Connecting the Dots

Weir High ready for long trip to Poca to open playoffs

READY TO GO — Weir High seniors, from left, Reed Reitter, Jake McCoy, Tyler Komorowski and Garet Hostuttler, look to lead their team in West Virginia Class AA playoff action Saturday at Poca. (Michael D. McElwain)


Sports correspondent

WEIRTON — If Weir High coach Tony Filberto’s observations become reality, Saturday’s first-round Class AA playoff game at 1:30 p.m. at Poca will be a thriller.

That’s because Filberto likens the Dots to the East Liverpool team his Red Riders beat, 29-28, in come-from-behind fashion in the ninth game of the season.

“Poca is a very good team, as was East Liverpool,” said Filberto, whose club is riding a four-game win streak. “Of the 10 teams on our schedule, those two teams are very similar.”

The Dots finished fifth in the state rankings despite a 23-0 loss to Wayne last week in the season finale. That leaves the Dots at 9-1.

“Wayne is an awfully good team, and they and Poca have been rivals for many years,” Filberto said. “Wayne lost its first two games and then won eight in a row to finish 10th.”

The Red Riders, who finished their regular season two weeks ago with a 20-6 win over arch-rival Brooke, are 8-2 and ranked 12th.

“There are more good teams in Double A this year than I have ever seen,” said Filberto, who has been coaching for nearly 40 years. “In 2003 and 2004 we finished 8-2 each year and one of those years we finished fourth. “It just is a good year for Class AA. Point pleasant is 8-1 and ranked eighth behind two teams that are 8-2.”

There are seven Class AA teams in West Virginia at 8-2. Records aren’t all that goes into the rankings. The strength of schedule has a lot to do with it because of the bonus points that teams receive when a defeated opponent goes on to win games.

The Red Riders are coming off of their bye week and mostly worked on things that Filberto and his coaching staff felt needed improvement.

“We did all the things we wanted to do to get things cleaned up so we could be better in our preparations for this week,” said Filberto, whose Red Riders are in the playoffs for the fifth-consecutive season. “We had a little fun toward the end of the week with bowling and wings. We had nobody to prepare for except ourselves. So, we worked on making ourselves better. We didn’t have to worry about preparations for an opponent. We just worried about us.

“Now, this week we have an opponent to prepare for, and Poca is a good football team. You don’t win nine football games if you’re not pretty good.”

The Dots finished 2-8 a year ago and came into 2018 with an overall record of 11-28 during the past four seasons.

“It has been a turn- around year for us,” Poca fourth-year coach Seth Ramsey said. “We’re proud of the kids. We just want to do the things we have to do to keep things rolling.”

The Dots opened the season with a 46-8 win over Nitro, and they kept things rolling until they ran into Wayne last week.

“We had the ball five times in the red zone, and we just couldn’t execute when we needed to,” said Ramsey, who played football at Clay County High School and was on a playoff team that was beaten by Weir High in the first round of the playoffs in 2003. “We were able to beat Mingo Central and Sissonville there in the middle of the season, and both have very good offensive teams.”

The Dots out-scored Mingo Central, which finished at 8-2 and ranked fourth in the state, 45-27, and downed Sissonville, which went into the game with a 4-1 record, by a score of 40-20.

Poca also has wins over Chapmanville (38-8), Buffalo (49-6), Logan (62-36), Winfield (33-14), Scott (45-6) and Herbert Hoover (14-9). Only two of those teams — Mingo Central and Sissonville — finished the season with winning records.

“Poca has had a few bad years, so they came out of nowhere this season, similar to what we did from 2013-2014,” said Filberto, whose club now has won 37 games in the past five years after going 3-17 from 2011-2012. “They are excited about their season and rightfully so. They have done very well.

“They run the football well, and they throw it well. Their quarterback (Jay Cook) is a good player. Their tailback (Ethan Payne) is hurt and probably not going to play.”

Both Payne and Cook are sophomores who have put up some good numbers this year. Cook has completed 74 of 139 passes for 1,270 yards and 15 touchdowns.

He has been intercepted six times. Payne, who was injured in the fourth quarter against Wayne, has rushed for 1,080 yards.

“Jay (Cook) is a student of the game and a very, very mentally tough kid,” Ramsey said. “The great thing about him is he’s a winner. I believe that if you have a tough quarterback, you are more than likely going to have a tough team.

“He’s primarily a passer. We’re a run two-back play action team, so he does more throwing than what he does running.”

In Payne’s absence, the Red Riders will probably see a lot more of junior Owen McClanahan, who has 560 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.

McClanahan is used in multiple positions by Ramsey but has emerged as the leading receiver for the Dots. He has caught 18 passes for more than 320 yards and six touchdowns.

Filberto said he also is concerned about two other Poca wide receivers — Bronson Skeens and Luke Spradling.

Both are seniors and stand 6-feet-3. Skeens has 16 catches for 270 yards and six touchdowns and also has seven interceptions as a defensive back, one of them returned for a touchdown. On special teams, Skeens has run back two punts for scores.

“When Skeens is on his game, he’s a game-changer for us,” Ramsey said.

Poca mostly runs out of the two-back offense, with sophomore Dillon Taylor and senior Luke Rhodes alternating at fullback.

Up front, the Dots have some size in senior Jeffrey Whittington and junior Trey Sams, but when Ramsey needs more beef he can call upon junior Jaydon Haikal.

Ramsey, 32, didn’t play college football but starred in baseball at West Virginia State. He also is the head baseball coach at Poca.

In the three years prior to Ramsey taking over the Poca football program, the Dots had a record of 1-28.

Ramsey said the Poca stadium has natural grass and, although the field gets a lot of use with soccer matches and jayvee football teams, it has held up well through this rainy football season.

Filberto gave many keys to advancing to the second round, one of which is the nearly four-hour trip.

“First thing we have to do is travel well,” he said. “Then, we have to focus on the task at hand. We have to go out and play mistake-free football. We’d like to get them into a chase mode. If we can score on them early, it would be to our advantage.

“The important thing is to not go out and turn the ball over or do a bunch of silly penalties, which we have done a few times this year. We have to go out and play our type of football with our aggressive defense and big play offense. I think a big factor could be the kicking game, which I think we have the advantage with Reed Reitter.

“I like who we’re playing Saturday and I like the bracket we’re in.”

The winner Saturday will move on to play the winner of No. 13 Petersburg (7-2) at No. 4 Nicholas County (10-0). That game will be played Friday night.