As a testament to the strength of the Class AA field, a pair of unbeatens hooks up in the second round of the playoffs on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at O.O. White Stadium in Poca.
The No. 3 Dots (11-0) will welcome in No. 6 Oak Glen (11-0) in the only showdown between undefeated teams in the state this weekend.
Both coaches — Poca’s Seth Ramsey and Oak Glen’s Ted Arneault — said it didn’t take long in watching film to see why their opponent has gone through 2019 thus far without a loss.
“Obviously, [Poca running back] Ethan Payne is a great athlete and he’s had a phenomenal season, but I feel like they have strengths elsewhere too,” Arneault said. “[Wideout] Toby Payne is a great player, their offensive line has gotten the job done and their blocking backs do a very good job. They’re very physical and when they need to, they can spread out and throw the ball.”
That Dots passing game could be one of the biggest keys in Saturday’s game.
One reason Ethan Payne (2,663 yards and 48 touchdowns) has been so successful on the ground has been because of the balance provided by quarterback Jay Cook (1,487 yards and 19 touchdowns), Toby Payne (37 receptions, 881 yards and 13 touchdowns) and company have provided in the air.
That threat has helped keep defenses honest and has kept extra bodies from creeping into the box. On paper, the Bears would seem to have a couple of defensive backs in Michael Lemley and Brayden Mineard who could be up to the task of limiting Poca’s aerial attack.
Lemley has intercepted 14 passes this year and Menard enters Saturday with seven. Though Oak Glen mixes zone and man coverages in its defense, if those two can win one-on-one battles with Toby Payne, something not many teams have been able to do this year, it could allow Oak Glen to sneak an extra defender into the box and thus, provide more traffic for Ethan Payne to negotiate.
“They do a really good job of jumping flat routes and their free safety has a lot of interceptions with the quarterback under duress,” Ramsey said. “They’re going to do what they do. They’re going to play man-to-man some, they’ll leave one guy over the top and play off him. They don’t change for who they’re playing.”
It is the variety of looks Oak Glen presents — both offensively and defensively — that has Ramsey most concerned heading into Saturday.
“They’re just so stinkin’ multiple in what they do,” Ramsey said. “They have a lot of guys that can score in a hurry. They run a ton of sweep and trap and then they throw a lot of vertical and crossing routes, and they do it in a ton of formations and with a lot of shifts and motions.
“We’ve got to do a really good job on first and second down to get them behind the chains, that way we can control the tempo of the game a little bit and bring pressure. But that’s a lot easier said than done with these guys, they can just do so many things.”
A trio of juniors leads an Oak Glen offense that has gone over 40 points in eight of 11 games this season.
Quarterback Nick Chaney (1,895 passing yards, 19 touchdowns) is flanked by backs Hunter Patterson (1,132 yards, 16 touchdowns) and Paxton Shuman (861 yards, 14 scores). Patterson also leads the team in receptions (41), receiving yards (721) and is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with eight. Gage Patterson also has eight to go with 30 catches and 576 yards.
Arneault has been impressed with Poca’s defense as well, particularly, its ability to bow up as teams approach the goal line. That unit has held opponents under 20 points in seven games and has yet to give up more than 28.
But more than just Poca’s defense, Arneault said his team’s success will largely depend on its ability to get out of its own way, something that has hurt the Bears at times this season.
“Making sure we’re not hurting ourselves with penalties, that’s hurt us in the past,” Arneault said. “We can’t be careless with the football when we’re throwing. Our offensive line has to do a job — we have to get consistent push from our line — and our defense has to do its best to slow down [Ethan] Payne. But we’re going to have to play mistake-free and that’s a tall order to ask of kids. But we’re going to have a good week of practice and we’ll see what we can do.”