East Hardy, St. Marys Seek First Class A Crown
WHEELING — The last two West Virginia Class A State Championship runners-up will get the chance to leave Wheeling Island Stadium on Saturday as state champions. The question is, which powerhouse will emerge victorious?
The battle of unbeatens between top-seeded East Hardy and second-seeded St. Marys is the most highly anticipated matchup of the Super Six and is slated for 7 p.m. on Saturday.
“We are going against the No. 1 team in the state,” St. Marys coach Jodi Mote said. “It will be a tremendous matchup for football fans. They have a great group of guys with an all-state quarterback, a solid core of receivers and they are big up front.
“I have tremendous respect for Chad (Williams) and what he has done at East Hardy. I am just glad to be practicing in our last week.”
The two championship contenders have met in two of the past three postseasons with East Hardy knocking St. Marys out of the semifinals last year and the Blue Devils getting the best of the Cougars three years ago.
“It is going to be a great game,” East Hardy coach Chad Williams said. “This will be the third time in the last four years we have met in the playoffs and both games have been great so far. We might be four-and-a-half hours apart but they are starting to feel like a regular opponent.”
East Hardy defeated St. Marys in the postseason a year ago but fell in the state title game by a 62-0 count at the hands of Magnolia, while St. Marys fell in tripl-overtime in 2014 by a narrow 33-32 score against Williamstown.
“We lost in the 2014 championship in triple-overtime so to get the opportunity to get back here is just so special,” Mote said. “A lot of things have to happen. You have to stay healthy, have good kids who can play the game and the ball has to bounce your way in order to have a chance to play here.”
Leading St. Marys onto the field will be seniors Will Billeter at quarterback, linebacker Braden Barnhart, linemen Devin Boley and Jacob Northrop and running back Jaiden Smith.
Billeter tossed for 1,166 yards to go with 10 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, while also rushing for 11 scores. Smith accumulated 1,391 yards, averaged 115 yards a game and scored 26 rushing touchdowns for the Blue Devils.
“Billeter has done a great job for us this year,” Mote said. “Barnhart has done a great job at linebacker and Smith is having a great year. There are just so many kids that are having a good year and they have done a tremendous job of not caring about who does what. They just want to win and I have respect for a team that is willing to do that.
“Our focus is on the team concept in all three phases of the game. We had good players coming into the season but we needed them to come together as a team and our guys have bought into it, and I am proud of our guys for that.”
On the other sideline, East Hardy’s all-state quarterback Corey McDonald will be slinging the ball around just as he has done all year. He generated five touchdowns, three passing and two rushing, while adding 226 yards through the air and 59 on the ground in the semifinal victory over Pendleton County a week ago.
“Everything we do begins and ends with Corey (McDonald),” Williams said. “He has had a great year. He displays great leadership and ability to move the ball.
“We also have four seniors on our offensive line with Tommy Mullins, Ricky Robinson, Austin Whetzel and Luke French. They have done a great job up front for us and have really given us the best line we have ever had.”
Both teams enter the game undefeated after easily defeating every opponent during the regular season. And the postseason challenges have not been enough to stop either squad.
“Its been a fun year,”Williams said. “We weren’t really challenged during the regular season and I was worried about how that would affect us going into the playoffs. We were challenged in every round of the playoffs and our kids have responded very well to the adversity.”
East Hardy has beaten Tyler Consolidated, Williamstown and Pendleton County to get to Wheeling Island Stadium, while St. Marys’ trip through the playoffs came with wins over Buffalo, Gilmer County and Fayetteville to set up a championship for the ages.
“I expect it to be a very physical football game between probably the two most physical teams in the state,” Williams said. “I think Jodi is about as good of a coach as there is in the state of West Virginia. They are going to be disciplined. They like to run the ball, which will contrast with our style as a passing team.
“Win or lose, I am going to be sad that this is the last week I will get to spend with these boys.”