewater treatment plant.  These discharges are a direct result of the plant operating at or near full capacity.

During the same timeframe, the system incurred additional penalties for dry weather discharges, primarily caused by failed pumps and line blockages. Raw sewage is discharged onto the ground or into streams upon each such event.

Upon each discharge, the city was cited for failure to appropriately maintain a Combined Sewer System Overflow as required by the city’s Long Term Control Plan. If Huntington were in compliance with the LTCP, the allowable number of discharges would be 42 over the seven-year period; the actual number of discharges was 489.

These violations have led to fines from both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and, as recently as December 2021, more than $325,000 from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. The fines are the direct result of an antiquated system and deteriorating infrastructure.

Those repeated violations put Huntington at risk of a possible federal takeover by the U.S. Department of Justice, as was the case a decade ago in Akron, Ohio.

“Our choice is clear,” said Jim Rorrer, HWQB vice chairman. “Continue with the status quo, and the escalating threats to public health, safety and local self-governance — or rally together as a community and make a critical investment in Huntington’s future — on our own terms.”

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Seven, including Monongalia County prosecutor, seek opening in 17th Judicial Circuit

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Seven people have applied to fill the vacancy in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court that will be created with the retirement of Monongalia County Circuit Judge Phillip Gaujot.

Perri Jo DeChristopher

The state Judicial Vacancy Commission recently closed the application period.

One of the applicants is Monongalia County Prosecutor Perri Jo DeChristopher. DeChristopher graduated from the WVU College of Law in 1994 and began working in the Harrison County prosecutor’s office until 1998 when she became and assistant prosecutor in Monongalia County. She later became the chief assistant and was elected as Monongalia County prosecutor in 2016. She was reelected in 2020.

Also set to be interviewed for the position is Doddridge County Assistant Prosecutor Johnna Lee Shumate, WVU Managing Attorney for Student Life Gail Voorhees Lipscomb and attorneys De’Andra N. Burton, Michael Darren Sims, Natalie Jo Sal and William “Chad” Noel Jr.

The JVC is scheduled to interview the applicants on Dec. 8. Gov. Jim Justice will make the final decision on who replaces Gaujot.

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More details released, hearing date set in Monongalia County murder case

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Information from the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department has revealed the victim in an alleged Nov. 15 homicide was stabbed to death.

Chance Williams (WVRJA)

Police initially responded to a report of a car accident at the intersection of Luckey Lane and Greenbag Road when the body of Jamey Corbin, 47, of Fairmont, was found.

U.S Marshals arrested Chance Williams, 23, of Morgantown, for first degree murder last Friday afternoon on White Avenue in Morgantown, 10 days after Corbin’s body was found.

When police notified Corbin’s mother of his killing she told investigators Corbin had a “tumultuous relationship” with Williams. In fact, she told police Williams had beaten her son up in the past.

Police also said Williams told his mother he killed Corbin.

Police recovered bloody clothing from a home Williams was in and also found suspected blood on the front door.

Williams is scheduled to appear before Monongalia County Magistrate Jim Nabors for a preliminary hearing on Dec. 5.

Williams is being held in the North Central Regional Jail without bail.

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Fiery accident in Weston kills three

WESTON, W.Va. — An investigation continues into a fiery crash in Lewis County which claimed three lives.

The accident happened on South Main Street in Weston early Friday morning. Weston Police Chief Mike Posey said three adults died in the accident, two males and one female. The names of the victims have not been released pending positive identification.

The remains of the three victims were sent to the state Medical Examiner’s office.

The crash happened in the early morning hours, just after midnight in an area known as “the narrows” in the city. The car crashed into a concrete wall and burst into flames.

Investigators believe speed may have been a contributing factor in the accident.

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