FORT GAY, W.Va. — It wasn’t cold enough for snow angels.
But on a cold, rainy and windy night, a handful of Wayne Pioneer football players made ‘mud angels’ at midfield after defeating the Vinson Tigers 42-28 in the 2019 Wayne County Middle School Football Championship game at Wilt Salmons Athletic Field at Tolsia High School.
Jaxson Damron rushed for 218 yards, Braylen Gillam added 166 yards and four second-half touchdowns, and Wayne ran away in the fourth quarter of what was otherwise an extremely competitive game.
The Pioneers gained all 418 yards of offense on the ground and did not throw a pass.
“It came down to execution. Wayne was better at executing their plan than we were down the stretch,” Vinson coach Brian Hayton said.
Vinson came out with a strong defensive effort in the first half, causing a turnover on Wayne’s first drive and stopping them short on fourth-and-goal from the 4 on the first play of the second quarter.
The Tigers answered an 84-yard touchdown run from Wayne’s Damron with a 50-yard kickoff return from Tristan Watts and trailed 8-6 just over halfway through the first quarter.
The two sides traded scores in the second quarter on touchdown runs from Wayne’s Rylen Murdock and Vinson’s Talon Curry, tying the game at 14-14 at halftime.
In his final game with the Pioneers, Gillam — the eighth-grade fullback — opened the scoring in the second half with a 57-yard touchdown run, his second score of the evening, to give Wayne a 22-14 lead after a successful two-point conversion.
Not to be outdone, Vinson’s Lucas Hazlett cashed in on a nice pitch-and-catch to score from 20 yards but the conversion failed and the Tigers trailed 24-22 with the game heading into the final quarter.
It was then momentum swung heavily in favor of the Pioneers.
Gillam’s third touchdown of the night, packaged with a two-point conversion gave Wayne a two-possession lead, 30-20, with six minutes left in the contest.
Later in the quarter, the Pioneers faced a third and 16 after a holding call wiped away what would have been a first down. The officials marked off 15 yards instead of ten because it was a spot foul.
That didn’t matter as Damron took the next hand off for more than 20 yards down the field to set up another Gillam score that put the nail in Vinson’s coffin on Halloween night.
“Braylen has been capable of that all year,” Wayne coach Harry Sowards said. “He’s been big for us the last couple games and he did everything he needed to in order to be big for us in this game.”
Gillam set the final score of 42-28 with a 29-yard touchdown run, his fourth and final of the evening.
The victory gives Wayne its first title since 2015 and caps off what Sowards believes could be a program-defining season.
“We’ve been in a drought the past few years and haven’t been able to bring one home but I think this could be a big upswing for the future of our team.”
While Wayne has appeared in a handful of title games in the past decade, Vinson’s success this season hasn’t been the norm.
The Tigers didn’t field a football team from 2014-16, and won only four games in two years entering this season.
“We didn’t have a team for three years and then the past two we’ve been 2-5 and 2-6,” said Hayton. “For us to pull together a team of 36 out of a school that has on 76 boys in, it’s good for us going forward.”
WAYNE 8 6 8 20—42
VINSON 6 8 6 8—28
WMS — Damron 84 rush (conversion successful)
VMS — Watts 50 yard kickoff return (conversion failed)
WMS — Murdick 9 rush (conversion failed)
VMS — Curry 1 rush (conversion successful)
WMS — Gillam 57 rush (conversion successful)
VMS — Hazlett 20 rush (conversion failed)
WMS — Gillam 16 rush (conversion successful)
WMS — Gillam 28 rush (conversion failed)
WMS — Gillam 29 rush (conversion successful)
VMS — Fuller 6 pass from Smith (conversion successful)
Total yards 418 145
Rushes-yds 40-418 27-43
Comp-Att-Int 0-0-0 4-8-1
Passing yards 0 27
Penalties-Yds 4-28 0-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-0
RUSHING: (W) Damron 20-218, TD; Gillam 10-166, 4 TD; Murdock 9-44; Mathis 1-(-10). (V) Curry 16-131, TD; Haney 5-25; Hazelett 4-19; Smith 3-0; Fuller 1-(-2).
PASSING: (V) Jamison Smith 4-8, 27 yards, TD, INT.
RECEIVING: (V) Hazlett 1-15; Fuller 1-6, TD; Curry 1-5; Straton 1-1.
Luke Creasy is a reporter for HD Media. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @HDcreasy or reach him by phone at 304-526-2800.