WHEELING, W.Va. — Keyser entered its first state championship game in 43 years on a roll, having won nine straight, including all three home playoff games, convincingly.
Unfortunately for the Golden Tornado, they came up against another team on an even greater roll as the top-rated and undefeated Wayne Pioneers pounded Keyser 35-0 Friday night at Wheeling Island Stadium for the West Virginia Class AA championship.
Wayne successfully defended its state title while winning its 23rd straight game. The back-to-back championships are a first for the six-time finalist and three-time champion, which set a school season record with 14 victories.
For 12-2 Keyser, which also set a school record for most wins in a year, it was, with several drive-killing penalties, an uncharacteristic and disappointing end to an otherwise outstanding year.
Simply put, Wayne did to Keyser what Keyser did to others — dominate from start to finish.
While Keyser brought the number-one defense in points allowed to the game, Wayne showed why it was the number-one team with a stifling performance powered by Kennedy Award candidate Brandon Spurlock’s 144 yards on 13 carries for three touchdowns, helping the Pioneers finish with 432 total yards to the Tornado’s 92.
Spurlock, who didn't play in the Pioneers' 18-0 semifinal victory over Robert C. Byrd, finished his senior season with 2,003 yards and 28 touchdowns.
“He’s special,” said Keyser head coach Sean Biser. “He was playing with a bad wheel, but if you look at his legs, he’s got a low-center of gravity and he made some fantastic runs.
“But honestly, we helped him out a lot because we were out of position and did not tackle well. That is one of the things we built our whole defense around is being able to tackle well and we just didn’t. Part of that was on him and part of that was on us, too.”
Wayne did almost everything well in the first half, finishing with 304 yards to Keyser's 31. By the time the Tornado made its first first down early in the second quarter, on a 15-yard run up the left side by Blake Ravenscroft, the Pioneers had eight.
The Pioneers shut down Keyser’s inside game and chased down most attempts to the outside.
“They were just jamming the inside, that’s why we went away from it,” said Biser. “We knew they were trying to take that away and we had more success on the edge with the rocket sweeps and things like that. Then they tried to take that away so we were trying to mix it up and find things that we can hang our hat on. We struggled to do that and then we get ourselves in good position and, again, the penalties raise their head and pulled us back out.”
After Keyser's game-opening drive netted six yards, with a long Ravenscroft run being called back on a holding penalty, Wayne marched 74 yards in seven plays, scoring on Grant Ferguson’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Mason Hodge on fourth-and-17. Andrew Stamper made the first of all five of his extra point attempts for the 7-0 lead. Hodge began the drive with a 21-yard run and Spurlock broke two tackles on a weaving 38-yard run to the Keyser 15.
On Wayne’s second play of its next possession, Ferguson faked a handoff and took off down the right sideline for what appeared to be a 51-yard touchdown, but Keyser's Amonte Turner caught up to him and as he twisted Ferguson out of bounds, the Pioneer quarterback fumbled the ball into and out of the end zone for a touchback.
Keyser, for the second straight series, punted after three plays and the Pioneers marched 50 yards in eight plays, scoring on the first of two four-yard touchdown runs by Spurlock six seconds into the second quarter. He began the drive with a 17-yard run and Ferguson, who rushed for 61 yards on nine carries, gained 10 on a third-and-nine to Keyser’s 10.
Trailing 14-0, Keyser's Danny Fife took the ensuing kickoff 36 yards to the Tornado 38. On the next play, Ravenscroft, who finished as the team’s leading rusher with 55 yards on 18 carries, made his first-down run to the Wayne 47. Keyser reached the Pioneer 36 before Wayne's defense and two penalties, one a personal foul, had Keyser fourth-and-34 from its 40.
“We were deep in their territory with a chance to move the ball some more and we just can’t do that,” Biser said. “We can’t make those dumb mistakes and have those penalties kill us and back us up.”
Wayne, starting from its 20, after recovering its own muffed punt return, used less than three minutes to go 80 yards for its third touchdown and a 21-0 halftime lead. The big plays were three consecutive runs that netted 72 yards — 24 by Spurlock, 18 by Nathan Spurlock, Brandon's younger brother, and 30 by James Egnor — to put the ball at the Keyser eight. Ferguson, on fourth-and-goal from the nine, hit Zack Cassidy on a left-corner fade for the score.
Ferguson finished with 43 yards passing, completing three of five. Nathan Spurlock and Egnor combined for 116 yards rushing with Egnor getting 59 and Spurlock 57. Hodge added 55 yards on six attempts.
Fife, who was held to 13 yards on seven carries, again gave Keyser excellent field position with a 41-yard return to Wayne's 43. He finished with 103 yards on four kickoff returns. The drive, however, lasted only four plays when Ravenscroft was pulled down from behind by linebacker Zach Damron two yards short of the first.
Wayne continued its dominance after halftime, going 62 yards in three minutes, scoring on Brandon Spurlock's second four-yard run. He scored again early in the fourth following a Keyser fumble on a 13-yard run.
The closest Keyser came to getting into the end zone was in the fourth quarter when the Tornado marched from its 43 to the Pioneer four, mainly behind a 19-yard Ravenscroft run, before another personal foul penalty forced Keyser back to the 17. Cody Eversole, who was 4 for 9 for 27 yards, hit Dakota Proud for 13 to the four before his fourth-down pass into the end zone fell incomplete with 4:58 to play.
Linebacker Josh Coffman, who had six unassisted tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss, was voted Keyser's Most Valuable Player.
Jeff Landes is a sports writer for the Cumberland Times-News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.