Wahama takes on Mason County for Class A title
HUNTINGTON -- For the second time in three years, Wahama High School and Mason County are experiencing the "Wheeling feeling."
Fans of the White Falcons (13-0) are used to the playoff atmosphere in football. The catch, though, is they get to cheer on their team for a fourth week. No. 3 Wahama has a date against No. 4 Madonna (12-1) in the West Virginia Class A title game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Senior Zack Wamsley kicked a 27-yard field goal with 25 seconds left to lift the White Falcons to a 10-7 victory over No. 2 Magnolia in the semifinal round last weekend in New Martinsville. Pandemonium broke out on the field and among the supporters of the red and white.
"It's not a surprise. We're used to it," coach Ed Cromley said of the support the players receive. "Fans follow us well. We had a good crowd there. They're looking forward to this one."
Cromley said a pep rally is scheduled at 6 p.m., Thursday, at the school.
This is just the second time the White Falcons have practiced this late. The first was in 2010 when they made it to the finals where they lost to Wheeling Central. Cromley made that point to the players after Saturday's post-game celebration wound down.
"It was crazy," Cromley said of that scene. "One of the first things I said to the kids is we have practice Monday. They liked it. Things will settle down. It's back to reality."
Seniors on the Wahama roster have made their mark. They're the winningest class in school history. Under Cromley, Wahama's playoff record is 16-12 overall and 8-2 in the last 10 games.
"Every class that comes through keeps track of the record," Cromley said. "These seniors have got them all beat. They've set the bar high."
Magnolia, a Class AA power for years, dropped down to Class A this season and entered the game as the favorite. However, the White Falcons played the Blue Eagles on even terms throughout and capitalized on a fourth-quarter break to win it. The White Falcons recovered a fumble at their 45 and moved into position for Wamsley's game-winning kick. A Magnolia timeout didn't bother the straight-on kicker.
"Just told the guys to block," Cromley said. "When you're put in a situation like that to win a game, you want your seniors in control. Zack's a captain and been a big part of our success. Things worked out perfectly."
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball got past the Magnolia front line and Wahama's Tommy Gibbs fell on it. Game over.
"When the kick went through, the sideline fans went nuts," Cromley said. "It was an intense game. A lot of negative things happened. I thought we'd have to defend three or four long passes. Their kid could wing it."
Magnolia led 7-0 at the half and limited the White Falcons to three first downs and 14 total yards. Wahama, which averages more than 350 yards rushing per game, went to the air to get the game-tying score. Trenton Gibbs hooked up with Crandale Neal on a 54-yard TD pass with 10:50 left in the third period. Play action froze the defense.
"We caught them by surprise," Cromley said. "We put in a strong run formation, thought we'd shove them around but that wasn't the case. They were strong and fast. Neal's the second option. I saw him come open. Trent held it until he came open. I was real proud of the throw and catch."
The point totals for both teams were season lows. The White Falcons had averaged 42 points a game.
"It's a tribute to the determination of our players," Cromley said. "People predicted they'd have their way with us. We kept it close and found a way at the end. The defense played fantastic. We moved people around, kept the kids fresh. Depth helped us."
Before the playoffs, Wahama won the Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division title with an 8-0 record. Wahama, located on the Ohio River, is the only West Virginia school in the Ohio league. Cromley's been coach of the year in that division two straight years. The White Falcons have a 24-0 league mark over three seasons.
"It's weird," Cromley said. "We get isolated. We're not in the loop. We do save on bus rides."
Now it's time for the Wahama coaches to come up with a game plan for Madonna, which beat No. 1 Tucker County, 20-14, in double overtime in the other semifinal. The Blue Dons operate out of a spread formation and run some option.
"We're real diverse in our league. That helps us prepare," Cromley said. "We're able to create looks, some not as obvious as others. We make teams think. We get people in place to make plays."
Wahama has two 1,000-yard backs in Kane Roush, the team's top receiver as well, and Wamsley. Gibbs has throw for nearly 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns.
"Kane's fast and Zack's tough up the middle," Cromley said. "Trenton is a great operator of the game. He has a good arm and we can go vertical."
A young offensive line has improved over the season.
"How good you block determines how successful you are," Cromley said. "You know you're going up against good defenses."