Wahama seniors determined to get back to Wheeling
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The message is coming in loud and clear for Wahama.
Seniors Trenton Gibbs, Zack Wamsley and Crandale Neal have made sure the No. 3 White Falcons have crossed every T and dotted every I as they head into their Class A semifinal matchup at No. 2 Magnolia (11-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
The winner advances to next week's Super Six championships in Wheeling with a state title on the line.
"Two years ago we went to the state finals and three of our seniors were sophomores that played important parts, so I think their season is on their mind,'' said Wahama coach Ed Cromley.
"They're taking it on themselves to do things that usually the coach has to do, like making sure the kids get to practice, talking up what you have to do and pointing out some things they've learned over the years to the younger players. It's a great help. [Our players] hear it from [the coaches] all the time so hearing it from the experienced players they've looked up to, it echoes a lot to them.''
Wahama's players have been hanging on every word and it has showed with victories over Buffalo (38-0) and Greenbrier West (21-12) in the playoffs.
Gibbs, the quarterback, has passed for 1,088 yards and 12 touchdowns. Wamsley is the second-leading ground gainer with 1,100 yards and 20 TDs, and Neal has 10 total TDs. Junior back Kane Roush rounds out the trio as the team's top rusher and receiver.
"Everybody on the team wants to get back to Wheeling,'' Roush said. "All the sophomores and freshmen have never been there. I went my freshman year, and it was a great deal going there, even though I didn't really play. It's a great opportunity to go up there. Everybody's hyped. It's just a great experience.''
"I think we're playing a little bit better,'' added Cromley of his team's progress in the postseason. "I think our offensive line is playing a lot more physical. I think our backs are running a little more determined.''
Wahama will face a new kind of opponent in Magnolia, which advanced with wins over Williamstown (34-7) and East Hardy (19-14).
"This week is different from last week,'' Cromley said. "Magnolia is a team built on speed and last week it was power, big linemen and power plays at you all the time.
"We need to contain the speed they have. We've faced quicker spread teams, but not as quick as these guys. We're pretty fast ourselves. We've taken some of our offensive guys and tried to contain them in practice.''
Magnolia also takes on a style that it has rarely seen this year in Wahama's ground-heavy attack.
"A lot of the teams we play are either spread teams or like to run out of the I,'' said Blue Eagles coach Mark Batton. "We don't play many teams with a lot of motion and misdirection. We really had to go back and look at teams we've played in the past and see what we've done against them.''
The Blue Eagles' ball-hawking defense has only allowed an opponent to score 21 points twice this season.
Magnolia freshman defensive end Kyle Ritz and junior linebacker Kage Rhode lead the way with 12 and 10 sacks, respectively. Junior defensive back Jacob Brill, senior defensive back Gage Deem and Ritz also have three fumble recoveries with Brill returning one for a score. Senior defensive back Tanner Hanna has five interceptions, returning one for a TD, while Deem has two picks.
Magnolia will no doubt need another stout defensive effort against Wahama.
"Just breaking down their film and going over [Wahama's] scores and stats,'' Batton said, "they've put up big numbers and very few teams have been able to stop them.
"They do a lot of things very well. These guys are playoff-tested. The guys have come out and played hard every week. Just hope they're up for another task.''
Assistant sports editor Rick Ryan contributed to this report. Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.