Martinsburg line held its own against Cabell Midland
WHEELING - Martinsburg's journeys through Class AAA football in recent years have produced some high-level skill position players.
Names like two-time Kennedy Award winning receiver Brandon Barrett, West Virginia recruit and fellow Kennedy winner Nate Sowers at quarterback, and even this season with receiver and Ohio University recruit Cedric Brown.
But the Bulldogs have cranked out some good linemen in that stretch, too, and never was it more evident than Saturday's AAA championship game.
Martinsburg's line was at least the equal of Cabell Midland's strength, its offensive and defensive fronts, and on this day, probably superior, which went a long way toward a 38-14 victory.
"We do get the reputation for having a lot of athletes,'' said Martinsburg coach Dave Walker, "but the guys up front are pretty good, and they don't mind not getting the credit. They understand how those things work.
"We had to replace three, four starters from last year there, and they came out and worked hard and I'm really proud of them, I really am.''
On Saturday, Martinsburg managed to outrush Midland 291 yards to 221 even though it had 18 fewer carries. It produced a pair of 100-yard backs in halfback Trey Boyd (15 carries, 186 yards) and quarterback Justin "Cookie'' Clinton (16 carries, 101 yards).
"Our line has worked hard all year,'' said Eugene German, a lineman and two-way starter who's headed to Division I Charlotte. "All we have to do is make 18 inches and our skill players will make a good break. As a line, we came together in this game, and we believe we are the best line in the state.''
Clinton, who ran for more than 1,500 yards behind that line and directed an offense that averaged more than 50 points per game this season, echoed those sentiments.
"Through the week, that's what they were talking about,'' he said of Midland's players, "about their line being strong and they were going to overpower us. All week, we told everyone and the coaches that we've just got to be more physical up front and the ball would be moved. I give credit to my line for that.''
Not only did Martinsburg win the battle of rushing yardage with its offensive line, but it sacked Knights quarterback Coy Pettit three times for minus-36 yards and had five other tackles for losses.
"They're good on both sides of the ball,'' said Midland coach Luke Salmons. "That's what separates them from some skill teams. When you have skill and you mix it with physical play, it's a perfect combination in high school, college or anything.''
Same time next year?
Wayne's march to the Class AA championship this season wasn't exactly unexpected.
The Pioneers, who lost only five seniors from their 2011 title team, were just as dominant in Friday's finals as they were all season, limiting Keyser to fewer than 100 total yards in a 35-0 victory.
Their only game closer than 35 points all season was an 18-0 playoff semifinal win against Robert C. Byrd in which their top two rushers - Brandon Spurlock and Mason Hodge - didn't play offense because of leg injuries. Spurlock, in fact, didn't play at all.
"I can't say enough sentences about the kids on our team and the hearts that they have,'' said Wayne coach Tom Harmon. "I can't single out any person because a lot of them embody the same things you want your son to grow up to be.''
Any pressure the Pioneers faced this year - with many fans anticipating nothing less than a title - could ratchet up a notch next season.
They do lose eight senior starters on offense and defense, but return key talent like Hodge, a 6-foot, 230-pound sophomore linebacker-running back, sophomore quarterback-defensive back Grant Ferguson and versatile junior Nathan Spurlock, younger brother of Brandon, who ran for 212 yards against RCB in his brother's absence.
Adding to the expectations is that Wayne's current winning streak of 23 games - longest in West Virginia - would balloon to a state-record 37 straight with another unbeaten title team in 2013.
"In all honesty,'' Harmon said, "the biggest pressure is the pressure you put on yourself. The only thing we're ever concerned with is how much effort our kids put into winning. And if that happens, great, but the big thing is, be as good as you can be.
"It's fun to get there. It's a lot funner to win. Our guys remained loose throughout the week and to be able to come out here and play with their heart on their sleeve is not the easiest thing to do. These guys had the pressure of the world on their shoulders all year and didn't pay any attention to it. They just worked.''
Hodge didn't exactly fan the flames of expectations for next year, but didn't deny them, either.
"We take it season by season,'' he said. "It takes it all to win. We'll come out next season and try to do the same thing. I don't know what else to say.''
Keyser should also be in the mix again as a strong contender in AA, returning starters at eight positions from a stout defense and seven on offense.
"We faced adversity all season long,'' said Golden Tornado coach Sean Biser, "with the schedule we played and the teams we played. We've been in tight games, big games all year long. We handled adversity and kept on going.''
Keyser also played without a key cog Friday, injured sophomore running back-defensive back Garrett Crites.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.