In one of this weekend's WVSSAC Class A football quarterfinal matchups, No. 5 Midland Trail is slated to visit No. 4 St. Marys Sunday at 3 p.m. at Bill Hanlin Stadium, provided no change is dictated by the West Virginia Department of Education map on Saturday.
Both teams enter this weekend after getting walkovers in the playoffs' opening round of 16 — St. Marys over three-time defending champion Wheeling Central and Midland Trail over the only team to beat it in the regular season, Buffalo. Wheeling Central and Buffalo were eliminated from the postseason because their counties were in unfavorable levels on last Saturday's WVDE metrics map.
Midland Trail head coach Frank Isaacs, in his sixth year at the helm for the Patriots, says, "St. Marys will be a typical St. Marys team. They're going to come at you. They bring just about everybody and the kitchen sink at you on defense.
"They're very similar in some fashion to us offensively. They do a bunch of different things well, formation-wise, play-wise. They run some option, they run some power, they run some iso, they try to run some bootleg. ... They do a lot of different things offensively.
"Coach (Jodi) Mote does a great job; they're very well coached. I respect the heck out of them, what they've been able to do up there."
Midland Trail last played on Nov. 6, a 35-3 road defeat of Pocahontas County.
"It's just a waiting game, an emotional roller-coaster," said Isaacs. "But we feel really good.
"We've got our work cut out for us. We've got to go down there and play probably above where we're at right now."
The squad has utilized the last couple weeks for "added experience and tweaks that maybe they haven't seen on film," said Isaacs. "Hopefully that will give us the opportunity to maybe even the score a little bit."
Since Fayette County is in the orange this week, the Patriots can't participate in full-blown practices in the lead-up to Sunday. "At this point in the season, we'd like to work on some techniques and stuff a little more, and we're always working on fundamentals, but it's just something we've got to work with, something we've got to deal with," said Isaacs.
"I just keep telling them (his players) that we're going to play if we're allowed to play. Let's extend this season. We keep telling the seniors the only way we can play more games is to extend the season in the playoffs."
If Fayette County can't improve from orange on this Saturday's map, St. Marys will move on regardless of its Saturday status.
Due to Fayette's status on said map earlier this season, Midland Trail didn't get to play its first game until Oct. 2, a 21-2 defeat of Meadow Bridge. The opportunity to try to play more than one game a week in subsequent weeks didn't appeal to Isaacs, he said, mainly because he didn't want to create a replay of 2019, when injuries to numerous key players derailed his team's momentum.
Picking up the offensive pace after halftime of any game in the playoffs will be a key for the Patriots. "We haven't scored (a touchdown) in the second half but once (Pocahontas) offensively," Isaacs said. "We've got to put four quarters together."
Trail, which has advanced to the postseason for four straight years, lost to Williamstown in the 2018 semifinals, then dropped a 12-7 verdict to East Hardy in the first round in 2019. "We were frustrated we didn't win last year in the first round. Unfortunately, we won this year in the first round, but it wasn't the way we wanted to. We're in the quarterfinals now; we want to play well and want to push on, if anything else for our seniors (and the community)."
Midland Trail's offensive attack is led by the rushing of 5-foot-8, 150-pound junior Robert Ruffner (75 carries for 571 yards and three touchdowns) and 5-11, 210-pound junior Aden Isaacs (47-272-3) and the passing of 6-0, 175-pound senior Christopher Vines (25-of-51 for 425 yards, five TDs and five interceptions). Aaron Sisler (6-0, 180, senior) has hauled in six passes for 166 yards and one score, and Ayden Simms (5-11, 145, junior) has six receptions for 119 yards.
Talon Shockey (6-0, 150, sophomore) has supplied 21 points, including a pair of field goals, via the kicking game.
Vines has three interceptions for the Midland Trail defense.
In his 19th season as the St. Marys head coach and 24th year in coaching overall, Jodi Mote says the Blue Devils (8-1) have an experienced squad. "We're predominantly seniors," he said. And those players have made progress during a campaign which saw only one loss (20-7 to Williamstown on Oct. 2) and eight wins by a combined score of 345-86.
"I felt like the guys have improved with each week," said Mote, who guided St. Marys to the 2016 Class A championship. "And fortunately overall we stayed healthy.
"And (despite several changes due to Covid-19) we were able to find games and play games." Mote said he mentioned to his players that "it's an asterisk-type season; not a normal season."
"But that doesn't take away the accomplishments," he stressed.
Quarterback Brennan Boron, a 6-foot, 186-pound senior, leads the St. Marys offensive attack. "He's basically been our glue," said Mote.
"We've got some skill kids," Mote added. He reeled off the names of offensive players such as running back Trey Moss (5-10, 162, senior), fullback Cyle West (6-1, 193, senior) and receivers Ben Long (5-11, 170, senior), Jason Clayton (6-3, 200, senior) and Logan Rice (6-2, 174, senior).
Offensively, though, he said, "Obviously, everything starts up front. Our offensive line has improved as the season went along."
Among the defensive leaders are linebacker Darrien Bortey (5-10, 163, senior) and Riley Boley, Aaron Stull and Cody Houser.
Mote said the Blue Devils have to be wary of the Patriots on several fronts.
"I think offensively they're very, very skill developed," he said. "They've got skill kids and their offensive line does a nice job.
"And they do a nice job on defense, and (Isaacs and his staff are doing the right things)."
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