Wayne celebrates second straight state title
WAYNE -- Prior to every contest, Wayne High School football players run through a banner that says "11 Brothers Are Hard To Beat."
On Monday morning, they got to run through a banner for the final time in 2012. Only this was no typical banner, it was a Class AA state championship banner. The Wayne football community came together in the school gymnasium for a ceremony honoring the champions.
"It's a wonderful feeling," Wayne senior Dwight "Bubba" Blankenship said. "I know years from now, the future Pioneers will be talking about us, and that's what makes me happy."
Wayne rolled to the championship, shutting out its final three opponents in the postseason to cap an amazing season punctuated with a 35-0 win over Keyser on Friday t Wheeling Island Stadium.
The three consecutive shutouts to end the year might make everyone outside Wayne think the road to a title was smooth sailing. It was anything but smooth.
The Pioneers had to overcome many obstacles in the postseason to claim their third title in the last seven seasons.
In talking to players, the game that stuck out most in their minds was not necessarily Friday's championship -- although that performance was impressive with Wayne setting the record by allowing 92 total yards to Keyser -- the fewest ever allowed in the Class AA championship game.
Instead, the game everyone spoke of was Wayne's 18-0 win over Robert C. Byrd in the semifinals.
The Eagles came to Pioneer Field averaging more than 40 points per game and Wayne was without its top two offensive weapons -- running back Brandon Spurlock and wingback Mason Hodge.
Wayne players stepped up defensively and allowed just 55 total yards in the win that clinched another championship berth.
When asked what he would remember most from the season, Wayne coach Tom Harmon's first thoughts went to that game.
"I'll remember getting into the playoffs and having some misfortune with some injuries, but no one losing faith and everyone picking their game up," Harmon said.
That selflessness was not just confined to the semifinals.
In the championship game, Spurlock and Hodge played through their pain and accounted for four of the Pioneers' five touchdowns, but there was someone in front of them who was playing through much more pain without letting it show.
Wayne senior offensive and defensive lineman Yosef Finton went down midway through the second quarter with a leg injury, but was back on the field two series later.
On Monday, the 6-foot-6 Finton walked across the gymnasium on crutches to receive his championship plaque to a loud ovation from the crowd. It was then learned that Finton had broken his fibula, but played the final three quarters and helped lead a Wayne offense that rushed for 389 yards.
Finton said he knew he was hurt, but had no idea that his leg was broken.
"Someone fell on it and I went down," Finton said. "I knew it was hurt pretty bad because it went numb. I still played -- just limped around."
While Harmon didn't want guys playing with broken legs, he said that determination is what made this a special group of players.
They weren't about to let their brother down, no matter what it took.
"That's a statement for what kind of discipline and attitude that these Wayne guys bring," Harmon said. "There are no freebies in this game. You have to suffer a little bit and these guys were willing to suffer for each other to get what they wanted. That's something that parents ought to want their son to be a part of -- hard work, dedication and never giving up."
Harmon sang praises about the attitudes of his players, saying he knew the group had the capabilities to be special since they started coming to Wayne's weight room as seventh-graders.
Meanwhile, the players said they wouldn't have learned such discipline without Harmon's tutelage.
Finton said as he and the other seniors go on their way, the lessons learned through Harmon and the game of football will carry them throughout life.
"He'd do anything for us," Finton said. "He tries to make us the best men we can be, along with football players. He's a great coach. We couldn't ask for a better one."
The seniors wrapped up high school careers with three state championship game appearances and two titles in four years.
.It's a legacy that next year's Pioneers will try to keep going as they go for a three-peat in Class AA.