Rivalry is survival of the hittest
HUNTINGTON -- Hit or be hit.
That's the only way Wayne High School do-it-all football standout Mason Hodge would have it.
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound running back and linebacker for the Pioneers has been known for laying his licks on the opposition -- most notably, during the 2012 Class AA championship game when he trucked a Keyser cornerback on the first series of the second half in Wayne's 35-7 win.
How impressive was the hit? His highlight video has 2,500 hits on it with many being specifically for the hit, which comes at the 1:25 mark of the 4-minute film.
Yet, there is also one game that gets his attention when he sees it on the schedule -- Tolsia. The Pioneers and Rebels get together to open the season Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Pioneer Field.
It's one game where he knows he's got to take his physical nature to another level.
"That's the hardest hitting group that I've ever played just because it's such a big rivalry," Hodge said. "They love to hit. It's like a non-stop fight between the two."
It's county braggin' rights, it's a knock-down, drag-out brawl and neither team will back down for the entire 48 minutes.
It's everything that high school rivalries are supposed to be.
And that's just the surface of the game.
Wayne comes in with a 23-game winning streak -- their last loss being a 16-14 setback against Point Pleasant on Sept. 30, 2011. To put it in perspective, when the teams meet Friday night, it will be 23 months to the day since Wayne came up on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
Tolsia is a program trying to build itself back under head coach Mike Smith, who rebounded to finish 5-5 last year after going winless in 2011.
Smith is looking to get Tolsia back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 when the Rebels lost to James Monroe in the first round.
Prior to that, the Rebels met Wayne in the 2006 Class AA championship with the Pioneers prevailing. Since that time, Tolsia's program had seen a steady decline until Smith came along with the .500 record last season.
On paper, the contest looks like a lofty advantage for the Pioneers, but Wayne quarterback Grant Ferguson said his team knows the target is on its back.
Ferguson said the Pioneers have a motto 'Three ain't free' as they go for their third consecutive state championship.
"We work as hard as possible because we know everyone is out for us," Ferguson said. "We have to go everyday as hard as we can to push each other. ... Every time we play them, they come out with the intention that they are going to beat us. All first quarter last year, they gave us a run for our money.
"This year, they really will give us one because it's the first game of the season."