WEIRTON - Madonna football coach Doug Taylor said he has been telling his playoff-bound Blue Dons that the season is broken down into four sections - the preseason, regular season, postseason and off-season.
"We want to postpone the off-season for as long as we can," said a chuckling Taylor, who is preparing his fourth ranked Blue Dons (9-1) to host 13th ranked Tug Valley (8-2) at 1:30 p.m. today at Jimmy Carey Stadium.
Tug Valley hails from Naugatuck, which is located near Williamson in Mingo County. The Panthers will have at least a 4 hour drive to the game.
RUNNING DOWNHILL — Madonna junior Elliott Nero runs the ball during the Blue Dons’ win over Steubenville Catholic Central two weeks ago. Madonna hosts Tug Valley at 1:30 p.m. today at Jimmy Carey Stadium in the first round of the West Virginia Class A playoffs.
Taylor said drawing the Panthers for the first game could be a challenge despite their 13th seed in the West Virginia Class A post-season football tournament.
Tug Valley, like several other schools in West Virginia this year, has changed divisions as enrollment dictates. The Panthers dropped from Class AA to A and played four of its games this year against AA teams.
The Panthers beat three of the four AA teams. They downed Mount View (3-7) 34-28, Tolsia (5-5) 18-14 and Clay County (5-5) 16-8 and were defeated by Westside (5-5) 34-30.
Clay County, which Tug Valley beat last week, is the only one of the four to make the playoffs. They squeaked into the Class AA rankings at 16th.
Tug Valley's other loss came in the second game of the season when they lost to Meadow Bridge 27-8.
Meadow Bridge (8-2) is in the Class A playoffs as the 11th seed.
"Tug Valley definitely will be a challenge for us," Taylor exclaimed. "They have decent size and decent team speed. Their linemen aren't extremely heavy, but they are tall and lean and they get off the ball well. I think their biggest lineman weighs 251 pounds."
Taylor and Tug Valley coach, Tony Clusky, exchanged films of regular season games at the meetings last Sunday at the WVSSAC office in Parkersburg.
"The films show Tug Valley will run the shotgun with two running backs and the quarterback and they use the jet sweep style of offense," Taylor said. "They run that offense well and they love to use play action."
The jet sweep has a wing back in motion, who either fakes a handoff or accepts the ball for a run that usually is a sweep around end. It looks similar to an end around type of play.
Panthers senior quarterback Mikey Newsome was 67 for 135 for 1,235 yards, 17 touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Panthers feature four running backs who have combined for 1,520 yards.
Senior Aaron Muncy has 498 yards on 104 carries. Junior David Runyon has 476 yards on 95 chances and senior Jesse Mays has 316 yards on 69 attempts. Sophomore Justin Baisden has 230 yards on 61 runs.
"I would say Tug Valley is a ball control, patient team," Taylor continued. "They are willing to settle for three or four yards a play. Then when the defense sneaks in a little closer to stop the run, they'll hit the play action pass."
Senior Tight end Corey Dillon is Newsome's favorite receiver, according to Taylor. He has 26 receptions for 399 yards. Muncy has hauled in 15 balls for 367 yards.
"Dillon is about 6-4 and 210 pounds so he's a big target," said Taylor.
Defensively, Taylor said he has seen the Panthers in several different defensive fronts.
"It may be that they change based on the offensive formations they see," he said. "We need to figure out what defense we want to get them into with our formations."
Defensive lineman Isaac Parsley leads the defense with 85 tackles and seven sacks. Baisden and Tyler Conley each have 54 tackles.
The Panthers will go up against a Madonna defense that has yielded just 102 points in 10 games. The Blue Dons, on the other hand, have rolled up 408 points with its potent offense.
Taylor, whose team has reeled off eight straight wins since losing to Wheeling Central in the second game of the season, is counting on junior quarterback Ross Comis to make those reads in the zone stretch offense the Blue Dons use.
Comis leads the Blue Don rushing attack with 1,277 yards on 141 attempts for a per carry average of 9.06. He has 19 rushing touchdowns.
Junior running backs, Nick Ossman and Elliott Nero, follow with 655 yards and 391 yards respectively.
In the passing department, Comis has hit 64.91 percent of his aerials, 74 of 114, for 982 yards and 12 touchdowns. With 18 more yards in the air, Comis would be a double 1,000 yard quarterback this season.
Taylor said it is no secret that his Blue Dons want to run the football, so the two teams tend to mirror each other in that regard.
In two of their last three wins, the Blue Dons used ball control for wins. They had two long second-half drives to come from behind and beat Steubenville Catholic Central 21-20 and last week, the Blue Dons relentlessly pounded the football at previously unbeaten Clay-Battelle in a 40-2 win.
Taylor said he doesn't think his Blue Dons are pressured by winning eight straight games.
"I think teams that go into the playoffs undefeated are the ones that feel the pressure," he said. "I remember in 2005 when I was an assistant at Weir High and we won the state championship that we lost a tough one to John Marshall. While the players were disappointed with the loss, I think it turned out that was the best thing that could have happened to us because it took the pressure off.
"I think that loss to Wheeling Central is working the same way for us this year. The kids remember how low they felt following that game and they don't want that feeling again."
Taylor said with the comeback win over a favored Steubenville Central team three weeks ago and the decisive victory over Clay Battelle-last week, the Blue Dons have gained in confidence.
"The kids are aware that they can win the close ones and I think that has instilled confidence in them," he said.. "They know that if they play hard they can overcome adversity."
Taylor said he is thankful for the opportunity to play home games on the artificial turf at Jimmy Carey Stadium because he was talking to the coach of top ranked Tucker County at the meetings in Parkersburg and learned that the storm last week dumped 42 inches of snow on their home field, R. H. Armstrong Stadium, which is a natural grass field.
There is a bit of irony in the playoff matchup between Tug Valley and Madonna, according to Taylor. Earlier this year when football schedules were being put together, Tug Valley and Madonna had a mutual open date so discussions began about playing during the regular season.
However, Madonna discovered that Fort Frye, Ohio also had an open date and it was decided those two schools would get together because of a closer proximity to each other as opposed to the 4 driving distance between Tug Valley and Weirton.