WEIRTON - Two football programs that have been among the dominant Class A teams in the state over the past decade will clash Friday in the semifinals of the state football tournament at Jimmy Carey Stadium. No. 1 Madonna will host No. 4 Williamstown with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Each team, host Madonna (12-0), and visitor Williamstown (10-2) are coming off unexpectedly dominant wins in the quarterfinals. The Blue Dons are coming off a record-setting 77-50 victory over Wahama last Saturday while the Yellowjackets easily downed Bishop Donahue last Saturday, 50-12.
The Blue Dons have made it to the playoffs 13 times and the last 7 in a row, while Williamstown has been to the playoffs the last 14 consecutive years - the last 10 of them under coach Terry Smith.
The Yellowjackets have been in the state championship game seven times, six of them over the last 10 years, but have won the coveted championship trophy only once, a 23-7 win over Madonna in 2008.
The Blue Dons returned the following year and won the championship with a 27-7 victory over Man.
"There are no sleepers in the playoffs at this point," Madonna coach, Doug Taylor, said. "Williamstown has a lot of pride in their football program. Now they are in the semifinals so I'm sure they will come in ready to play."
Madonna established a playoff scoring record with the 77 points last week eclipsing the 73 points Wahama scored in a 2010 game with East Hardy.
Also Wahama's 50 points is a Class A playoff record for a losing team's score. It broke the record of 42 by Madonna in last year's state championship loss.
Wahama senior Kane Roush also established a Class A playoff record with his three long kickoff returns for touchdowns. The previous record was 2 kickoff returns for scores by E. Monigold of Moorefield in 2003.
Williamstown has played 37 playoff games and sports a 21-16 record. On the other hand, Madonna will be playing its 31st game Friday and go in with an overall 20-10 mark.
The Yellowjackets have lost only to St. Marys (32-13), which went undefeated during the regular season, and Ritchie County (38-31), which made it to the Class AA playoffs as the No. 12 seed.
Coach Smith said that his team has played better lately largely because of improved play in the offensive line.
The Yellowjackets are much smaller up front than Wahama, according to Taylor. Senior Austin Lynch (5-9, 225) is the biggest lineman on the team.
Williamstown is led by senior quarterback Jake Tracewell (6-1, 170), who leads the team with approximately 1,000 yards rushing and 1,300 passing.
Tracewell, who also plays safety for the Yellowjackets, is a three-year starter at quarterback. He was the Williamstown signal caller when Madonna (15 seed) lost to the Yellowjackets (2 seed), 38-31, in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.
The running backs are David Hastings (5-11, 213) and junior Dakota Watson (5-9, 180). Smith said Hastings has approximately 500 yards rushing while Watson has 400.
Hastings is the defensive signal caller at inside linebacker, but sophomore Noah Bellew (6-2, 185), the other inside linebacker, is the leading tackler.
Smith said his keys are to put the brakes on Madonna's dynamic rushing duo of Ross Comis and Eliott Nero. He wants to take away the run game and force the Blue Dons into situations where they have to pass rather than throwing when they want to.
Twelve head coaches have gone into games against Madonna with the same game plan so far this season, but none has been successful yet.
Senior quarterback, Comis (6-2, 210) has 12-game totals of 1,655 yards rushing with 196 carries. He's scored 28 touchdowns on the ground and averages 8.44 yards each time he runs.
Nero is 28 yards less than that with 1,627 stripes with 187 carries. He's scored 26 touchdowns and averages 8.7 yards per rush.
Comis is the all-time offensive yardage leader for the Blue Dons and, if he keeps doing what he's done all season, should go over 9,000 yards rushing and passing in this game. He goes into the game with 4,574 career yards on the ground and 4,218 through the air. He has accounted for 66 touchdowns rushing and 46 passing and has a pick six on defense and returned a punt for a touchdown as a sophomore.
Last week, Comis was involved in six of Madonna's 10 touchdowns, scoring on runs of 74, 19, 56, 3 and 1 yard and completing an 11-yard scoring aerial to Marcello Biondillo. He rushed for 265 yards against Wahama while Nero added 185 stripes on the ground including touchdown runs of 25, 10, 46 and 5 yards.
Tracewell and Hastings led the Williamstown offense against Bishop Donahue last week. The pair rushed for a total of 316 yards and 5 touchdowns. Hastings had 13 carries for 177 yards and a score, which was a 55-yard sprint, while Tracewell carried the ball 10 times for 139 yards and hit paydirt four times with runs of 34, 47, 2 and 35 yards.
Tracewell, who completed 7 of 10 passes for 121 yards in the game, found junior Logan Lindsey open for a 69-yard pass and run scoring connection.
Junior Hunter Neely intercepted a Donahue pass and raced 15 yards to the end zone. It was one of two INTs in the game for Neely.
Williamstown, which is located in Wood County near Parkersburg, has beaten five OVAC-member teams thus far this season. They downed Tyler Consolidated, 27-14, and Magnolia, 15-14, in the first two weeks of the season, then beat Oak Glen 55-25 in week seven and Wheeling Central by 27-25 and Bishop Donahue (54-12) in the playoffs.
To date, the Yellowjacket defense has yielded 16.7 points a game while scoring at the rate of 27.8 a game.
That compares to the 49. 25 points a game pace of the Madonna offense, and the 13 points a game the opposition has scored.
Taylor said he is cautiously looking at the weather this week after playing in near whiteout and bitter cold conditions last week. There could be problems clearing the snow and/or ice from Jimmy Carey Stadium.
"I think it took a good 24 hours for us to thaw out after that game last week," he quipped.
Taylor said the Yellowjackets like to run the football, but that Tracewell is a capable passer.
"They don't do anything real fancy," he explained. "In the past, they ran a power game. That was their bread and butter, but this year they use the shotgun and spread offense similar to ours.
"The Williamstown linemen aren't real big, but they get off the ball well and are aggressive. They are pretty good linemen."
The common opponents the two teams have faced to date are Wheeling Central and Bishop Donahue.
The Yellowjackets beat Wheeling Central, 27-25 and downed Donahue 54-12 in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Blue Dons defeated the Maroon Knights 42-7 and Donahue by 48-20 during regular season play.
"We have to take this game seriously because Williamstown has tradition, an explosive offense and they beat Donahue worse than we did," Taylor said. "It seems that Williamstown has to go through the Northern Panhandle to make it to the state championship game, which also is held in the Northern Panhandle at Wheeling Island Stadium on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m.
"When you get this far in the playoffs, the teams are pretty much equal so the team that makes the least mistakes has the best chance of winning. There's not a lot that separates the teams.
"We have to protect the ball and play good defense, and don't make mistakes."
Taylor gave another indication of why achieving home field advantage in the playoffs is important.
Against Wahama, the Madonna players were getting snow and ice buildup in their cleats, so Taylor sent a messenger over to Madonna High School to bring back a special tool that is used to dig mud from between the cleats.
"They were taking gobs of snow from their cleats and in a lot of cases it was solid ice," Taylor said. "It was hard to get out without the tool, so if we were playing on the road, we wouldn't have been able to do that."