WHEELING, W.Va. - When Wayne won the Class AA championship last year with a lineup that featured just five seniors - only a pair of which were two-way starters - the countdown was on for a return trip to the Super Six.
Well, that day has finally arrived and the Pioneers are back in town.
Unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Wayne (13-0) seeks its third state title since 2006 when it tackles No. 2 Keyser (12-1) at 7:30 tonight at 10,000-seat Wheeling Island Stadium.
The defensive-minded Golden Tornado hasn't made it this far since beating Winfield in the 1969 AA state finals.
Wayne coach Tom Harmon agreed his team might be a bit less nervous than Keyser, owing to his program's recent run of success. Tonight's game marks the sixth time the Pioneers have appeared in the title game since 2000.
"It probably helps us from a confidence standpoint,'' Harmon said. "I know one thing - everything never goes exactly your way. But nothing great's ever accomplished without having to overcome some things. I know both teams have had hurdles to overcome, and we have the confidence knowing we can overcome them.''
Wayne made it past last week's semifinal challenge against Robert C. Byrd despite not having leading rusher Brandon Spurlock and using No. 2 rusher Mason Hodge only on defense - both were nursing leg injuries. Both are expected to play tonight, but Harmon said neither has healed.
Spurlock (with 1,859 yards) has already broken the single-season school rushing record of David Morris, the 1968 Kennedy Award winner. In Brandon Spurlock's absence last week, younger brother Nathan Spurlock ran 25 times for 212 yards. He had 25 carries on the season coming into that game.
Despite being located about 300 miles apart, Wayne and Keyser have developed a rivalry the past few years. Tonight's game will mark the fourth straight season they've played, with Wayne winning the first three, including a 38-8 home win in last year's playoff quarterfinals.
However, Harmon said he and his coaching staff have hardly given last year's game video a glance.
"We haven't spent a lot of time watching the previous meeting,'' he said. "You take each team as it comes. Their team's different than last year, and our team's different this year. The big thing you try to look at is the last month or so - who they played, those-type people. I'm sure they have a lot of guys back [from last year], but I'm not sure what that bodes either way.''
Both teams have relied on a blend of a balanced running game with a stout defense.
Keyser has permitted only 15 touchdowns in its 13 games, with opponents managing just 8 points per game. Wayne allows 11.8 points, and last week held RCB to 55 net yards after the Eagles entered the game averaging 41 points.