WHEELING, W.Va. — For the second time in three years, coach Ed Cromley and his Wahama White Falcons football team will be making the trek to Wheeling Island Stadium in search of a first-ever West Virginia Class A state football championship.
The White Falcons earned the opportunity to participate in the Class A finals following a hard fought, 10-7 victory over second-ranked and heavily-favored Magnolia last Saturday afternoon in New Martinsville. Also on Saturday, No. 4 Madonna secured its position opposite Wahama in the title game with a double overtime road win over top-ranked Tucker County by a 21-14 score.
Wahama, the Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division champions, is 13-0 on the 2012 gridiron season with successive triumphs over No. 14 Buffalo (38-0), No. 6 Greenbrier West (21-12) and No. 2 Magnolia (10-7) during its playoff run. Madonna will bring a 12-1 record into the title game with the Blue Dons defeating No. 13 Tug Valley (58-12), No. 5 St. Marys (29-14) and No. 1 Tucker County (21-14) during the postseason.
While Wahama will be making its second appearance in the Class A finals, the White Falcons have yet to capture a Class A crown — losing to Wheeling Central Catholic in the title game during the 2010 campaign.
On the other hand, the Blue Dons will making its fifth journey to the finals — with Madonna winning it all in 1987 with a 22-8 win over Matewan and its most recent state championship following a 27-7 triumph over Man in 2009. Madonna dropped a pair of title game encounters against Wheeling Central (34-7) in 2004 and Williamstown (23-7) in 2008.
The state championship challenge will mark the second time in as many years Wahama and Madonna have met on the gridiron. Last year the two Class A powers participated in a late regular season contest at Fairmont State College, with the White Falcons coming away with a 33-0 shutout win over the Blue Dons.
Following that loss, Madonna went on to compile a 6-4 record and a 15th-place ranking before falling to Williamstown in the opening round of the postseason with WHS concluding the regular season with an unbeaten 10-0 slate and a third place finish among Class A schools.
Six starters from that 2011 squad returned to the lineup for Madonna this year, with the Blue Dons compiling a 9-1 regular season mark. Their lone loss on the season was a 28-22 setback to defending state champion Wheeling Central Catholic in the second week of the season following a 49-0 win over Valley Wetzel.
Madonna rebounded from that early mishap by reeling off 11 straight victories over Fort Frye (49-6); Cameron (60-14); Bridgeport (55-0); Bishop Donahue (15-14); Notre Dame (49-12); Catholic Central (21-20), Toronto (48-6) and eighth-ranked Clay Battelle (40-2) in addition to its three playoff wins.
This year you can’t mention the subject of Madonna football without making quick reference to the Blue Dons star player in junior quarterback Ross Comis (6-1 205). Comis is the Hancock County team’s leading ground gainer with 1,415 yards rushing on 167 carries and has completed 98-of-158 passes for another 1,292 yards and 17 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
He has scored 22 rushing touchdowns. Last week Comis scored two of the three Blue Don touchdowns in the double overtime win over Tucker County while rushing for 102 yards in 27 carries and passing for another 138 yards.
Joining Comis in the Madonna backfield will be junior Eliott Nero (5-10 185) who has scored eight rushing touchdowns and four more on scoring receptions. He has tallied 713 yards on the ground in 106 carries and scored the Blue Dons first touchdown in the win over Tucker County and finished with 66 yards in 18 carries. Nero also caught four passes for 36 yards in that win. Junior Nick Ossman (5-10 195) also gets the starting nod at the wingback position for Madonna.
The Blue Dons receiving corps is very deep with returning junior starters Will Bowser owning 20 catches for 355 yards and four touchdowns. Marcello Biondillo (5-10 165) has 18 grabs for 331 yards and four touchdowns with senior Garrett Hypes (5-10 170) totaling 15 receptions for 297 yards and three TD catches. Nero also figures heavily in the receiving totals for Madonna with a team-high 21 receptions for 284 yards and four touchdowns.
Madonna’s interior line figures to be comprised of senior Charlie Kotten (6-1 225) at center with juniors Garrett Bever (5-11 236) and Travis Brown (6-0 195) at the guard slots. The tackles are expected to be senior Quintin Hukill (5-10 260) and massive junior Joshua Martin (7-1 290).
Wahama will counter the Blue Dons assault with a running attack that features a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in senior Zack Wamsley and junior Kane Roush. Roush has picked up 1,607 yards on the ground this season with Wamsley adding 1,141 yards, but the Falcons arsenal doesn’t stop there with seniors Crandal Neal (596) and Trenton Gibbs (576) also contributing to the WHS ground game.
Gibbs has also completed 55-of-102 passes on the season for 1,151 yards and 13 touchdowns to give the senior signal-caller over 3,800 passing yards and 43 touchdown tosses during his yet to be completed high school football career.
Roush is the team’s leading receiver with 17 receptions for 257 yards with Wyatt Zuspan catching 12 passes for 255 yards. Austin Cole has nine grabs for 217 yards and Crandal Neal with six catches for 200 yards and four scores.
As has been the circumstance throughout the season, Wahama prospers when it control the line of scrimmage. Expected to see a great deal of playing time in the trenches for the White Falcons’ junior dominated line this week will be junior center Zack Killingsworth; junior guards Wes Harrison and Joshua Haddox; junior tackles Tyler Nutter and Lane Sparks, senior guard Benny Youkers, sophomore guard Brent Larck and freshmen tackles Jesse Hesson and Clayton Sines.
Defensively the White Falcons have prospered by committee this year with several Falcon individuals performing at an elevated level. Heading that list is versatile junior Colton Neal along with Wamsley, Crandal Neal, Harrison, Nutter, Killingsworth, Garrett Miller, Demetrius Serevicz along with Trenton Gibbs and Kane Roush.
Kickoff time for the Class A state championship encounter is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at Wheeling Island Stadium.