Can Tigers conquer Wayne?
For Shady Spring, all the elements seem in place.
Maybe this is the year the Tigers finally pick up a playoff victory over Wayne.
Wayne, a Class AA postseason demon for more than decade, has beaten the Tigers in the teams' last three playoff clashes, including a 34-8 victory in last year's opening round, but each of those games was played in Wayne.
This time, the No. 2 Tigers (12-0) host the No. 6 Pioneers (10-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Class AA football semifinals, seeking a continuation of the first perfect record in school history and their first-ever berth in the state finals.
But the Tigers are pinning their hopes on more than just home field.
They're the epitome of run-pass balance - 2,400 yards rushing, 2,350 passing - and they're a nice collection of experience that reached the playoffs last year and took things a step further this season.
"We're wanting more,'' said Shady Spring coach Vince Culicerto. "It's pretty much the same bunch we had last year. We had a lot returning. And we kept things the same, and the guys know the system pretty good.''
A year ago, they reached the playoffs after a 6-4 season but were scarcely competitive in their first-round loss at Wayne.
They return 15 starters from that team, however, and have fine-tuned their versatility.
"We go with what the defense is going to give us,'' said Culicerto, who's in his seventh season as head coach. "If they send an extra guy out to cover our receivers, we'll go to running. If they leave 'em all in, we'll throw it. Our quarterback does it well and has had a big year, and our receivers catch the ball real well. And our offensive line can pass block and run block, whichever we need. And they're a pretty smart bunch. They know their assignments pretty well.''
Wayne coach Tom Harmon has studied the game films and taken note of the Tigers' attributes.
"I'm sure their coach feels like a kid with too many toys to play with,'' said Harmon, whose team has reached the playoffs in each of the last 13 seasons.
Shady Spring quarterback Adam Weeks, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior, has completed 119-of-171 passes for 2,283 yards and 27 touchdowns. He's thrown only four interceptions.
Receiver Chase Connor, a 6-2, 175-pound junior, has caught 30 passes for 910 yards and 14 TDs. Austin Johnson, a 5-11, 180-pound senior, has added 25 receptions for 506 yards and five scores. Scott Daniels, a 6-0, 170-pound senior, has contributed 23 catches, 392 yards and three TDs.
The team's leading runner is Coty Frye, a 6-2, 200-pound senior, who has gained 1,130 yards and 19 touchdowns.
"We were balanced last year, but we didn't have as many yards,'' said Culicerto. "We were balanced, but our offense wasn't as explosive. We had a lot of sophomores and juniors on the line. We have a lot of experience from last year. We weren't as strong last year.''
Not much has changed at Wayne, either. The Pioneers, who won a state championship in 2006, are in the semifinals for the eighth time in 10 years and have posted a 130-21 record since 2000.
"We probably have more quickness than we've had in years past, but we're also a little undersized from what we were in the past,'' said Harmon. "This team has some of the same qualities that some of our good teams have had.''
The Pioneers have hardly been challenged in the postseason, beating Grafton 56-14 and Keyser 38-8. They ended the regular season with a 54-3 victory at Bluefield.
"I don't know how good we are,'' said Harmon, who's in his 15th season as head coach, "but we've been as good as we've been over the last month or so. It's nice to see some of the things you've worked so hard on in practice show up in the game.''
Quarterback Tyler Adkins, a 5-10, 180-pound senior, is a dual threat, completing 51-of-98 passes for 862 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions, and running for 622 yards and 10 TDs on 69 carries.
"He's steadily gotten better as the year has gone on,'' said Harmon. "When things aren't open, he's been able to create. That's added a dimension.''
Brandon Spurlock, a 5-7, 175-pound junior, has rushed for 1,398 yards and 22 touchdowns on 174 carries and set a school scoring record with 176 points. Paden Thompson, a 5-8, 155-pound senior, has picked 353 yards and two touchdowns on 63 carries, and Mason Hodge, a 5-11, 190-pound freshman, has contributed 347 yards and two TDs on 27 carries.
The Pioneers have rushed 604 times for 4,254 yards this season.
Austin Pyles, a 6-3, 180-pound junior, has caught 23 passes for 398 yards and a touchdown.
Reach Mike Whiteford at firstname.lastname@example.org.