Grizzlies the next test for Pioneers
HUNTINGTON -- The steaming locomotive that is the undefeated Wayne Pioneers will have another opponent try to derail them Friday in the Class AA football playoffs.
Last week, the defending state champs flattened Clay County (63-24) in the opening round.
Now top-rated Wayne (11-0) will host the ninth-rated Nicholas County Grizzlies (7-3), who beat Ritchie County in their playoff opener (31-7) in a 7:30 p.m. game at Pioneer Field.
It's an interesting matchup for a couple of reasons, one of which is the teams don't have a lot of history with each other.
"The big thing is, you really don't know what to expect playing unfamiliar teams," Pioneers head coach Tom Harmon said. "We do know this, they're one of the last eight teams, and they're a worthy opponent. We also know the consequences of not playing well, and that's motivation enough."
What Harmon does know about the Grizzlies is they have a fairly balanced run/pass offense, which is sometimes unique in high school football.
"They're a formation-rich team, and that presents challenges in lining up on defense," Harmon said. "You have to make sure you're in the right place. If not, they can score. That's what we look at first."
The Grizzlies also have some size on the front defensively.
"There's not a whole lot we've seen of them lining up that we can just exploit," Harmon said. "If we want to pass they're not just going to give us room to pass.
"This time of year you're always walking a fine line of sticking with what got you there and doing something different. You have to make those adjustments in a game quickly."
What has gotten Wayne to where they are is pounding the ball on offense and playing stalwart defense. With an average margin of victory at around 40 points, no one's gotten close enough to the Pioneers to see what they might do in a tight game.
The winner of Friday night's contest gets the winner of No. 6 Bluefield (9-2) and No. 4 Robert C. Byrd (10-1) in the semifinals.
Bluefield was thought to be a team that might have challenged Wayne in the final game of the regular season, but the Beavers were summarily dismissed with a 45-14 smacking for their trouble.
Bluefield might be thinking about revenge, but Harmon said he's not thinking beyond Nicholas County.
"It's not very wise this time of year to be worrying about things you have no control over," Harmon said. "When you look at it, we can't control how Nicholas County is going to play.
"What we control is how we play," the coach said. "We plan on putting our best foot forward. You've got to do that or you go home."