Prep football: Wayne, Keyser to compare versions of same offense
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. --
It might be appropriate for the local Buffalo wings joint to serve as title sponsor of Friday's Class AA state championship game at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Title-game opponents, top-seeded Wayne (13-0) and No. 2 seed Keyser (12-1), run the wing-T offense, a ball-control attack that makes use of a wingback and is most commonly associated with running the football between the tackles, and therefore emphasizing the strength and size of an offensive line.
Wayne Coach Tommy Harmon has led the Pioneers to six Super Six appearances and a pair of state titles since 2000. He said the offense's relative simplicity makes it a favorite at the prep level.
"I think probably if you look around the nation at the state championship games, the most common offense you'll see being run is the wing-T," said Harmon, whose team operates what its fans affectionately refer to as the Wayne-T.
"It's pretty consistent. It's a system offense, and when things don't work you usually know why and you usually know what the answers to it are," Harmon said.
"If you get two of those kinds of teams together, that makes for some interesting mental gymnastics or whatever to try to get things right."
The wing-T isn't as rigid as it might seem. It can be molded to fit a program's personnel as it changes from year to year. For instance, Parkersburg reached the Super Six three consecutive years (1999-2001) while running the wing-T. In 1999, the Big Reds operated with a pair of true fullbacks, Scott Davis and Al Hammell.
In 2000, tailbacks Josh Romeo and Joe Carthens helped Parkersburg reach the Super Six, where it fell to Morgantown. A year later, the Big Reds ran a wing-T variant while operating out of the shotgun with Kennedy Award-winning quarterback Marc Kimes.
In fact, Martinsburg Coach Dave Walker still clings to some wing-T principles, although the Bulldogs operate a zone-read attack.
"We still have some wing-T elements in our offense, really," said Walker, whose team will face Cabell Midland - another wing-T team - in the Class AAA title game Saturday.
"You see it come and go in phases. There for a while everybody was running it, then it kind of went away. Now, you see some of it creeping back in," Walker said.
One reason for that could be the adaptability of the offense. Biser said that by now, the wing-T means much more than lining up in an I-formation with a wingback, tight end and one split end.
"A lot of people misunderstand," Biser said. "They say, 'Oh, they're lining up in the wing-T,' but the wing-T isn't a formation. The wing-T is a state of mind, almost.
"It's an offensive style that is regimented and geared at picking up first downs."
Breaking an offensive drive into small increments and focusing on the 10-yard fight instead of a larger number of yards to reach the end zone has paid huge dividends for Wayne and Keyser. Having a big-play back like Pioneers senior Brandon Spurlock (5-foot-7, 180 pounds) turns into icing on the cake rather than a necessity.
Junior running back Danny Fife (5-9, 220) is Keyser's leading rusher, placing the Golden Tornado firmly in the ground-and-pound faction of wing-T adherents. Fife, better known for his play at linebacker, had 1,042 yards and 21 touchdowns on 158 carries in the regular season.
Another junior, Blake Ravenscroft (5-9, 145), picked up 925 yards on 97 carries in the regular season, and reached the end zone 11 times. Sophomore Garrett Crites (5-3, 130) carried 80 times for 642 yards and a score.
Spurlock has run for 1,859 yards and 25 touchdowns on just 127 carries this season, an average of 14.6 yards per carry. Wayne, which runs a more conventional version of the offense rather than its variants, also has seen impressive production from sophomore wingback Mason Hodge (6-0, 230). He has just 26 carries, but has gained 676 yards and scored 12 times.
Wayne has turned to the air more this season than in past years. Sophomore quarterback Grant Ferguson (6-2, 171) has completed 60 of 113 passes for 1,168 yards, 15 touchdowns and just one interception.
As with most offenses that rely on brawn, off-season conditioning and weight programs are vital, the coaches said.
"I know they have a premier off-season conditioning program up there. Coach Biser's doing a nice job with that," said Harmon, whose team beat the Golden Tornado 38-8 in the 2011 quarterfinals at Wayne.
"All their key cogs from that team are back, and the confidence that comes with winning consistently makes a situation where the more you do it the easier it becomes and the better you feel about it. They've come through their playoff bracket, won games and won convincingly. They know they belong, and they do."
Kickoff for the Class AA championship game is 7:30 p.m. Friday.