West Relies on its ‘D
By DAVE MORRISON
For all the offense that Greenbrier West has generated this season, there is little doubt the team’s calling card has been a stingy defense.
Sure, the ground-oriented Cavaliers have scored at least six rushing touchdowns in six games this season, but their ability to to limit opponents has certainly been big in helping the team advance to its first title game in 22 years.
Greenbrier West (12-1) will face No. 1 Madonna (13-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday night in the Class A state championship game at Wheeling Island Stadium, the final game of Super Six weekend.
Last week against Magnolia, West did as good a job as anyone against the Blue Eagles Wildcat offense, holding Drew Keller to 144 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns in a 21-14 semifinal victory. He had 38 carries, and overall, Magnolia had just 148 yards on the ground. In the two prior Magnolia playoff victories, Keller had a combined 542 yards and seven touchdowns.
The week before, Greenbrier West shut out No. 2 St. Mary’s 18-0. On the road.
That has certainly has caught Madonna coach Doug Taylor’s eye.
“Greenbrier West has an outstanding defense,” Taylor said. “They did a great job against Magnolia, which was playing some of its best football. Shut them out in the second half. And they shut out St. Marys. They are an outstanding defensive team.”
At the center of that West defense is 6-foot-1, 191-pound defensive end Marquis Frazier.
“That kid is explosive,” Taylor said. “He’s always around the ball, making plays. He plays a lot bigger than he is, and he isn’t that small.”
Indeed, Frazier has been a key cog for West, and the numbers don’t lie.
The junior has been in on 84 tackles, has 23 tackles for a loss of yardage, 21 sacks, six fumble recoveries and has blocked a PAT.
“Frazier has been super for us,” Greenbrier East coach Lewis McClung said. “He’s been a playmaker on defense this season, like (quarterback Malik) Boatwright has been on offense. Marquis is fast, he gets off the ball well but one of his biggest assets is he has a long wingspan. That enables him to get off the ball at the line of scrimmage and make a lot of plays some kids might not be able to make.”
McClung knew what he had in Frazier.
“He was really coming into his own last season but he broke an ankle against Webster County and missed our (playoff) game against (eventual state champion) Wahama,” McClung said. “Fortunately, he has been healthy all season and he picked up where he left off. He’s been huge.”
With all the hoopla surrounding Madonna’s potent dynamic duo of quarterback Ross Comis and Eliott Nero (and deservedly so) sometimes overlooked in the offensive fireworks have been receivers Will Bowser and Marcello Biondillo.
The two seniors have had good seasons for Madonna when Comis takes to the air.
Bowser (6-1, 185) has pulled in 39 passes for 664 yards and five touchdowns and Biondillo (5-10, 165) has 20 catches for 325 yards and five touchdowns.
Add in Nero (27-337-5) and you have a good receiver corps for Comis, who has passed for 1,630 yards this season.
“That was a part of the game we’ve really improved upon this year,” Comis said. “Those guys have done a great job getting open and making catches. It’s almost second nature, we’ve been playing together since sixth grade.”
West isn’t nearly as inclined to throw the football.
Boatwright has thrown just 81 times but he has completed 51 of those for 639 yards and nine touchdowns.
“We throw the ball better than people expect,” McClung said. “Malik is an accurate passes (63 percent) when we need him to throw the football.”
The most asked question this week in front of Saturday night’s game: “Is that Greenbrier West quarterback (Boatwright) really 5-foot-4 like it says on the roster?” and “Does Madonna really have a 7-foot lineman?”
That is the big and the short of it, and it is true.
Boatwright? He might get 5-foot-5, but it would be close.
Martin is listed a 7-foot-2 on some rosters and that is probably close.
West has made the most of the fact that Boatwright is diminutive in stature.
“Malik is never going to be a pocket passer, simply because of his size,” McClung said. “But we don’t look at it from that view.”
Boatwright has rushed for a team-best 1,394 yards and 19 touchdowns. He often gets lost behind the big guys on the line and is able to break free for long gains and scores.
He had 166 yards rushing (15 carries) and a 66-yard touchdown run against Magnolia last week.
“I think that’s what happened on that touchdown run, Magnolia lost him in the crowd,” McClung said. “He is a weapon, sometimes simply because of his size.”
Likewise, Martin has really come on in the trenches for Madonna, and is one of the leaders on the line.
“He is the most improved player that we have in terms of where he started at,” said Taylor, who added that he believes Martin is a legitimate Division I football prospect.
Both teams have pretty accurate kickers, something that is often in limited supply in Class A.
Neither team has a field goal (West attempted one but it was no good).
However, both have been good on PATs.
Madonna’s Matt Green, a junior, has converted 61 of 70 attempts (87 percent) while Greenbrier West’s Bradden Isaacs is 45 of 58 (78 percent).
Madonna is averaging 48.7 points per game and giving up 11.4 on defense (12.8 if you include three TD scored against its special teams). Madonna has shut out two opponents.
Greenbrier West is averaging 37.5 points per game while giving up just 8.8 points per game, including just 21 in three playoff wins. The Cavaliers have three shutouts.