Red Riders embrace underdog role

CONDITIONING — Weir High’s Chad Custer rushes against Petersburg on Sept. 23. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

WEIRTON — Finishing the high school football regular season in the bottom half of the top 16 automatically makes a team the underdog. Going on the road to play at a team that is 9-1 with its lone loss by four points makes it not only an underdog role for Weir High this week, but also a hefty challenge.

That’s what lies ahead Saturday for the 14th-seed Red Riders, which are making the playoffs for the fourth straight year. They are preparing to play No. 3 Bridgeport, whose lone loss is to Fairmont Senior 14-10. Fairmont Senior hung a 49-20 loss on the Red Riders. The opening kick is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

The Indians are no strangers to the postseason. This will be the 25th straight season that Bridgeport has gone to the playoffs, according to first-year head coach John Cole. Most of that was when the Indians were a Class AAA school. The Indians fell to Class AA in 2009.

“Sounds like we are the underdogs, doesn’t it,” Weir High coach Tony Filberto said, who is making his 26th trip to the playoffs as an assistant or head coach in his more than 35 years of coaching. “That’s okay. We were underdogs last year when we were 13th and traveled to Sissonville, the fourth seed. We were down 21-7 at the half in that one and rallied for a 29-27 win.”

Filberto said this is the exciting time of the football season for him. He said he was excited last Sunday to go to the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletics Commission headquarters in Parkersburg for the meeting of Class AA playoff coaches.

“I enjoy going there to see that group you don’t see much during the year and know that your team is in a positive position and qualified for the playoffs,” he said. “We’re happy with the way things fell for us in the tournament bracket because if we can beat Bridgeport, we would play the winner of the No. 6 team (James Monroe) and No. 11 (Winfield), which is better than playing another team in the top five.”

Looking ahead isn’t on Filberto’s agenda at the moment. The Bridgeport Indians are occupying his thoughts.

“Bridgeport has scored a lot of points this year (330),” Filberto said. “They have opened up their offense a little bit compared to what they used to do. They were three backs with the quarterback under center. Now they still have the three backs, but one of them is the quarterback in the shotgun.

“That’s what they do best — run the football. They usually put three backs in the backfield with a split end. That’s their base offense. Like everybody else, they line up in some other formations. You can’t worry about everything. You worry about what they do most and what they do best.”

Cole confirmed that.

“We changed our offense a couple of years ago to give our quarterback a little more freedom to use his athleticism. Our tailback is Jake Bowen (6-1, 195), who has about 1,300 yards rushing this year,” he said. “John Merica (6-0, 170) is the quarterback. He has run for about 500 yards. I don’t even know what his passing yardage is because we only pass on an average of two or three times a game.”

“Weir has got size, speed and are well coached,” said Cole, who took over the reins after being on the Bridgeport staff the past 22 years. “They have fought through some injuries, but coach Filberto has them in some good schemes both offensively and defensively.

Cole, who previously was the offensive line coach of the Indians, said the Bridgeort line has tackles that are 270 and 240 with a 230-pound center.

“They are big and physical up front and come right at you,” Filberto said. “They want to get the lead and control the football game. They want to put you always in a chase mode.

“On the other hand, we want to be the aggressor. We want to challenge them and force them to defend instead of us having to defend.”

Filberto wouldn’t commit which of his quarterbacks (junior Tyler Komorowski or sophomore Sebastian Spencer) would start.

“We’ll use both of them depending upon the situations we have,” he said. “Both are capable and both probably will be on the field a lot at the same time.”

The Red Riders lost Komorowski for the better part of five games when he injured a knee in a 21-18 loss to Keyser back on Sept. 15. Spencer was forced into duty and has steadily improved as the season progressed. Komorowski is bigger and runs harder, but Spencer is a sprinter with electric speed.

“Weir’s game with Keyser might have had a different outcome if that No. 15 (Komorowski) had not got hurt late in that game. After he went down, Keyser went right down the field for the winning touchdown. But you never know.

“What I do know is that No. 15 is probably the best defensive end I’ve seen all year. He’ll give us some problems for sure.”

Cole added that he is concerned about Reed Reitter.

“He’s a big kid and very athletic,” he said. “We see him on the films making all kinds of catches, and he plays very well at safety. Weir High is a good team. This will be a tough football game.”

Filberto said both teams are comparable in speed, which is an area the Red Riders usually have an advantage over opponents.

“I don’t know that we have a lot more speed than Bridgeport, but each team uses it’s speed differently,” he said. “They want to use the power game, while I think we use our overall speed in a more diversified way.”

Junior Chad Custer is Weir’s leading rusher with 728 yards and 10 touchdowns on 104 totes. Senior fullback Tyler Mack has carried the ball 67 times for 565 yards and six touchdowns. Spencer has 43 carries for 303 yards and six scores, while Komorowski has 47 rushes for 213 yards and three touchdowns.

When the Red Riders go to the air, Spencer has triggered 82 passes, completing 43 of them for 661 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions. Komorowski is 31-of-62 for 604 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

Junior Reed Reitter is by far the favorite target for both quarterbacks. He has caught 33 for 640 yards and 7 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 3-inch Reitter has made several highlight film receptions this year and averages 19.39 yards per catch.

Reitter’s right foot is also a valuable weapon for the Red Riders. He is in a tie for second among all kickers in the 11-school coverage area of the Herald-Star and The Daily Times with 43 points, 28 on points after touchdown kicks and 15 on five field goals. Three of his field goals have come from at least 40 yards. His longest is a school record 44 yards.

Keyser, which finished the season at 7-3 and is playoff bound as the 13th seed, is another common opponent for the two teams. Weir lost at Keyser 21-18, while the Indians hung a 30-0 win on the Golden Tornado.

The Indians have beaten two West Virginia Class AAA teams, Wheeling Park (6-4) and Buckhannon Upshur (3-7). The Red Riders also have beaten two 3A teams in the state, John Marshall (7-3) and Brooke (3-7).

The two teams also are similar in terms of points scored and given up. The Indians have scored 330 points and yielded 134. On the other hand, the Red Riders have scored 373 with the defense giving up 141. Take away the 49 points scored by Fairmont Senior and the Weir High defense yielded just 92 points this season.