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Oklahoma’s explosive offense detracts attention from defense that forces turnovers, creates sacks

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Oklahoma has long had one of college football’s most feared offenses.

For proof, look no further than the Sooners’ seven Heisman Trophy winners, a list that includes four OU quarterbacks since 2003.

Since joining the Big 12 Conference, West Virginia has lost all eight matchups with Oklahoma, which has 381 points over that stretch. OU has at least 44 points in seven of the eight meetings and 50-plus in five, including each of the last four.

There’s no question a tough challenge awaits the WVU defense Saturday, but the offense will also have its work cut out in search of its best performance this season against a quality OU defense.

“They do a great job recruiting personnel,” West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said. “They’re disruptive up front in all ways you can be disruptive — pass rush and run stunts, the movement they put together. Their back end guys are talented, gifted and can run.“

The Sooners have strong national rankings in several important defensive categories, including No. 31 in scoring by allowing 17 points per game, 13th in turnovers forced (7), 12th in tackles for loss (25) and sixth in sacks (13).

After some season-opening struggles in a 40-35 win over Tulane, Oklahoma’s defense has shown improvement. The Sooners blanked Western Carolina and last week limited Nebraska to 16 points, allowing OU to knock off a rival despite its lowest point total over the last six seasons.

“They play really, really hard,” Brown said. “I’ve said it before — what better compliment can you give a group that’s well wired up and sound in what they do by scheme? It’s is a compliment to their coaching staff and how hard they play.”

West Virginia head coach Neal Brown walks down the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Sooners rank 46th allowing slightly more than 319 yards per game, though the Green Wave and Cornhuskers both gained close to 400 yards. Even when opposing times have moved the ball well against OU, they’ve struggled to protect it. Tulane’s three turnovers were costly, while a one-handed interception from D.J. Graham helped the Sooners hold off Nebraska.

It’s a trend that’s carried over from last season, when OU forced 19 turnovers and was third in college football with 16 interceptions.

West Virginia, meanwhile, has struggled with turnovers and its seven to this point are more than all but six Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

“Turnovers has kind of been our Achilles’ heel this year,” Brown said. “We’re minus-six in turnover margin on the year. Haven’t done a very good job defensively taking it away, and then offensively, we have to do a better job. It’s hard to overcome and we just barely did on Saturday.”

The Sooners pride themselves on pressuring quarterbacks to help create those turnovers. Their 39 sacks last season were more than every team outside of Clemson and Pittsburgh.

Already this season, seven OU players have at least one sack, led by 2.5 apiece from defensive linemen Isaiah Thomas and Perrion Winfrey and outside linebacker Nik Bonitto.

Brown credits third-year OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch for the unit’s ability to get into opposing backfields.

“He’s done a really good job of stabilizing that side of the ball,” Brown said. “They’re playing at a high level. Schematically, he gives you some issues. “There’s a lot of similarities how they operate their front six and how we operate our front six.

“Their defensive linemen are difference makers across the board. Winfrey plays inside, you look at Thomas and Bonitto, they’re all high-round NFL draft picks and we’re going to have to really compete hard on the interior part of our offensive line and at tackle.”

WVU will be out to duplicate the rushing success it had last week in a 27-21 over Virginia Tech when Leddie Brown took his first carry for an 80-yard touchdown en route to a season-high 161-yard performance.

But the Mountaineers have struggled offensively after halftime and against Maryland and the Hokies, they failed to score a second-half touchdown and combined for six points.

“We know we have a job to do to keep ourselves in the game to where we find a way to score one more than them,” Parker said. “It’s a huge deal and a great challenge for us as a football team. Statistics are proof of future and past outcomes, but at the same time, what do we have to do to put ourselves in the best position to be in this game and find a way to finish it in the fourth? That’s been our biggest push in game planning.”

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West Virginia lawmakers roll up their sleeves on redistricting

West Virginia lawmakers are diving into the nitty-gritty of redistricting.

The state Senate’s redistricting committee met today, getting organized and laying out a basic schedule for considering district maps.

The redistricting committee for the House of Delegates announced it will kick off with a similar meeting a week from today.

Their work over the next couple of weeks will lead into a special session to consider the redistricting that must be done every 10 years, following the new census.

The big issue on the table is U.S. congressional districts. Because West Virginia lost population over the past decade, it will lose one of its three congressional seats.

How lawmakers decide to split the state into two congressional districts will balance combinations of growth regions or places losing population, local cultures, regional economies — and it will affect which congressional incumbent remains in a relatively safe seat and which two would have to square off against each other in a primary.

There are other redistricting decisions ahead too. The House of Delegates is going from 67 single and multi-member districts to 100 single member districts.

And the Senate may make changes to the boundaries of its current 17 districts, based in part on population flow.

Senator Charles Trump, chairman of the redistricting committee, raised a discussion point today about considering whether each of those 17 districts should remain. He said the only constitutional limitation is the Senate must have at least 12 districts.

“It’s not mandated by the Constitution that the number be set at 17,” he said. “We could have 16 or 15 districts.”

The Senate’s redistricting committee met for about an hour today and plans to get back together starting next Thursday. After that, members expect several days of steady work.

Charles Trump

The meetings are being streamed so the public can watch. And because of the covid-19 pandemic, some members may participate virtually. But Senator Trump warned that it would be easier to see maps by being there in person.

The committee established a rule that before it votes or acts on any map, it has to be publicly-available for 24 hours. “We’ll get feedback,” said Trump, R-Morgan. “That’s the idea behind this, to have stuff out there for people to look at, think about and comment on before we take action.”

Trump said the next meeting will be Sept. 30, a week from today. “And at that meeting, I’m hoping we’ll get to start looking at some maps,” Trump said, adding that more meetings will take place the next day, Oct. 1, and into the following week. “I would not be surprised to see this committee meeting on every one of those days as we work through this process.”

He noted that legislative interim meetings are scheduled already for Oct. 10, 11 and 12. “And we’ll meet throughout those. We can expect this committee will meet throughout those interims,” Trump said.

Trump suggested state leaders are anticipating a special session that week for official votes on redistricting and possibly some other matters.

“What I’m saying is, the week before our special session this committee could be working every day,” Trump said. “And we probably need to.”

Trump asked committee members to discuss what order would make sense to consider district maps.

Eric Tarr

Senator Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said the two districts for Congress would be a fairly limited question compared to the multiple Senate districts. So he proposed considering the congressional districts first.

“Given that we’re only doing two districts congressionally and potentially greater than 12 on the Senate districts — and the technology involved, I would like to see us do congressional first and kind of go through what should be an easier process I would expect,” Tarr said.

“So I would suggest that we do the congressional districts first.”

Where is the legislative redistricting committee at when drawing the lines for redistricting? @CharlesTrumpWV explains where the committee is at to @HoppyKercheval. WATCH: https://t.co/yCFQ3nDJuy pic.twitter.com/OUJy5ZLOXi

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) September 23, 2021

The House Redistricting Committee will have an organizational meeting at 9 a.m. Sept. 30 in the House Chamber.

The agenda will be posted in advance of the meeting, and discussion will include sharing draft maps of proposals for new House districts and new congressional districts.

Video and audio of the meeting will be streamed live at the West Virginia Legislature’s website, http://www.wvlegislature.gov/live.cfm

For questions about the redistricting process, visit https://www.wvlegislature.gov/redistricting.cfm.

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School excess levy up for vote Saturday in Monongalia County

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Voters go to the polls Saturday in Monongalia County to vote for or against the county’s school excess levy.

Monongalia County has had additional funding for its school system through an excess levy since 1973. If approved, the renewed levy will generate about $30 million in annual tax revenue.

“It supports facilities improvements, things that make our schools more secure, renovations to playgrounds, extra-curricular activities, art and music, counselors and psychologists. honors courses and technology,” Excess Levy Committee member Mark Nesselroad said Thursday on WAJR’s ‘Talk of the Town.’

The levy makes up about 25% of the school system’s overall budget. The five-year renewal would begin next year and last through 2027. It will not increase current taxes.

Nesselroad said the Monongalia County school system is one of the top districts in the state and are many times the first thing people look at when considering a move to a community. Additionally, local businesses look to competitive schools to provide a pipeline of people to support the local economy in entry level positions and prepare them for post secondary education.

“It attracts employers and employees, it attracts business and recreation,” Nesselroad said. “It’s important to our quality of life in Monongalia County.”

Both Nesselroad and fellow committee member Ashley Martucci have children in the system and believe the levy funding is key in maintaining the quality of education parents, families and the community has grown to expect.

“I’m grateful for the impact of the excess levy and what it has done for the children in our community,” Martucci said.

According to Nesselroad, the levy funding allows local schools to meet the needs of families without navigating state government or waiting on the cycle to accomplish important items that enhance growth and quality.

“Without it our schools might look like our roads,” Nesselroad said. “We rely on the state for funding and they support 73-percent of the budget, but that extra 23-percent is local-based and really what sets our county apart.”

The 10-day early voting period wrapped up Wednesday. Monongalia County Clerk Carye Blaney said 2,059 people cast ballots.

Polls will be open Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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The Game Within The Game (Episode 82)

Brad Howe and Julian Edlow from DraftKings dive into the NFL Thursday night game between the Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers, including multiple prop bets they like.

They also break down the best NFL teaser options for week 3, survivor pool options and preview nine college football plays they’ve made for this weekend.

All of that and more in the latest The Game Within The Game presented by DraftKings.

New users click here DraftKings Sportsbook… and use code METROGAME for a free money sign up bonus offer for week 3 of the NFL regular season.

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Three Guys Before The Game – West Virginia at Oklahoma Preview (Episode 314)

The West Virginia football team opens Big 12 Conference  play on Saturday in what could be its last visit to Norman, Oklahoma. 

The No. 4 Sooners have accepted an invitation to join the Southeastern Conference although when they formally begin play remains unknown.

The Mountaineers will attempt to beat their second consecutive ranked opponent, while the Sooners (3-0) will try to diffuse criticism following a closer than expected 23-16 victory over long-time rival Nebraska.

On this episode, the “Guys” explain what it will take for WVU to score the upset win.  Listener questions, ranging from unicorn formations to song lyrics, complete the show. 

The crew returns Monday with a review of the Mountaineers visit to Oklahoma.

Three Guys Before The Game is sponsored by Burdette Camping Center  WV Game Changer   Komax Business Systems   and Caesars Sportsbook. Don’t forget to check out Three Guys merchandise.

Never miss an episode, subscribe below.

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Route 50 rivalry returns to West Union as Doddridge hosts Ritchie

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Two of the top five teams in the MetroNews Class A power rankings will renew acquaintances Friday night at Cline Stansberry Stadium in West Union when No. 3 Ritchie County (3-0) visits No. 5 Doddridge County (2-0) in their annual matchup.

The Bulldogs have won seven consecutive games in the series but the Rebels have slowly narrowed the gap between the programs in recent years. Doddridge edged Ritchie 9-8 in Ellenboro last year.

Doddridge is coming off two consecutive bye weeks due to COVID issues with their opponents.

Dylan Knight is Doddridge County’s leading rusher (Photo by Ben Queen Photography)

“We decided to practice a little harder than we normally would if we had games,” Doddridge County head coach Bobby Burnside said. “When you play games, you get in game shape. Your timing and conditioning builds. It is a little bit like starting over. Are there challenges? Yes. But we are going to go play. One thing I know about our young men is that they are going to play as hard as they can the whole game.”

The Bulldogs have posted wins over South Harrison and Tyler Consolidated to open the season. Doddridge has enjoyed a string of talented running backs in recent years, notably with Hunter America and Reese Burnside. Senior Dylan Knight leads the team with 237 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“That’s a player I hope colleges take interest in real soon. He is getting some contacts. Not only is he a very good running back, he is a second team All-State linebacker and what a lot of people probably don’t know is that he is one of the state’s best long snappers.”

Seth Richards has rushed for 222 yards (7.2 average) and two scores.

“Seth is kind of the home run hitter. He played receiver for us last year but we have always seen him come up through the youth and the middle school. We know what kind of vision and running skills he has.”

The Bulldogs rely heavily on their offensive line in their run-dominated offense. Doddridge has attempted just four passes in two games.

“We returned some really good starters. And they are not huge. They have what I call ‘good size’. They are 230-240 [pounds] and athletic young men,” Burnside said. “What they do without all the headlines makes us go. Those guys in the offseason were killing it. That’s why they are having success.”

Ritchie County is off to a 3-0 start for the second time in three years. The Rebels rallied from a twenty-point deficit to defeat Wahama, 50-48 in overtime two weeks ago.

Ethan Haught (right) is in his third season as Ritchie County’s starting quarterback (Photo by Teran Malone)

“Something clicked. Looking back on that game now, I think our kids learned something about themselves. As it turned out, I think it gave our kids some confidence. Offensively, it was an explosion night for that side of the ball,” said Ritchie County head coach Rick Haught.

First team all-state running back Gus Morrison (352 total yards, 6 TD) remains the Rebels’ top offensive threat. Brandon Riddle (210 rushing yards, 4 TD) and Marlon Moore (322 total yards) have emerged as reliable contributors on offense as well.

“We thought we had guys with the ability to step up. And we knew coming into the season that Gus was going to have a huge target on his back. Every defensive coordinator, that is the first thing they are going to look at and scheme against. We thought for the success of our season, it was vital for some other kids to step up. We have worked hard to find opportunities for some other kids to make their contributions,” Haught said.

Junior quarterback Ethan Haught has passed for 460 yards and six touchdowns in three games. He has also rushed for four touchdowns.

“Ethan Haught is having a tremendous year,” Burnside said. “Last year, the steps he took from his freshman to sophomore year were very impressive. I think this year, he is a much better athlete. We could see that in the spring in track when he was running on their shuttle hurdle relay team. What he did in that Wahama game was pretty impressive.”

The Rebels are 30-8 under Rick Haught and Doddridge is 41-7 in their last 48 games.

“They have some excellent athletes on their team,” Rick Haught said. “Defensively, I think they have very good team speed. They are always extremely disciplined. Rarely are you going to see them out of position so you have to earn what you get.”

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5 WV students win full-ride college scholarships in Do It For Babydog sweepstakes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An 8th grade cheerleader at John Adams Middle School in Charleston is one of the latest winners in Governor Jim Justice’s second round of “Do It For Babydog” COVID-19 vaccination sweepstakes.

The governor and his pet English bulldog arrived at the school Thursday morning to greet Maggie Hill and her classmates. Hill received a full-ride four year scholarship to any public college or university in the state of her choice.

“I’m really happy,” Hill told reporters.

Hill said she was confused when she was notified to meet the principal outside.

“I thought I was in trouble,” she laughed.

She had her fingers crossed after hearing the principal’s morning announcements.

“He told me this morning that one of us was going to have a really good day today and I said I hope it was me,” Hill said.

When asked if she knows where she wants to go to college, Hill said that decision will come at a later time. Right now, she’s focused on high school, but that it’s a relief knowing she has the money to continue her education.

“I have a while, so I still have time to think about it,” she said.

Hill won the scholarship because she decided to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Chazz Grady from Poca High School, Benjamin Currence of Buckhannon, Samuel Smith of Charleston, and Danielle Stephenson of Charles Town also won scholarships, which includes room and board, tuition, and books; a prize valued at over $100,000.

The governor announced the winners of other prizes Thursday including $150,000 toward a dream wedding, a luxury high-end sports car, a new boat, free gas for 10 years, a premium ATV, season passes to a West Virginia ski resort and more.

Below is a list of prize winners as of 1 p.m. Thursday. Others will be announced throughout the day. It was the fourth of six weeks of giveaways.

Full Ride College Scholarship Winners
Benjamin Currence, Buckhannon
Samuel Smith, Charleston
Danielle Stephenson, Charles Town
Maggie Hill, Charleston
Chazz Grady, St. Albans

Luxury High-End Sports Car Winner
[TO BE ANNOUNCED]

Custom Fishing Boat / Pontoon Boat Winner
[TO BE ANNOUNCED]

$150,000 Dream Wedding Winner
Mathew Furbee, Fairmont

Free Gas for 10 Years Winners
Patrick Dye, Big Bend
[TO BE ANNOUNCED]

Premium ATV / Side-by-Side Winners
Natalie Morgan, New Haven
[TO BE ANNOUNCED]

Top-of-the-line Zero Turn Lawn Mower Winners
Jodi Campbell, Belle
Carli Withrow, Scott Depot

WVU Football/Basketball Season Ticket Package Winners
Kim Athey, Kearneysville
Genia Byus, Point Pleasant
Larry Hylton, Fairmont

Marshall Football/Basketball Season Ticket Package Winners
Aaron Ferrari, Clendenin
Robin Skeens, West Hamlin
Robert Springer, Moundsville

Ski Resort Season Passes Winners
Harold Arbaugh, Ansted
Kimberly Davidson, Bridgeport
Bernard Farrell, Newburg
Rose Preston, Secondcreek
Alison Mosby, Charleston

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Jan. 6 defendant Eric Barber has a plea agreement worked out in U.S. Capitol case

Former Parkersburg Councilman Eric Barber has reached an agreement on a plea deal in his Jan. 6 case.

Barber participated in a status hearing today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“I understand we have a potential plea agreement?” asked U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, who then set a plea hearing date for 3 p.m. Oct. 14.

Lawyers in Barber’s case had alluded last month to ongoing plea talks but needed more time to examine the terms. Today, the lawyers indicated they are ready to proceed.

Not much else could be heard during today’s status hearing, which provided public access through teleconference. Voices were muffled, and then the call dropped entirely.

A guilty plea by Barber would mark the second by a West Virginia defendant in a Jan. 6 case, following Gracyn Courtright of Hurricane. Courtright last month pleaded guilty to “Knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without unlawful authority,” in exchange for dropping three other misdemeanors. She has a sentencing hearing in November.

Similarly, Barber’s plea could reduce the number of misdemeanors he faces.

Barber faces federal charges of entering a restricted building, disorderly conduct and theft. He has remained free on $10,000 unsecured bond.

Hundreds of people now face charges from the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. They are being processed in a court system still operating under coronavirus protocols.

A mob storming the U.S. Capitol that day disrupted the constitutional duty of counting Electoral College votes and prompted the evacuations of representatives, senators and Vice President Mike Pence. One woman was fatally shot while trying to climb into the chambers, three others died from “medical emergencies” and more than 100 police officers were injured.

Several West Virginians face charges from that day’s events. They include George Tanios, a Morgantown sandwich shop operator accused in the assault of three Capitol police officers with pepperspray, former state Delegate Derrick Evans of Wayne County, who resigned after being charged, and college senior Courtright of Hurricane.

Eric Barber

Investigators began examining Barber’s conduct in Washington, D.C., after multiple people provided tips.

The investigators examined Barber’s own livestream video and social media posts, interviews he provided to local newspaper and television reporters about being in Washington, D.C. that day, as well as video from inside the Capitol depicting a man in a green helmet who looked like Barber.

One of the interviews came in a Jan. 7 Parkersburg News & Sentinel article headlined “Parkersburg man shares experience from U.S. Capitol.” Some of Barber’s own photos of the protests outside the U.S. Capitol accompanied the story.

The article said, “While he said he looked in a window and couldn’t see much because of so many people inside, Barber said he did not enter the building.”

But shortly after that, as images spread of the people inside the Capitol, local people identified a man who looked a lot like Barber wearing a green combat-style helmet and a military-style field jacket.

In a YouTube video called “Shooting and Storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.,” the same man in a crowded doorway says “They’re giving us the building?” He then taps the helmet with both hands and begins moving toward the front as the crowd chants, “Break it down, break it down.”

FBI agent Andrew Cooper, who provided an affidavit, began examining images from Barber’s Facebook page to identify him. He also placed a call to the Parkersburg Police Department, where local officers were already aware of the claims about Barber. Through all those comparisons, Cooper concluded that the man was, in fact, Barber.

The FBI agent also requested security footage from inside the Capitol and received six videos of the man moving through Statuary Hall and the Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6.

“Of note, I observed Barber taking selfie photographs in the Rotunda and stopping at the C-SPAN media station located in Statuary Hall and searching through equipment that was on the stand.”

The agent determined the man searched through the items at the media stand and appeared to unplug an item, taking it with him. The C-SPAN field technician who had been operating the media stand when the Capitol was evacuated said he had left his personal power station used to charge an iPad there, and it wound up missing.

“Your affiant believes this confirms the video footage that Barber stole the powerstation located at the media station,” the agent wrote.

That’s what led to the theft charge against Barber.

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Teenage girl sentenced for role in Kanawha County quadruple murder

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A teenage girl has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for her role in the deaths of an Elkview family in December of last year.

Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Ballard sentenced Rebecca Walker, 17, Thursday morning in an in-person sentencing. In July, she had pleaded guilty to 4 counts of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. Ballard sentenced each count to run consecutively.

“Honestly I do not have the words. I don’t think anyone has the words to try to explain or give comfort to the families here today (Thursday),” Ballard said before sentencing Walker.

The charges stem from the murders of Daniel Dale Long, 37, Risa Mae Saunders, 39, Gage Ripley, 12, and Jameson Long, 3, all of Elkview. A family member discovered the bodies at a Cemetery Hill Drive residence in Kanawha County on Dec. 13, 2020. Investigators said they all died of gunshot wounds.

The family member, Timothy Saunders, father of Risa Saunders and grandfather of the boys killed, had tried to get in touch with the family a day before the discovery and found the front door of the home unlocked.

Saunders gave a victim’s impact statement to the courtroom while holding photos of those killed.

“When I close my eyes and I try to sleep now, all I see is the nightmare I walked into. Gage laying on the floor, looking up at me, ice-cold and blue. Risa and Dan still in bed, ice-cold and blue. Couldn’t get anybody to wake up, blood everywhere,” Saunders said.

A 16-year-old boy who was previously charged with the murders as a juvenile is awaiting a transfer to adult status. His identity has not been officially released but Walker was identified as his girlfriend. He is referred to as “G.S.” in court documents.

Saunders claimed that Walker knew of the boy’s plan to murder his family. He said it could have all been prevented.

“She knew about it, as I was told, a month before it happened. One phone call could have prevented a senseless act. She could have told anyone or notified the police of Gavin’s plan,” Saunders said emotionally, identifying the teenager as Gavin.

Instead, Saunders now says all he was left is memories of his daughter and her children. He said Walker’s actions and the teenage boy have made him an empty and hopeless man.

“She was 39-years old,” Saunders said of his late daughter. “She was daddy’s girl and she always will be. Her boys were her life. She always made sure they had anything they wanted or needed.”

Timothy Saunders, father of Risa Saunders and grandfather of the boys killed, makes an impact statement on Thursday.

Robbie Long, the attorney for Walker, stated it was difficult to quantify her responsibility in this case. He said she had no criminal record, no juvenile record and her school officials have positive sentiments towards her.

Long said she has had a tough life as a teenager, losing all of her belongings in the Elkview flooding of 2016. According to Long, Walker then lost her mother and she was close to her.

Long called Walker meeting her boyfriend ‘a perfect storm’ for something to happen. According to Long, Walker was told by the boy that he was being abused at home.

“She wanted desperately to help him. She also told the doctors she did not know how to help him. And that is where I think this story took a tragic turn,” Long said.

“The two of them became delusional about their futures together. Unfortunately, her boyfriend acted on that delusion.”

Don Morris, chief deputy Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney, said Walker’s acts were not delusional but selfish.

“When you look at the conduct of both the individuals involved, it’s more of selfishness instead of delusion. It’s wanting to spend time together at the expense of four lives,” Morris said.

Morris said the state believed the defendant was manipulated to an extent and that is why there was a plea agreement.

Court documents stated that Walker knowingly, unlawfully and feloniously harbored, concealed, and assisted the teenage boy in the committing the murders. Documents further stated that the crimes took place between Dec. 9 and Dec. 13.

Morris said Walker will go to a juvenile facility and return to the courtroom when she turns 18.

Walker was overwhelmed with emotion while trying to read a statement to the court on Thursday. Her letter was read by Judge Ballard silently.

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Facing Rattler for first time, WVU defense hopes to slow Sooners’ talented quarterback

— By Taylor Kennedy

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For West Virginia to have a chance at defeating No. 4 Oklahoma for the first time since joining the Big 12 Conference, the Mountaineer defense will need to slow down preseason Heisman candidate Spencer Rattler.

Through the first three games of 2021, Rattler, the Sooners’ sophomore quarterback, has connected on nearly 75 percent of his passes and thrown for 761 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Phoenix native possesses a skill set that requires a defense to be prepared for anything.

“You have to figure out how you can get a guy off schedule,” said WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley. “We know how talented he is. Our players respect it. It is no surprise how good he is. You go through and find where the strengths are, then you have to find where his weaknesses are. There are not many. It is a big challenge.”

Rattler has at least one passing touchdown in 14 straight games. Five of his seven passing scores this season came in the Sooners’ 76-0 victory over FCS member Western Carolina.

Although Rattler has combined for two touchdowns and two interceptions through the air in close victories over Tulane and Nebraska, he leads the Big 12 in five different passing categories. Rattlier is also tied for fifth nationally in completion percentage.

“Rattler is a great player,” said Jared Bartlett, WVU’s bandit who speed rushed his way to three sacks in last week’s win over Virginia Tech. “I am going to continue to do the things I do. As I continue to watch the film throughout the week, I can create a game plan and work from that.”

Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. matchup will mark Rattler’s first time opposing West Virginia after the Sooners and Mountaineers were unable to play last season.

A year ago, Rattler completed better than 67 percent of his passes for 3,031 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for six TDs. He has two scores and 71 yards on the ground thus far this year.

The big-play quarterback will be up against a Mountaineer defense currently ranking first nationally in opponent red zone conversion at 36 percent. WVU has allowed the opposition inside its 20-yard line 11 times, but opponents have scored on only four of those occasions — two touchdowns and two field goals.

“They have a lot of athletic and fast guys,” Rattler said. “They have a solid defensive line. There are a lot of things with their defense we can do and execute. It looks like they have stuck to their defense throughout the year. You never know, someone could throw a curveball versus us. We have to be prepared for whatever we see.”

Something will have to give in the Big 12 opener for both teams, as Oklahoma has scored on 17 of its 18 trips in the red zone, including 16 touchdowns.

West Virginia’s defense is also fourth nationally in tackles for loss with 31. Eight Mountaineer defenders have recorded at least two TFLs.

“They have a great defensive front, experienced linebackers and safeties,” said fifth-year OU head coach Lincoln Riley. “They have not missed a beat. They lost great players from last year, but they are playing at a high level. They do some great things schematically. They are challenging at all levels. It will be a good test.”

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