High school football: Offensive line play behind success for Class AAA finalists
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. -- For all the flash and flair that Class AAA playoff football can generate, this season's participants in the big-school title game can thank the work of their grunts for their success.
"I looked at the film, and our guys were just driving people into the ground," Coach Dave Walker said of the Martinsburg offensive line's showing in a 63-14 pasting of George Washington in the playoff semifinals last week.
Led by Charlotte recruit Eugene German, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound senior two-way tackle, the Bulldogs' line shoved its way to the tune of 361 rushing yards against the Patriots, highlighted by a 197-yard, six-touchdown showing by senior quarterback Justin "Cookie" Clinton.
Second-seeded Martinsburg (12-1) seeks its third consecutive Class AAA title Saturday at Wheeling Island Stadium, and has run for more than 1,000 yards in three playoff wins this season. Clinton (5-11, 175) has rushed for 567 yards and 12 touchdowns to lead the team through November's run.
"German's real good. Honestly, he might be the best we've ever had," Walker said.
Strong words considering Martinsburg produced Hunt Award winner Steve Roach in 2001. The award is given annually by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association to the state's best interior lineman.
While Clinton's increased recognition through the playoffs has finally eclipsed that of teammate and Ohio University wide receiver recruit Cedric Brown (6-3, 180), the Bulldogs aren't going up against a team known for finesse.
The success of top-seeded Cabell Midland (13-0) helped win senior running back David Gaydosz (6-0, 190) the National Football Foundation's West Virginia Player of the Year award, announced Monday. Gaydosz's 2,500-yard rushing total - along with the running success of senior fullback Lowell Farley (5-10, 205), who is himself a 1,000-yard rusher and leads the team in scoring - has been the product of an offensive line that has more than size going for it.
"Yeah, they're big like Midland's always been known for being, but they can move, too," Midland second-year Coach Luke Salmons said. "There's some quickness there."
Senior right tackle Josh Baisden (6-3, 280) was an All-State pick in 2011, and he is the standout of a line that averages 6-1 and 253 pounds. The wing-T offense that Midland runs behind that line has allowed Gaydosz to explode in playoff wins over Oak Hill, Spring Valley and Morgantown.
The senior and transfer from Winfield has rushed for 748 yards and five touchdowns in the postseason alone.
Salmons, who won the Hunt Award as a Ravenswood High School senior in 1998, said the Knights' first trip to a state championship game has been a product of his players' belief in hard work during the offseason. The largest school in the state, Midland was 0-3 in playoff semifinal games before last week.
"We've got good kids, and they've learned how to work," Salmons said. "They bought into what we were doing and they believed. Once we started winning it snowballed, and now that's their whole mindset: work hard and you win."
Martinsburg's line averages 6-1 and 241 pounds per player. Walker, who like Salmons is a former lineman, said it is the players who operate out of the spotlight who are typically the most precious commodity in building a successful program.
"You'll always have a few kids that are just stars. They're that good already. Then, you've got kids that aren't very good and they're not really ever going to be very good," Walker said. "The important ones, the ones you can coach and encourage to become better, the ones in the middle, those are the guys who make the biggest difference."
In the early 2000s, Martinsburg lost title games to Parkersburg (2001 and 2006), Parkersburg South (2003) and Morgantown (2004). Walker said the biggest difference among those Martinsburg clubs and his teams from the last three seasons has been an increased level of physicality.
"The teams that beat us were better than us. They were more physical, and they beat us, simple as that," he said. "The teams we've had in the last few years were stronger and more physical. That's a huge difference."
Kickoff is set for noon Saturday.