WHEELING, W.Va. — It will be the classic case of the irresistible force going against the immovable object when No. 1 Wayne and No. 2 Keyser meet tonight for the West Virginia Class AA championship at Wheeling Island Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
For Wayne, the undefeated Pioneers (13-0) — riding a 22-game winning streak — will have the chance to win 14 games in a season and be a repeat champion for the first time in school history. Wayne defeated Point Pleasant 34-7 in last year’s game.
This will be Wayne’s sixth championship appearance since its first in 2000. The Pioneers are 2-3 overall, capturing their first crown in 2006.
Keyser is making its fifth appearance (3-1) but its first in 43 years since the Golden Tornado defeated Winfield 21-20 in 1969. Its first trip to the championship came in 1956.
Keyser (12-1) set its school record for victories in a season with the 42-14 semifinal triumph over Bridgeport last Friday afternoon.
The Golden Tornado enter tonight’s game with the state’s best defense in points allowed, giving up 104 through 13 games for an average of only eight points a game.
Wayne head coach Tom Harmon has taken note.
“I think first and foremost, it’s unbelievable effort,” he told the Herald-Dispatch.com. “They’re very comfortable with what they do and they kind of have a passion to get to the football. Rarely do you see them out of position to make a play when it comes time to make a tackle.
“Very few teams around play as good and fundamental football as Keyser does. They’re sure tacklers, which is a sign of being well schooled. No. 2, when it’s time to make a play, they don’t falter. They get the guy on the ground with the effort they put forth — usually with more than one (tackler) helping. That’s the kind of defense that gets you to this time of year.”
It will be tested by the Pioneers.
Wayne has scored 663 points, or 51 a game, while holding opponents to 154, or 11 a game. Until its 18-0 semifinal victory over No. 3 Robert C. Byrd, the fewest points the Pioneers had scored were 42 against Sissonville.
Their leading rusher is Kennedy Award candidate Brandon Spurlock, who has 1,859 yards on 127 carries, a gaudy 14.6 yards per attempt, and 25 touchdowns. However, he missed the semifinal playoff game against Byrd with a leg injury, as did Mason Hodge, their second leading rusher with 676 yards on 26 attempts and 12 touchdowns. He also has 269 yards on 12 receptions and four more scores.
Keyser head coach Sean Biser told the Charleston Gazette he expects to see both Brandon Spurlock and Hodge play for the Pioneers. “It’s the state championship game and I have no doubt both kids will be playing against us.”
The Pioneers turned to Nathan Spurlock, Brandon’s younger brother, a junior who ran for 212 yards in his first start against Byrd. Sophomore quarterback Grant Ferguson ran for 111 yards with a touchdown and James Egnor had 91. Ferguson, in three playoff games, has also thrown for 352 yards with four touchdowns completing 13 of 25 attempts.
“Somebody asked what we’re going to do different,” Biser told the Times-News following his team’s victory over Bridgeport. “We’re not going to do anything different. We block and tackle every day. Every day. That’s what football is; it doesn’t matter what the scheme is you run — if you can’t tackle, you’re beat. Our kids do tackle and they swarm to the ball real well.”
Keyser is no slouch on offense either. The Golden Tornado has scored 504 points or 39 a game. In three playoff games, Keyser has scored 156 points while giving up 36 for an average score of 52-12. Its combined lead after three halftimes was 104-0.
Junior Blake Ravenscroft is the team’s leading rusher with 1,389 yards on 122 attempts for an 11.4 average. He has scored 16 touchdowns and has three receptions for 38 yards. Danny Fife, also a junior, leads the team with 25 touchdowns and is a close second behind Ravenscroft with 1,200 yards on 181 attempts. He also has 26 yards on four receptions, a 37.8-yard average punting and handles kickoff duties, including the recent squib kicks the Tornado has turned into a playoff weapon.
Starting quarterback Cody Eversole has thrown for 536 yards hitting on 35 of 90 attempts with six touchdowns and six interceptions. He has thrown a touchdown pass in each playoff game.
The offense has totaled almost 5,000 yards (4,955), most of it on the ground with 4,382 and has scored 70 touchdowns.
This will be the fourth consecutive year that Keyser and Wayne have met. The first two were home and home games that opened the regular season for both teams and the last was a 38-8 Pioneer victory in last season’s quarterfinal playoff game. Wayne is 3-0 against Keyser.
Jeff Landes is a sports writer for the Cumberland Times-News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.