Smothering defense carries Wayne to repeat AA crown
WHEELING, W.Va. - All the stat sheets said Keyser had the state's best defense this season. But in the Class AA championship game Friday night, that honor belonged entirely to Wayne.
Senior Brandon Spurlock ran for 144 yards and three touchdowns and the Pioneers shackled Keyser's offense from the very start, resulting in a 35-0 victory that gave Wayne its second straight title in front of about 5,500 fans at chilly Wheeling Island Stadium.
Grant Ferguson threw a pair of first-half scoring passes on fourth down for the top-ranked Pioneers (14-0), who extended their two-season win streak to 23 games. They become the first AA program to capture back-to-back crowns since Poca won three straight (2001-03). It was also Wayne's third title since 2006.
"This is way great,'' said Spurlock, who went over 2,000 rushing yards on the season. "This is everything we've worked for, and we've been together since we were 6. I hate that this is the end, but everything comes to an end.''
Wayne's domination on defense was never-ending, though.
The second-seeded Golden Tornado (12-2), making its first title-game appearance since 1969, managed just seven first downs and 97 total yards against the swarming Pioneers, who shut out their final three playoff opponents this season.
"We come out and play every Friday and play our last down as hard as our first one,'' said linebacker Mason Hodge who, like Spurlock, played despite a nagging leg injury that had limited them the last two weeks. "We never stop on D. That's all you can say about it.''
Keyser crossed midfield twice in the first half - once following a 41-yard kickoff return by Danny Fife - but never got closer than the Wayne 28 until its final possession of the game, when a Cody Eversole pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-goal from the Pioneers 5 in the waning moments.
"The great thing about our guys,'' said Wayne coach Tom Harmon, "is that you can tell them something and they know what you're talking about, and they make the adjustments. It takes a smart group to do that.''
Keyser had allowed a state-low 68 points during the regular season and had permitted its first 13 opponents to score just 15 touchdowns, but couldn't slow down Wayne's ground-bound offense, dubbed the Wayne-T.
The Pioneers racked up a 21-0 lead by halftime and finished the game with 389 rushing yards. Besides Brandon Spurlock, Wayne got balanced contributions from Nathan Spurlock, his younger brother (eight carries, 60 yards), Ferguson (nine carries, 58 yards), James Egnor (eight carries, 57 yards) and Hodge (six carries, 55 yards).
Ferguson fumbled at the goal line in the first quarter or Wayne might have tallied more points in the first half than Keyser had given up in any game all year (22 to Fort Hill, Md.).
"They just made runs,'' said Golden Tornado coach Sean Biser. "We didn't tackle well. I know Brandon Spurlock had a good game. He was still hurting, but he had a good game. They opened up a couple nice creases on us and they made plays on a couple passes. We've got to make plays on those touchdown passes - we were right there with them.''
Ferguson fired a 22-yard TD toss to Hodge on a fourth-and-17 call to cap Wayne's first possession, then later lofted a 9-yard score to Zack Cassidy on a fourth-down fade pattern with 4:24 left in the first half to make it 21-0.
Spurlock, who carried 13 times, was selected as his team's MVP by a media vote after scoring runs of 4, 4 and 13 yards. On the first one, he just out-quicked Keyser defenders to the right pylon and on the second two simply refused to be tackled after getting first contact just past the line of scrimmage.
"I felt 100 percent going out there,'' said Spurlock, who sat out last week's semifinal win against Robert C. Byrd, "but then on that first run, I just pulled it again and there was nothing I could do.
"I think the guys pulled through for me. They believed in me to run the ball for them and blocked their hearts out for me just like they do every other week. I thank them and I give this [game MVP award] to them.''
Hodge, a 6-foot, 230-pound sophomore who was limited to playing only defense last week because of his injury, said there was no doubt he and Brandon Spurlock would suit up and play the entire game.
"We fight through it,'' Hodge said. "That's Wayne football. It doesn't matter what injuries we've got - we're gonna play.''
Wayne grabbed a 21-0 lead at halftime, completely shutting down Keyser's offense.
The Golden Tornado ran 22 plays in the first half and managed just two first downs and 34 net yards. By comparison, Brandon Spurlock's first carry went for 38 yards for Wayne.
"We struggled moving the ball in the first half,'' Biser said, "and a couple dumb penalties took us out of position. You can't do that against a good football team. Hats off to Wayne - a great program, a good football team, a quality opponent.''
The Pioneers' five first-half possessions went this way - Ferguson TD tosses to Hodge and Cassidy, a 4-yard scoring run by Brandon Spurlock, a fumble into the end zone by Ferguson for a touchback (at the tail end of a 50-yard run) and a Hodge punt of 51 yards that was downed at the Keyser 1.
Wayne amassed 303 net yards, 261 of them on the ground, before the break. It turned in 13 plays or 10 more yards in the first half, six of those good for 20-plus yards.
"We've been here before,'' Brandon Spurlock said, "and I guess [Keyser] wasn't used to the hype and everything. But they were a great team - definitely the best team we've played all year. We just came out ready to play.''
Defensive lineman Josh Coffman, who had six tackles, was selected as Keyser's MVP.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.