WEIRTON - The Madonna football team barely broke into a sweat last week as it waltzed through the opening round of the state Class A playoffs against 13th-seeded Tug Valley, but second-year head coach, Doug Taylor said things could be a bit different this week as it faces St. Marys, the fifth seed.
The teams square off today at Jimmy Carey Stadium on the campus of Weir High School. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
The winner of this game moves on to the semi-final round against the winner of the Clay-Battelle at Tucker County game to be played Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at R. H. Armstrong Stadium in Hambleton. The Tucker County Mountain Lions are undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class A.
NICE PLAY — Masonna’s Garrett Hypes, left, greets teammate Marcello Biondillo after Biondillo’s touchdown in the Blue Dons 58-12 first round playoff win over Tug Valley Saturday at Jimmy Carey Stadium.
-- Mike Mathison
Madonna and St. Marys are a lot alike in several ways. Both are riding nine-game winning streaks after losing their only game of the season in Week 2. Each team is young - Madonna has four seniors and St. Marys has five. Both score a lot of points with their offenses - Madonna averages more than 42 points a game while the Blue Devils average 41 points a game. Each team is predominantly run oriented.
Taylor, himself a veteran of the West Virginia playoffs as an assistant at Weir High and Oak Glen, is stressing to his charges that the Blue Devils "are an awfully good football team."
"St. Marys is very aggressive both offensively and defensively," said Taylor, who had the opportunity to scout the Blue Devils in their playoff opener last week against Wirt County. "I was really impressed with them when we scouted them last week. Their lines are quick off the ball and they play hard till they hear a whistle. They are a fun team to watch."
Taylor said that offensively the Blue Devils will give his defense multiple looks, but the offense is definitely geared to run the football.
"They are a ball control team," he said. "They run the football and are happy with getting three or four yards per down. Their offense is geared to run and they do it well. They are very efficient at what they do."
Taylor's Blue Dons have shown they, too, can control the ball and go on long drives for scores. They did it in wins against Steubenville Catholic Central and Clay-Battelle during the regular season. They didn't do it much last week in the 58-12 win over Tug Valley because they scored quickly and enjoyed big plays.
Defensively, Taylor said the Blue Devils are aggressive, the line gets off the ball and they almost always have at least two linebackers blitzing.
"They get after you," Taylor explained. "That's their style. They want to pressure the offense to create problems. We'll have to be sure we make our reads this week so we know which of the linebackers are blitzing."
Madonna appears to have the edge statistically on defense and in the passing department.
Quarterback Ross Comis leads the Blue Dons in the rushing department. He has gained 1,359 yards on the ground with 149 attempts for an average of 9.12 yards a carry. He has 20 touchdowns on the ground.
Through the air, Comis topped the 1,000-yard mark last week and goes into today's game with 1,166 yards through the air and has thrown for 15 touchdowns. He has completed 81 of 126 passes for a very good completion percentage of 64.29.
The Blue Devils counter with three solid runners. Junior David Gray leads them with 916 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns while another junior, Noah Spitzer, has contributed 897 yards on the ground and 11 scores.
Senior quarterback Andrew Cosper has thrown for 711 yards and run for 408.
Defensively, the Blue Devils have given up 169 points to 114 for the Madonna defense. The two teams are close offensively with St. Marys scoring 453 points to Madonna's 466.
However, the Blue Don defense has been a strength for Taylor since the 28-22 loss to Wheeling Central on Sept. 1. In the nine straight wins since that time, Madonna's defense has yielded 86 points while the Blue Devils have given up 105 points since its 35-22 loss to Wirt County, a Class A playoff team with the 12th seed.
St. Marys was able to avenge that early season loss to Wirt County in the opening playoff game last week and it did it with authority, pasting the Tigers by a 40-12 score.
The Blue Devils have defeated two Class AA football teams, most notably Ritchie County (7-3 regular season), which wound up the eight seeded Class AA team in the state and was upset 31-7 last week by No. 9 Nicholas County. St. Marys also downed Ravenswood (2-8) 56-29 on the next-to-last week of the regular season.
Taylor said his key to victory this week is for his Blue Dons to play harder than St. Marys.
"I believe that at this stage of the game, there is better opposition each week," he explained. "There is not a lot that separates the teams.
"Now, the key is to play harder than your opponent. We need to play four quarters of none-stop, hard football. We have to want it more than they want it."
Taylor said he feels his Blue Dons may have an advantage in that they have been in a couple of tight games during the regular season.
"The kids learned not to stop. They've been there and know what it takes to win those close games and, hopefully, that will benefit us," he continued. "Leadership is one of the keys and we have to play together. We just have to take care of business. It doesn't matter how we win - just win. If we want to continue to play next week, we have to play harder than St. Marys and do what it takes to win."
Taylor said the Blue Dons have been fortunate to date with injuries. Senior Garrett Hypes, Madonna defensive back and wide receiver, should play tonight, according to Taylor. Hypes sustained a shoulder injury making a tackle in the second quarter against Tug Valley and sat out the second half, but practiced Monday.
Taylor said the Blue Dons will get a lift this week as junior lineman Austin Bell probably will dress for the St. Marys game. Bell, who saw a lot of action last year as a sophomore, sustained a knee injury in the pre-season and has spent the entire 2012 season rehabilitating.