Super Six: Madonna hit weights, then opponents
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. - Madonna's late arrival to one key element of prep football has given the Blue Dons an early arrival into another.
The Weirton-based parochial school won the Class A state championship in 2009 under former Coach Bob Kramer. Led by a talented cast of underclassmen, the Dons (12-1) will seek the third title in school history at 7 p.m. Saturday when they take on Wahama (13-0) at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Madonna also won a Class A crown in 1987.
The Dons' somewhat precocious run to the Super Six can be attributed to a number of factors, but second-year Coach Doug Taylor said the biggest element has been the program's stepping into the modern era.
"We implemented a strength-and-conditioning program in the last two years, and that's something they never did when Coach Kramer was here," Taylor said. "You've got to have your kids in shape and I think it's made a big difference, especially in the playoffs."
Madonna, the No. 4 seed in the Class A field, went on the road to Parsons in the semifinals to beat top-seeded Tucker County (12-1) in double overtime, 20-14. Taylor said his team's conditioning played a vital role as that game wound to its conclusion.
"You could see it late in the game. I think that's how we beat St. Marys, too. The kids are just in better shape than they were a year ago," he said.
Madonna beat the Blue Devils 29-14 in the quarterfinals, although St. Marys outgained Madonna 281-247 and had four more first downs than the Blue Dons.
The run to the title game has been fueled by the continued success of junior quarterback Ross Comis. A 6-foot-1, 200-pound dual-threat wonder considered by many to be the best all-around player in Class A, Comis has thrown for 1,463 yards and 19 touchdowns against six interceptions while rushing for 1,549 yards and 24 more scores.
He scored the game winner on a 1-yard run against Tucker County.
"I haven't seen any of the triple-A teams and just a few double-A teams around our area, but I know Comis is a player. You can tell by watching him," Taylor said. "He's got that drive that you want in your quarterback and your leader.
"He's the kind of kid that wants it so badly, and has the skill to accomplish things, that he's the guy who says 'I'll take it. Let me take it and I'll get it done.'"
Junior running back Eliott Nero (5-10, 185) has run for 734 yards and eight TDs while fellow junior Nick Ossman (5-10, 185) has been banged up in the playoffs but has run for 747 yards and 12 TDs. The Dons' front is led by junior two-way tackle Josh Martin (6-11, 285) and junior tight end-defensive end Nate Guio (6-3,210).
"Some have said that we're a year away," Taylor said. "I think we're pretty good right now."
Like Wahama, which returns to the Super Six after making a runner-up showing in 2010, Madonna is faced with the challenge of coming down from an emotional semifinal game in order to refocus for another game. The White Falcons upset No. 2 seed Magnolia 10-7 in the semifinals when Zach Wamsley kicked a 26-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in regulation.
Wahama is seeking its first state championship.
"It was a huge win, a historic win for us," Wahama Coach Ed Cromley said. "I think knowing that we don't know much about Madonna will help the kids come back down to earth pretty quick, though.
"We've got a lot of preparation to do, just like they do. It's a part of what makes the playoffs fun is that you have to focus mentally to prepare because you're playing teams that you don't see during the regular season."
For Taylor and the Blue Dons, the ability to refocus is another element of conditioning.
"We told the kids that these games are like tests, and the championship game is like our final exam," Taylor said.