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Darrien Bortley’s run, defense lifts Devils to title

Photo by Joe Albright St. Marys tight end Jayson Clayton had to be brought down by a pair of Pendleton County defenders (Conner Armentrout (81) and Dillon Smith) on a play in the first half.

ST. MARYS — With his team leading by seven points, fresh off a goal-line stand, and the offense lining up in the shadow of its own one-yard line late in the third quarter, St. Marys senior running back Darrien Bortey knew it was his time to make something big happen for the Blue Devils.

He made something big happen.

The runner took a handoff from quarterback Brennan Boron, found a hole in the middle of the line, and didn’t stop running until 99 yards later in the end zone. “I knew I couldn’t get a safety and my line made a great hole and I bounced off a tackle and just I just kept driving my legs and did whatever I could to get into the end zone,” he said of the run that put his group up 21-7.

His score, unknowingly at the time, sealed the Class A state championship for St. Marys. The Blue Devils were awarded their second title by an official West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission statement late Saturday night after only one school in each of the three classes remained alive because of COVID-19 protocols and map designations. “We held an emergency board meeting this evening with our Board of Directors to discuss the situation and the vote was unanimous,” WVSSAC director Bernie Dolan said on the decision.

The announcement left St. Marys’ defensive coordinator Jay Powell searching for words shortly after the announcement. “Obviously what a unique year it has been in so many ways and we certainly recognize the asterisk that’s beside it (the state title) but getting to win your last game on your home field you have to give all the credit to God. The map around us has not been the right color all year and we faced a quality opponent today,” he said.

Photo by Joe Albright Pendleton County defenders join together to bring down St. Marys quarterback Brennan Boron in the second quarter of Saturday’s Class A state playoff game.

Indeed, the Blue Devils’ route wasn’t easy. More was required than just Bortey’s big run as Pendleton County was in the same situation.

Fortunately for Bortey and head coach Jodi Mote, the entire team was up to the task.

“We definitely challenged them and I thought our coaches did a great job and our kids did a great job stepping up,” Mote said.

“We bent several times today, but we didn’t break several times,”

Bortey’s run came shortly after Pendleton County was one-yard away from tying the football game. Quarterback Isaiah Gardiner had just given his team a first-and-goal at the four-yard line after connecting on a 19-yard pass with teammate Ryan Mitchell. Two plays later, a pass interference call put the ball at the three-yard line. Gardiner then gained two yards on third down to set up the fourth-and-goal. Bortey, however, was there to make the tackle before the Wildcat could get past the line of scrimmage shortly after the snap.

St. Marys threated for more points on the Wildcats next possession after Sharkie Lewis blocked a punt, but the Blue Devils fumbled the ball on the very next play. Yet, their visitors couldn’t do anything with the ball and the two teams traded punts.

On the ensuing drive, Gardiner led his team to the St. Marys 23-yard line with 4:03 left in the game. But all progress stopped after Ben Long picked off his next pass.

Pendleton got one more chance to pull within a touchdown, but Gardiner’s final pass completion to teammate Cole Day went for a two-yard loss as time ran off the clock.

For the Blue Devils, it was a miraculous defensive turnaround one week after they gave up 49 points to Midland Trail. It started in the first quarter and the first big play came in the second quarter. With the Wildcats in possession at the 15 yard-line, Gardiner was intercepted by Boron who returned the ball 19 yards for the first score of the game. The play was something the Blue Devil credited to his film preparation. “Coaches told me all week and in film if I drop they are going to run slants and it (the ball) will be there and I just have to catch it,” Boron said. “I got it there and I turned and there was an open field and once we scored it really got us going on offense and defense.”

It also awoke something in Pendleton County. Zac Smith’s Wildcats started finding success moving the ball, but it wasn’t until late in the second quarter that it finally paid off. Ryan Mitchell’s seven-yard run to paydirt with 1:12 left in the second quarter finally put the visitors on the scoreboard and tied the game.

St. Marys then answered three plays later on Boron’s 29-yard deep pass to Logan Rice with 51 seconds left until halftime. Pendleton County watched the remainder of the first half clock wind down and went into the locker room down 14-7. They only got one solid scoring opportunity in the second half.

Powell was thrilled to send his seniors out with a victory.

“To send these seniors out with a win and being clarified as state champions is more than special. We have had a lot of talented groups come through St. Marys High School but this group has been fun to coach. Their work ethic has been second to none. We had more kids out in June once the COVID rules expired by far so they have worked as hard and consistently as any team we have ever had here. And that isn’t coaches speak, that is a fact,” he said.

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