By Cam Huffman
The sentiment among Class AA high school football coaches around the state was the same when it came to looking at their teams’ playoff draws.
“Give me anybody but Wayne,” was a phrase that poured out of seemingly every coach’s mouth with fingers crossed and a four-leaf clover tucked inside their socks.
No. 16 Clay County was the unlucky victim in round one, and it returned home from Wayne with a 63-24 defeat and its season over.
Next up is Nicholas County. After a first-round win over Ritchie County, the first postseason victory in school history, the No. 9 Grizzlies (7-3) will travel to play the top-seeded Pioneers tonight at 7:30 p.m.
It’s not that there aren’t plenty of other capable teams in Class AA, it’s just that Wayne has been so dominant in recent years.
The Pioneers have now won 20 straight games dating back to the 2011 season, when they won nine in a row on their way to a 12-2 season and a Class AA championship.
This year’s contests haven’t even been close. Wayne has outscored opponents 598-154 over the course of an 11-0 start, and the slimmest margin of victory was 31 points in a 45-14 victory over Bluefield.
Wayne has held its opponent below 20 points eight times, and when Ravenswood found a way to post 42 against the Pioneers, Wayne responded with 84 of its own.
“They’re the defending state champion, and until somebody takes that away from them, it’s still theirs,” said Nicholas County head coach Gene Morris, whose team is currently involved in a more modest four-game winning streak heading into tonight’s second-round contest. “That’s a monumental task, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
On offense, Wayne starts everything with its rushing game. The Pioneers are averaging 9.4 yards per rush, and senior Brandon Spurlock, who has rushed for 1,687 yards and 24 touchdowns this year — despite getting just 11 totes in the second half all year, because of his team’s dominance — is 165 yards shy of breaking the school’s single-season rushing record, held by 1968 Kennedy Award winner Dave Morris.
The Pioneers can also throw when needed, and sophomore Grant Ferguson has completed 51 of 96 passes for 976 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s tossed just one interception all year.
“They’re a very opportunistic club,” said Morris. “They create a lot of turnovers, and they make a lot of big plays, offensively. If you’re going to stay in the game with them, you have to control the football. The best way to keep their offense down is to keep them on the sideline. We have to be balanced and not let them keep us one-dimensional. If we do that, we feel like we can have some success.”
Wayne has not trailed in a game since the first quarter of a game against Scott on Oct. 7 last season, but Morris is hopeful his Grizzlies, who made history last week, can do it again tonight.
“Our guys are looking at it like they have to win their battle within the game,” he said of his team, led by junior quarterback Tyler Sagraves and sophomore running back Wil Mayes. “They have to beat the guy across from them, beat the block or maintain the block, and by doing so, we’ll be successful as a team.”
OTHER AREA GAMES TONIGHT
Bluefield at Robert C. Byrd
The Class AA No. 5 Beavers (9-2) will make the trip to Clarksburg to do battle with No. 4 Robert C. Byrd (10-1) in what should be a classic matchup.
Led by running back Montel Leggett, who has passed the century mark on the ground this season, Bluefield head coach Fred Simon’s team has outscored its opponents 545-306. Its only losses came in the season opener against Graham (Va.) and the regular season finale against Wayne.
The Eagles haven’t been quite as potent on offense, but they’ve been very stingy defensively, giving up 22 or fewer points in every game this season, including a 27-21 win over Braxton County in the opening round of the playoffs.
Iziah Hill is one of the top receivers in the state with 11 touchdown grabs, and kicker Scott Levine has connected on eight field goals this year.
The winner will get the Wayne-Nicholas County winner in the third round.
AROUND THE STATE
Other Class AAA games tonight include No. 8 Spring Valley (8-3) at No. 1 Cabell Midland (11-0), a rematch of a 21-13 Knights’ victory in the season opener and No. 10 Musselman (8-3) at No. 2 Martinsburg (10-1) a rematch of a 73-0 Bulldog drubbing earlier in the year. No. 11 Lewis County (9-2) will be at No. 3 George Washington (9-2) and No. 5 Morgantown (9-2) will be at No. 4 Huntington (9-2).
In Class AA, No. 6 Frankfort (9-2), fresh off a first-round win over Summers County, will travel to face No. 3 Bridgeport (8-2).
The only Class A game today puts No. 5 St. Mary’s (10-1) on the road against No. 4 Madonna (10-1).
With the regular season stats totaled, Oak Hill’s Jalen Jones led the state in points scored, according to Doug Huff, secretary of the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
Jones, who ended the regular season with 2,046 rushing yards, scored 27 touchdowns, five 2-point conversions and kicked 25 extra points for 197 points, topping George Washington’s Ryan Switzer by 17 points.
Meadow Bridge’s Jake Parker was third on the list with 174 points scored.