Tug Valley, St. Marys still alive

Dalton Houser (18) of St. Marys tackles Doddridge County’s Curtis James as Blue Devil Matt Eichhorn (20) prepares to help during last week’s Class A playoff game at Bill Hanlin Stadium. Photo by Joe Albright.

ST. MARYS — Thanksgiving may still be a few days away, but the football coaches for Tug Valley and St. Marys high schools have a lot to be thankful for a little early heading into their Class A quarterfinal-round playoff game Friday night at Tug Valley.

Mistakes both the Panthers’ Tony Clusky and Blue Devils’ Jodi Mote would hope to have corrected at this point in the season didn’t cost their teams victories last Saturday during first-round games of the Class A state playoffs.

Penalites and poor kick coverage haunted St. Marys in a 44-14 win over Doddridge County inside Bill Hanlin Stadium.

Blue Devil players were flagged 10 times for 65 yards, some coming in crucial moments, while the special teams put the defense in bad positions all afternoon by allowing the Bulldogs to start at or near midfield frequently. Thankfully, SM defensive coordinator Jay Powell’s unit was up to the challenge of keeping Doddridge off the scoreboard most of those times.

The squad forced four turnovers and the offense converted them into 14 points to help the Blue Devils pull away from upset-minded Bulldogs.

While few would complain about a 30-point, no-turnover victory, Mote knows the minute details missed by some of his team could cost the Blue Devils as they move further into the postseason and the competition gets better.

“When you are in the quarterfinals and it is good on good, the team that limits mistakes and penalties is the one coming out on top,” said Mote. “We have to be ready in all three phases of the game. I feel special teams is a third of the game and an important part. We focus on it, emphasize it in practice and a little thing like not getting down the field and covering the return man can cost you.”

Later the same evening, Clusky’s team also struggled with kick coverage, along with turnovers. Tug Valley wasn’t as fortunate as its opponent last Friday night as Pocahontas County almost sent the Panthers hope from the playoffs in the first round.

A failed two-point conversion pass in the closing seconds was the only thing standing between Tug Valley and packing up its gear in a 30-29 win.

“I didn’t think we played well, but you have to give Pocahontas County a lot of credit for that,” said Clusky whose team had to recover from a halftime defict and a few lost fumbles to advance to the second round.

“It has to start with our special teams,” added Clusky. “I thought our kickoff team was terrible. We gave Pocahontas a short field early on, they took advantage of it and the next thing you know, we are down. Special teams are crucial in the playoffs and if you don’t play well, it can cost you.

“Defensively, we played good enough. We gave up some passing yards, but also got three interceptions.”

Whichever team learns from its mistakes this week in practice is the one most likely to move on into the semifinals.