AA: Taking aim at history
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Since a 24-0 loss at Nicholas County dropped its record to 3-3, Robert C. Byrd has been streaking, reeling off six road victories, including wins in the first two rounds of the Class AA playoffs in reaching the semifinals for the second straight year.
But if their streak is going to continue, the No. 13 Eagles are going to have to end one that is on the verge of historic proportions.
No. 1 Wayne has a chance to tie the state's all-time win streak at 36 straight when it squares off with Byrd tonight at 7:30 at Huntington High School.
It is the only semifinal rematch from a year ago as the Pioneers earned an 18-0 win on their way to a second straight state championship.
While the Eagles couldn't muster much offensively last season, Byrd did hold Wayne to its lowest offensive output of the season by far, as it marked the only time the Pioneers were held under 35 points.
Eagles coach Bruce Carey sure hopes that some of that defense carries over tonight.
"With the wing-T, you've got to key in on the linemen and not look in the backfield," Carey said. "You've got to be disciplined enough to stay at home and don't penetrate too much. Then you've got to take on the blocks and don't so much go around them - it's easier said then done. They wear you down and continue to run the same plays and try to outphysical you."
Indeed, Wayne continues to roll downhill offensively, riding a rushing attack that boasts four runners with over 450 yards, led by junior Mason Hodge, who's racked up 1,358 yards on 135 carries with 15 touchdowns.
As a team, the Pioneers have romped for 4,471 yards for an average of 372.6 per game.
Junior quarterback Grant Ferguson is expected back as well for Wayne after missing the first two playoff games after an injury in the season finale at Bluefield.
Even without him the Pioneers have hardly missed a beat, scoring 53 points in a first-round win over Philip Barbour and 48 in last week's mud-covered conquest over Sissonville.
"After the line of scrimmage was established in our favor, things kind of fell in line," Wayne coach Tom Harmon said of last week's game. "Our defense played tough and held [until] we found some seams to move the ball. Guys who have filled in for us at key spots have performed great."
Even with its offense humming, Wayne will have to continue to play solid defense against a Byrd attack that is balanced to say the least.
Juwan Jones-Wright leads a stable of three backs with 775 yards and 13 touchdowns on 117 carries but contributions from Elias Grant (624 yards, nine TDs) and Anthony Helm (470 yards, three TDs) should be expected as well.
Quarterback Julian Marino has also thrown for 1,085 yards with 12 TDs and just one interception.
During its current win streak, the Eagles (9-3) have allowed just 13.1 points per game and have forced 12 turnovers.
"Robert C. Byrd is on fire," Harmon said. "They have found their niche offensively as the season has progressed and their young team has matured. They do a nice job in coaching up their schemes. It shows in how they play fundamentally. They do all the things needed to be successful this time of year."
And if anyone knows what that takes, it's Harmon and his squad of heavily experienced players, who are looking to tie the victory run of Class A Ansted (1970-1973) all while advancing to yet another state title game in Wheeling.
"They've won 35 in a row and two straight state championships, so it's kind of hard to say anything bad about them," Carey said. "It's just hard matching their intensity. Whether it be a kickoff or a punt return, they go 100 percent all the time.
"They don't make mistakes, they're very aggressive, and they like to hit people, which is the kind of football I like to watch."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.