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Wayne coach: Underdog label doesn't fit No. 4 Robert C. Byrd

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Vulnerability. It's something that the Class AA No. 1 Wayne Pioneers quite simply haven't shown a shred of all season while demolishing teams by an average of 40.9 points per game.

But the perfect storm may be forming in terms of Wayne at least getting tested as a talented and hungry No. 4 Robert C. Byrd squad comes calling at 7:30 p.m. today in a playoff semifinal game.

The winner will advance to the state finals at Wheeling Island Stadium next week.

The Eagles (11-1) enter today off a 34-20 win over No. 5 Bluefield last week, and RCB coach Bruce Carey knows just what his team is in for today.

"We showed them [Wayne] film of a couple of halves today and it got our guys' respect and attention," Carey said. "They do a lot of things well. They execute their offense real well. They're a very physical team, they're aggressive, they're quick, and coach [Tom] Harmon has them playing at a level that looks like they should be state champions."

While Carey felt his team left some points on the field last week, it's likely that Byrd won't be able to afford leaving points anywhere but on the scoreboard today. But no matter what the margin of victory was for the Eagles last week, the team has certainly caught the eye and attention of Harmon.

"They're probably the most talented team in AA," Harmon said. "Position by position their stats prove it. They're bigger than us and from what you see on film, they're probably faster than us. Throw those factors in there, and they're not really underdogs. The teams they've played have been a little bit tougher than the teams we've played, so as much as they'd like to play that underdog role, I'm not sure it fits."

Wayne could also be without one or both of its leading rushers in Brandon Spurlock (127 carries, 1,859 yards, 25 touchdowns) and Mason Hodge (26 carries, 676 yards, 12 touchdowns, 12 catches, 269 yards, four touchdowns), both of whom were injured in last week's 47-0 win over No. 9 Nicholas County.

Harmon said both have been limited in practice this week and will be game-time decisions.

But as evidenced by the roll Wayne has been on for the last season and a half, the defending champs have talent, and perhaps more importantly, experience to spare.

"These players are pretty mature," Harmon said. "They know the level of competition goes up a little each week. If you looked at us, you wouldn't say, 'All that team has to do is show up.' They know they have to play well and execute."

While the two main cogs in Wayne's backfield will either be unavailable or less than 100 percent, the Pioneers' defense will have to deal with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the Eagles' backfield.

Ben D'Annunzio has racked up 1,427 yards and 14 touchdowns on 148 carries, while Tre Cox has added 1,112 yards and 18 scores on 144 rushes.

But it seems like a different player for Byrd steps up every week, and last week that player was Mason Compton.

The senior returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, scored on a 60-yard touchdown catch, and intercepted two passes on defense.

"Every week a different kid comes in and steps up," Carey said. "This year we have a lot of skilled athletes."

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.


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