Blue Dons load up the Van

STILL BREAKING TACKLES — Madonna’s Donavan Kirby rushes against Parkersburg Catholic on Thursday (Photo by Andrew Grimm).

VAN — Unbeaten at 6-0 and ranked fourth in West Virginia, the high-flying Madonna Blue Dons head into what appears to be the most rugged part of the 2017 schedule with a long road trip to Van to face the 3-4 Bulldogs at 7 p.m.

All of the players on the Blue Don team are in a new territory. The seniors on this club were in the eighth grade when Madonna was last undefeated this far into the season. That was the unbeaten 14-0 state championship team.

Despite that, second-year coach Darrin Hicks feels he has the locker room leadership that will carry the Blue Dons through any situation.

“We have 16 guys in the upper two grades that are providing tremendous leadership in the locker room,” Hicks said. “The younger kids also understand what their roles are. They all know that they have got to be ready to lead and ready to follow. I believe that to be a great leader you have to be a good follower. I believe each of the players knows and understands his role on this team.”

Turning his attention to the Bulldogs, Hicks feels that despite the four losses, Van overall is a good, solid football team.

The Bulldogs head into the game smarting from a 43-22 licking at the hands of Richwood (3-3) and have now lost three in a row. Van began the season winning three of its first four games. The only loss in that span was in the second game to Class 2A Scott (2-4) by a score of 36-22.

The wins were 33-0 over Meadow Bridge, 30-22 over Tug Valley and 27-0 over Lincoln County. Aside from Scott and Richwood, the Bulldogs have lost 28-0 to Sherman and 44-22 to Shenandoah.

The Bulldogs average a shade over 22 points a game, while the Blue Dons score an average of 33.6 per.

A large part of that Blue Don scoring has come from junior running back sensation Donavan Kirby, who leads all area rushers and has to be right up there with all running backs in West Virginia with 1,527 yards in six games. He has scored 17 touchdowns and a couple of two-point conversions.

With all the yardage from the prolific Kirby, the Blue Dons have been facing defenses that pack nine, 10 and even 11 players into the box, daring Madonna quarterback Gavin Dietrich to pass the football.

Last week in the 43-6 win over Parkersburg Catholic, the junior signal caller showed that the Blue Dons can go to the air if they choose. He completed 4-of-6 passes for 70 yards and three touchdowns. That spurt gives Dietrich, who is in his first year at quarterback, nine completions in 17 throws for 191 yards and four touchdowns.

In Van, the Blue Dons will see a four-down front and a defense that runs the football.

“I think linebackers are their strength on defense,” Hicks said. “They don’t have an overly big line, but they are athletic.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs feature senior quarterback Caleb Green (5-9, 145 pounds).

“Green is an athletic quarterback that likes to throw the ball around and makes plays,” Hicks said. “Their tailback is Brady Grant who has good size.”

Grant is 5-foot-10 and weighs 185 pounds. Green’s favorite target is senior Kenneth Gibson (5-10, 150).

“Van uses multiple offensive formations with sprint outs by the quarterback and will use the wildcat at times,” Hicks said. “They seem to be a team that takes advantage of their formations. By that I mean they will select formations they plan to use in the game based on what they see of the opposition that week on film. Then, they stay with that game plan. They have shown a lot of different things on the films depending on the team they play.”

Hicks added that the Blue Dons plan to leave Weirton early Friday and has a full day planned.

“We’ll go about halfway and stop for about a half an hour of walk-throughs and stretching,” he said. “When we get to Charleston, we’ll check into the hotel and go through our offensive and defensive walk-throughs again. Then we’ll eat and head for Van, which is about an hour and 15-minute bus ride southwest of Charleston.”

Hicks said that after the game and an overnight stay in Charleston, the Blue Dons will arrive back in Weirton about noon on Saturday.