On one hand, Poca’s football team had every right to consider last season a success.
The Dots dashed to their first 10-0 regular season since 1978, good enough for the No. 3 playoff seed in Class AA, and picked up their first postseason victory since 2006. Along the way, junior running back Ethan Payne broke a longstanding state scoring record and became the school’s only athlete to capture the Kennedy Award as West Virginia’s top player.
So why do memories of the way the season ended still spark so much disappointment for the Dots?
A 25-20 home quarterfinal loss to Oak Glen — a game in which the Golden Bears chewed up the final 9 minutes and 32 seconds on a muddy field — still gnaws at Poca’s players and coaches.
“Oak Glen outplayed us and outexecuted us,’’ said Dots coach Seth Ramsey. “That kind of stuck in everybody’s craw. I don’t want to say it’s motivated us, because the kids are pretty motivated to do a job and do it well. We definitely wanted to end better than what we had, and finish strong.
“We have a lot to prove and a lot left in the tank. We still have goals of seeing how close we can come to winning that championship. We also know we’ve got to put in the work to get there.’’
Poca appears primed for another postseason run, returning starters at seven positions on offense and six on defense, including Payne (6-foot-1, 215 pounds), now a senior and a Marshall commit who ran for 2,845 yards and 49 touchdowns last year. During the regular season, he scored 46 TDs and 276 points, erasing the former mark of 263 points by Pineville legend Curt Warner in 1978.
Payne isn’t the only impact player back for the Dots. Senior quarterback Jay Cook (5-10, 195), who has started the team’s last 29 games, returns after passing for 1,645 yards and 21 touchdowns against only three interceptions.
His favorite target, junior wide receiver Toby Payne (6-4, 225), is also getting Division I attention as a tight end after catching 42 passes for 985 yards and 15 TDs. Like his older brother, Toby Payne was a first-team All-State selection last season.
Also back are the players who shared fullback duties a year ago, seniors Dillon Taylor (6-1, 210) and Landon Easter (5-10, 210). Other wideouts include senior Ethan Miller (5-10, 175), who had 20 receptions for 207 yards and two TDs, and Alan Withrow (6-3, 218).
Junior guard Gabe Keech (6-2, 255), whom Ramsey thinks is the best lineman in the Cardinal Conference, returns to anchor the offensive line. He’s joined by fellow juniors A.J. Dunbar (6-2, 250) and Byron Cunningham (6-2, 315) at tackle, T.D. May (5-10, 222) at guard and Jacob Pringle (5-9, 232) at center.
On defense, Keech and Cunningham line up at tackle, with Easter and Withrow at the ends. Taylor, Young and Toby Payne are set at linebacker, with the latter moving up closer to the line of scrimmage after playing much of last season as a defensive back.
“We’re trying to get him to the ball as much as we can,’’ Ramsey said of Toby Payne.
Miller led the Dots in tackles last season with a total of 175, including 26 for lost yardage, and was picked to the All-State second team.
In the secondary, Ethan Payne and sophomore Jordan Wolfe (6-1, 185) are the cornerbacks, with Miller at strong safety and Cook the free safety.
Junior Joe Starcher (6-1, 185), who booted 64 extra points last season, returns at place-kicker, and may also serve as punter.