WEIRTON - The Madonna football loaded onto a bus at 10 a.m. today and headed for Tucker County to play the No. 1 ranked team in W.Va. Class A with a trip to the Super Six in Wheeling the following weekend hanging on the outcome. The Blue Dons and Mountain Lions are set to tangle at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
The Blue Dons were to work out today at Fairmont State University and then travel to Elkins for the overnight.
For the seniors on both teams, the game will be a rematch of the 2009 quarterfinal playoff game in Weirton. In that one, Madonna was the top-ranked team while Tucker County got into the playoffs at No. 9. The Dons, on their way to the state title that year, earned a 48-0 victory.
WEEK 13 — The Madonna football team, shown after last week’s 29-14 win over St. Marys, visits Tucker County at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the West Virginia Class A semifinals.
-- Mike Mathison
"They put it on us pretty good as I recall," said veteran Tucker County coach A.J. Rapp, who has had the Mountain Lions in the playoffs in five of the eight years he has been at the helm. "I don't care much for the revenge thing. I just think the rankings this year played out the way they should. The top four teams in the rankings are left and they obviously are the best four teams.
"We have 10 seniors and 13 juniors who have played together since they were little kids. We lost in the last game of the season last year by six points to go 5-5. We needed that game to get into the playoffs. We finished 17th and you could see in the boys' eyes after that game that they had something to prove this year and they did.
Rapp said he had 29 kids returning and they bought into his weight training program and worked hard during the offseason. Then, they went undefeated during the regular season and were ranked as the top team in Class A and thus have home field advantage throughout the playoffs to the championship game in Wheeling.
And they did it in outstanding fashion, outscoring their opponents thus far 506-143. The Mountain Lion defense pitched three shutouts during the regular season. Clarksburg Notre Dame is the only team that scored more than three times against them. Notre Dame got 35 points against the Tucker County defense in the last game of the regular season. The problem for them was that Tucker County scored 69.
Notre Dame and Clay-Battelle, which the Mountain Lions disposed of in last week's quarterfinal round by 48-14, are the only common opponents of the teams.
Madonna, which has outscored its opponents 495-128, beat Notre Dame 49-12 and Clay-Battelle 40-2.
The quarterbacks of both teams match up pretty well, according to the statistics.
For the Blue Dons, that is junior Ross Comis, who has racked up 2,707 all-purpose yards on offense - 1,292 passing and 1,415 rushing. Comis has tossed 15 touchdown passes and scored 22 on the ground.
Derek Nestor, a senior, who saw some action in that playoff game four years ago as a wide receiver, has passed for more than 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns while picking up 922 yards on the ground with 14 more touchdowns.
"Derek is a better passer than runner," said Rapp "He has played just about all of the skill positions for us, though, over his four years. He's been our quarterback the last two years."
Austin Zirk, a junior running back, leads the Mountain Lion rushing attack with 922 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Nestor's two favorite targets are a pair of seniors, Tyler Snyder with 700 yards receiving and Nathaniel Goldstein, who has 600 yards.
When asked about his offensive guys, Rapp was quick to point out what he considers to be the strength of his team, his linemen. He said he has three seniors who anchor the offensive line in Mike Adkins, (6-feet, 224 pounds), Taylor Zirk (6-2, 218 and Zack Wolford (6-3-221).
"That's where it starts, on the line of scrimmage," said Rapp. "I'm an old line coach so I believe most games are won or lost there. Those three guys and all of the others have worked very hard in the weight room."
Madonna coach Doug Taylor confirmed that the Mountain Lions have an excellent line.
"They have good size and get off the ball real well both offensively and defensively," said Taylor, who has Madonna in the playoffs for the second straight year that he has been at the helm.
"Tucker County has real good skill players, too. I'd say that Nestor and Comis are very comparable. Zirk isn't real big at 164 pounds, but he has good speed and we can't let him get to the perimeter."
Taylor, who, with his staff, traveled to Tucker County last Saturday to scout its win over Clay-Battelle, said the Mountain Lion defense is led by Atkins, the middle linebacker.
"They are a physical football team like St. Marys was last week," Taylor . "But we're in the semifinals and you expect that."
Rapp categorized Madonna as a physical team as well.
"Comis is the real deal," he said. "We expect to see a lot of him."
He said he also was concerned about running back Nick Ossman and wing back Eliott Nero.
"I've seen some big players over the years, but I've never seen a seven-footer (Josh Martin). The big guys I've seen usually are pretty wide. Martin is tall and lean at 295 pounds," said Rapp.
Weather could be a factor in the game with a forecast of rain and possible snow showers.
Tucker County plays on grass and Rapp said the field has been in good shape for the playoffs thus far.
"We had about 18 inches of snow back in the last week of October from Sandy," he said. "Fortunately, we played our last three regular season games on the road. We kept everybody off the field until the first playoff game and it (the field) has dried out and should be pretty good for this game."