Black Friday for Patriots
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - On the very first play from scrimmage, a shotgun snap skidded past Martinsburg quarterback Justin "Cookie" Clinton, who was clearly not ready for it, resulting in a 19-yard loss and ratcheting up the pressure in an already crucial Class AAA semifinal game.
But as George Washington found out early and often, even in the most intense situations, this Cookie just doesn't crumble.
Clinton more than made up for his early loss of concentration, running for 157 yards and five touchdowns in the first half alone and adding a record-breaking sixth in the second half as No. 2 Martinsburg steamrolled the No. 3 Patriots 63-14 Friday at Cobourn Field, punching a ticket to the Super Six at Wheeling Island Stadium next weekend.
The Bulldogs (12-1) will be looking for their third consecutive state championship, which would be a first in Class AAA since Charleston High School did it from 1968-1970.
But before Martinsburg worried about this year's championship game, the Bulldogs more than took care of a GW team they beat in last year's title game.
"We played really well the first half," Martinsburg coach David Walker said. "Our offensive line did a fantastic job, Justin did a nice job, and things came together for us in the first half and defensively we played pretty well."
Clinton ended with a game-high 197 rushing yards on 22 carries and six scores, setting a Class AAA preliminary playoff round record for rushing touchdowns.
"I wasn't expecting that," Clinton said of the record. "I knew we were going to play a good team. [GW running back] Ryan Switzer - that kid is a hell of an athlete. I just told my defense we had to contain them, contain the outside and force it to the middle then clog it up. And that's what we did."
Indeed, while Clinton was lethal running the ball, the Martinsburg defense did more than its part, bottling up Switzer for the most part while forcing mistakes out of the rest of GW's offense.
Switzer accounted for 117 yards and a score on 23 carries, caught four passes for 69 yards and threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Trevor Bell. But the rest of the GW runners accounted for just 6 yards on 16 rushes, and while Bell threw for 149 yards, he was picked off three times.
"They've got a football team," an emotional Switzer said. "I thought we were ready - I was ready. But hats off to them, they game-planned, they put us in some tough situations, we didn't capitalize early, and that turned out to be the end of it."
Switzer was partly correct in his analysis.
The end was actually sealed due to a couple of early, critical GW errors.
Down 14-0 in the first quarter, Switzer got rolling a bit as he ripped off runs of 25 and 16 yards to set the Patriots (10-3) up deep in Martinsburg territory. After three marginal plays, Bell completed a pass to Trevon Johnson on fourth-and-9 that would have given GW a first down from the Bulldogs' 11-yard line.
Instead, an illegal-procedure penalty negated the play, and after a fourth-and-14 attempt failed, Martinsburg marched back down the field to go up 21-0.
On the ensuing George Washington drive, the Patriots went three-and-out, and to make matters worse, punter Clayton Anderson mishandled the snap and was tackled before he could get the ball off.
Martinsburg (12-1) took over at the GW 6-yard line and two plays later Clinton scored his fourth touchdown.
Needless to say, Black Friday turned out to be all that and then some for coach Steve Edwards Jr. and the Patriots.
"They're a really good team and it was too many to not enough," Edwards said. "They've got a lot of great athletes, they have a big school, big numbers, and he can just run guys in and out left and right. They're big, fast, strong - they have the total package."
Most importantly for the Bulldogs, Clinton turned out to be the total package on Friday. The senior, who is replacing two-time state-champion quarterback Brandon Ashenfelter, has churned out quite the season and is one step away from completing one of the most dominant three-year runs any school has ever had in the history of the state's highest classification.
"He's played very well," Walker said of Clinton. "We didn't throw the ball real well today, but he's got a great arm. He doesn't really get a lot of accolades for his arm, but he's thrown for way over 1,000 [yards]. He's a great passer but his legs are pretty special, too."
While it was all smiles on the winning side, Edwards and GW fans will now have to say goodbye to a group of seniors that played in 11 playoff games over the past four years, among other accomplishments.
"I had a great run with these guys," Edwards said. "I love these guys. Ryan Switzer is still, regardless of 63-14, is the best player in the state of West Virginia bar none. We had a bunch of kids that played really hard and played with him and we never quit. We had a great run, man, had a lot of great kids, but we just didn't have enough - that's all."
Trey Boyd added 79 yards on 12 carries and a pair of touchdowns for Martinsburg while Cedric Brown also added a 16-yard scoring scamper.
Martinsburg will face the winner of the Cabell Midland-Morgantown game next week.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.