poca ethan payne3

Poca running back Ethan Payne set an all-time West Virginia prep football regular-season scoring record with 276 points, breaking the mark previously held by Pineville’s Curt Warner.

News of Ethan Payne’s Kennedy Award win will land on doorsteps in Poca this morning like a surprise Christmas Amazon package sent from a distant relative abroad.

Poca’s one-man wrecking crew in the backfield has been voted the winner of the prestigious award, marking the latest in a postseason line of honors including the Curt Warner Award, given to the state’s top running back.

Right off the top, a tip of the cap to Payne who has been very gracious during the few interviews I’ve done with him and in this very section, you can read about his statistics and accomplishments this season in Rick Ryan’s Kennedy Award story. They are certainly impressive.

A dynamic combination of quickness and power, Payne was the best offensive player I saw covering prep football this season and he was also a playmaker on defense as the Dots ripped off a 10-0 regular season before falling in the Class AA quarterfinals to Oak Glen. So, when it came time for me to vote, the decision was fairly easy … at least in the top spot (for the record, after a lot of pondering, I had Cabell Midland’s J.J. Roberts second and Parkersburg South’s Brandon Penn third).

But if you follow me – or Rick — on Twitter, you know we were burned like a yuletide log by a handful of Payne supporters ready to jump the gun.

Rick unintentionally sparked the flame online after simply tweeting that much more often than not, the Kennedy winner has come from a team that at the very least, made the semifinals. In fact, as he pointed out in a story looking at Kennedy candidates, Payne is just the second player since 1989 to win the award from a team that exited the postseason before the semifinals, joining Bluefield quarterback Will Cole in 2008.

Rick isn’t much for Twitter battles, but it just so happens that I am, so I jumped into the fray and took a few shots too, which is fine. I’m all for debate and scathing remarks certainly come with the territory. In fact, keep em’ coming @RPritt.

And while Rick was simply stating a fact, I took it a step further, fully owning the fact that team success has impact on how I vote, and that holds true from the Kennedy Award down through all of our All-Kanawha Valley teams and so forth.

It’s an interesting topic. True, the best player isn’t always on the best team, but wouldn’t the best player effect his team’s overall success as well? How many wins is the best player worth?

Despite falling short of Class AA’s final four, Payne had a few things working for him when voting was due.

The first mistake a few people who supported Payne for the award made in reaching out to Rick and I was assuming the Dots’ season would be looked at as substandard because of the quarterfinal loss. But this year’s Class AA field was anything but typical. Quite frankly, it was the strongest playoff bracket I’ve ever seen.

If Winfield — which boasted two first-team, All-State players in Nick Vance and John Covert, as well as a unique and explosive offense not seen by most teams statewide — is the 16th best team in a playoff field, you’ve got yourself a stout set of teams.

By the time Oak Glen made the long trek down to Poca, the two teams met with a combined record of 22-0. It was the only quarterfinal matchup in any of the three classes that featured two unbeaten teams.

Also, there was the record that Payne broke, a single-season scoring record owned by Warner himself that stood since 1978. Now, 41 years is a long time and Curt Warner is a big name. Those headlines were hard to ignore.

Finally, as Rick pointed out in that same Kennedy candidate story, this year was unique in the fact that there was an unusually high number of players with Award credentials spanning across all regions of West Virginia. A total of 18 players earned at least a vote from 32 ballots, and when tallies are spread that far and stretched that thin, players who made waves statewide rise to the top. With the record, the yards and doing it in one of the toughest classifications we’ve ever seen, Payne certainly did that.

Poca — which is also the place I call home these days — is a special place in terms of sports with an extremely supportive community and passionate fan base. So, as word is passed along with gift-wrapped packages in Poca today, I’m sure Christmas will be just a little merrier.

And with a senior season of eligibility left, Payne could be the gift that keeps on giving in the small community in Putnam County.

•••

The Kenny Earl Barker Memorial lock of the week section isn’t exactly off to a rip-roaring start thanks to the Marshall’s 23-point loss to Central Florida on Monday. But this week we’ll try again – twice actually – as we tackle the national semifinals.

No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (plus 13.5): I am a firm believer that LSU’s defense is suspect at best and here, it’ll be tasked with trying to stop yet another superlative Oklahoma offense. Leading that charge is Jalen Hurts, a quarterback transfer from Alabama with plenty of national semifinal experience. But what isn’t suspect is the Tigers’ offense led by Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. LSU will give up a lot of points, but OU will give up a lot more. Take the Tigers and lay the points. Final — LSU 52, Oklahoma 35.

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson (minus 2.5): Now the game that in my opinion, matches up the two best teams in the country. It’s hard to find a weakness anywhere with these two. Both boast elite defenses (Clemson is tops in the country in total defense, Ohio State is second), both have premier quarterbacks, running backs and athletes across the field on all sides of the ball. Both should also be motivated, with cases to the No. 1 seed being trumped by SEC perception. It’s a toss up by nearly any metric, and with all things being even, I’ll take the Buckeyes and the points. Final — Ohio State 27, Clemson 26.

Record — 0-1.

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazettemail.com or follow him @RPritt on Twitter.