Thursday, November 22, 2007

No holiday for James Monroe

Published: November 21, 2007 04:55 pm

No holiday for James Monroe

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

LINDSIDE — The single wing is as much as part of James Monroe football as the purple jerseys and the Mavericks’ mascot horse.

Yet, don’t forget about the defense. Or, go ahead and forget. That’s fine with James Monroe junior defensive end Lee Triplett.

“I’m kind of glad because they don’t really expect us coming,” Triplett said. “When we come, they remember it. And defense wins championships.”

That defense will be put the test on Saturday, as the Mavericks (11-1) travel to Wayne (12-0) for a Class AA state semifinal game. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.

James Monroe’s been close to a state championship game in the past, but have always fallen short. The Mavericks hope to change that this week.

“You always think it’s your turn,” James Monroe sophomore cornerback John Ballengee said, “but you’ve got to prove it’s your turn.”

Triplett added: “It would be the first time. This the seniors’ last year and their last opportunity and I’d be really happy if I could help them get there.”

That duo, along with senior cornerback Josh White, have done their part to aid in the Mavericks’ season, which includes only one loss, a 14-7 decision at Bluefield.

“They’re probably not the all-state caliber of player, but they’ve come up with a lot of big plays for us on defense,” said James Monroe head coach David Witt, of Triplett and White. “They’re a couple of guys, when you look at them, they may not be the best athletes on the field, but they seem to get the job done.

“They’ve made big plays for us in the past so they’ve definitely been a big part of our success on defense.”

That same goes for Ballengee, a first-year starter, who is second on the team with four interceptions and six pass breakups.

“He’s done a real good job, he’s got four interceptions, he plays our equivalent of our wide-side corner,” Witt said. “He’s hung out by himself against the opponent’s best wideout most of the time so that’s means you’re out there on an island so if you mess up it stands out real quick.”

That hasn’t happened often. One of the newer starters on a defense that has allowed just 11.3 points per game, the Mavericks have surrendered just 13 points in the playoffs. That includes in a 48-6 rout of Tolsia and a 13-7 squeaker last week over Magnolia.

“It’s good that there is a lot of experience on our defense, but there is a lot of pressure because you don’t want to mess up with so much experience around you,” said Ballengee, whose Mavericks have three shutouts this season. “At the beginning of the year, I was definitely nervous, but I’m comfortable now. I started to get comfortable about the first or second game.”

It’s shown. He’s one sophomore who hasn’t played like a sophomore.

“He’s a good tackler, he’s smart, and you don’t ever catch him out of position,” Witt said. “He’s been a sophomore that for us to do what we’ve done this year, we had to have a few sophomores step up and play good for us and he’s definitely done that.”

So has the junior Triplett. A first year starter at defensive end who didn’t start playing football until the seventh grade, Triplett is second on the Mavericks with 87 tackles, and leads the team with eight tackles for loss.

“I like defense end, you can be very versatile and do a lot of things and I like that,” Triplett said. “I try to be in on a lot of plays.

“I just try to run to the ball, we just try to get as many players on the ball as we can.”

The Mavericks have forced an impressive 50 takeaways this season, including 28 fumble recoveries and 22 interceptions.

“A lot of credit goes to the defensive line, they get in the backfield and they slow them up,” said the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Triplett. “Our linebackers are eating them up and a lot of people don’t give our cornerbacks enough credit.

“They’re really shutting down the passing game this year and hopefully they’ll continue that.”

The 5-8, 150-pound soft-spoken Ballengee thinks they will.

“I’ve been pleased with the year, I came in not knowing what to expect,”

said Ballengee, whose secondary-mate White has 76 tackles, three interceptions, three fumble recoveries and three pass breakups. “I didn’t play as a freshman, I just got thrown in there and you learn by playing.

“I felt good about the year. We’ve had little miscues every now and then, but I think overall we’re pretty solid.”

They’ll have to be against Wayne. That defense prepped for the Pioneers by playing big in last week’s six-point win over Magnolia.

“It’s good to play in games like that,” Ballengee said. “If you don’t want to play in them, you shouldn’t be playing.”

The Pioneers, who are the defending Class AA champions, have won 18 straight games. They’ve scored 33.4 points per game, and have had little trouble in the playoffs, defeating Grafton (34-10) and Tyler Consolidated (35-15).

“They’re looking good, real good, but we’ll just try to prepare for them the best we can,” Triplett said. “We’ve just got to come out and play physical, that’s what I have always heard we are known for and that’s what we need to do.”

Ballengee added: “They’re definitely good or they wouldn’t be in the semifinals. I think they’re more of a power team, it looks like, so they’re going to try and beat you their way.

“We have to play solid defense, as always, and good special teams, that is always important. If we do that, the offense will take care of itself.”

That won’t be easy against the Pioneers, who are allowing just under 10 points a game, and that includes a pair of shutouts.

Of course, Wayne probably hasn’t seen an offense quite like the single wing.

“It’s really effective and we gain yards off of it,” Triplett said. “A lot of people don’t like it, but when you get in the playoffs consecutive times year after year, you’ve got to be doing something right.

“Our offense has really done a lot this year, we’re really glad to have them.”

Football takes no holidays, not in the NFL, and certainly not at James Monroe.

The Mavericks will practice this afternoon, but will still have the opportunity to enjoy all that Thanksgiving has to offer.

That’s nothing unusual for James Monroe football.

“It’s fine with me, a lot of teams don’t get put in a situation where they can come out and play every Thanksgiving,” Triplett said.

“I’m just glad to be out here playing football.

“I can’t wait for Friday. We’re just really looking forward to playing football, that’s pretty much what it boils down to.”

Only four Class AA teams are still playing in West Virginia. James Monroe is glad to be one of them. They just want to play again in the state championship game the following Friday in Wheeling against either Bluefield or Scott.

“It feels great, a lot of teams don’t have the opportunity to do this and I’m just glad to be in this situation,” Triplett said. “Hopefully we can move on and have a chance at a state championship.”

Ballengee added: “It’s exciting, it should be, it’s got to be exciting. It makes it special, being in the semifinals.

“There’s four teams in the state playing, there’s two games in AA and a lot of people are watching.”

—Contact Brian Woodson


The Bluefield Daily Telegraph
928 Bluefield Ave, Bluefield, West Virginia

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