JM, Wayne have similar offense with different styles
By Tommy R. Atkinson
This is the time of year when coaches tend to wear out the rewind button on their VCRs.
“You look at the opponent every day,’’ said Wayne coach Tom Harmon. “You’re trying to gain an advantage any way you can get it. When you’re looking at an opponent as good as James Monroe, you have to look a little bit harder.”
Second-seeded Wayne (12-0), the defending Class AA state champion, will get an up-close view when its plays host to No. 3 James Monroe (11-1) in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Mavericks coach David Witt is also taxing his remote control this week.
“The first thing that stands out to me is they don’t have any weaknesses,’’ Witt said of the Pioneers. “It’s an interesting game. You’ve got two programs that have been right up there in the chase for practically a decade.’’
James Monroe and Wayne both run the single-wing offense, but with varying styles. The Mavericks stay true to the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality, happy to control the ball and the clock for long stretches. The Pioneers on the other hand have mixed in the pass for a potent double threat.
“If you’re not making first downs and making the most of your scoring opportunities, you’re risking not getting the ball back the rest of the quarter,’’ Harmon said. “We’re going to have to get their offense off the field and keep ours on it a while.’’
“The average Little League team probably throws the ball more than us,’’ Witt said. “For us it’s really the same thing every week. We want to execute, we want to have good technique blocking [and] we want to avoid the turnover.’’
The Pioneers pretty much breezed through the regular season save for a pair of seven- and four-point victories. Wayne is scoring 33.4 points per game and has reached 40 points four times and 34 points or more on four occasions. Conversely, the Pioneers are only allowing 9.8 points per game and only surrendered more than 20 points once.
During the playoffs, Wayne downed Grafton 34-10 in the opening round and beat Tyler Consolidated 35-15 in last week’s quarterfinals to extend its win streak to 18 games.
Wayne junior tailback Jason Thompson paces the rushing attack with 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns while senior back Justin Gilkerson adds 934 yards and 10 scores. Junior quarterback Joey Ferguson has passed for 1,122 yards and 18 TDs.
“Offensively, they’ve got a good running game, good skill people [and] a good line,’’ Witt said. “On top of that, they can throw the ball, too. Defensively, you could really say the same things. There are really not any weaknesses. I think it’s pretty critical that we play mistake-free football.’’
The Mavericks reeled off eight straight wins before falling to No. 1 Bluefield 14-7 the next-to-last week of the regular season.
James Monroe, located in Lindside, Monroe County, averages 38.5 points and has tallied 50 or more points three times, 40 or more points four times and 35 points twice. The Mavericks allow only 11.3 points per game. James Monroe beat No. 14 Tolsia 48-6 in the first round and No. 6 Magnolia 13-7 in the quarterfinals.
Taylor Robertson is the sparkplug for James Monroe’s offense. The junior back has gained 1,681 yards and scored 27 TDs while passing for 350 yards and five scores. Junior back Nick Kisiel and senior back Ernie Tincher have combined for 1,715 yards and 20 TDs.
“They’re very disciplined at what they do,’’ Harmon said. “They don’t change a whole lot. They all know where to be and when to be there. Offensively, they’re very, very structured. They force you to be disciplined yourself.’’
Wayne received a boost last week when Gilkerson and senior tailback Rodney Endicott returned to the lineup against Tyler after suffering injuries the week before. Gilkerson gained 93 yards on 15 carries while Endicott scored the opening touchdown.
James Monroe has been to the semifinals three previous times with undefeated records in the past nine years, but has never played for the state title. Wayne finally broke through last year after two championship-game loses (2000, 2004).
To contact staff writer Tommy R. Atkinson, use e-mail or call 348-4811.
AA: James Monroe-Wayne by the numbers
No. 3 James Monroe (11-1) at No. 2 Wayne (12-0)
RUSHING — James Monroe: Taylor Robertson 197 carries, 1,681 yards, 27 touchdowns; Nick Kisiel 135-916-9, Ernie Tincher 84-754-11; Wayne: Jason Thompson 193-1,027-12, Justin Gilkerson 140-934-10, Rodney Endicott 43-307-2
PASSING — James Monroe: Robertson 13-43, 2 interceptions, 350 yards, 5 TDs; Wayne: Joey Ferguson 59-128-10-1,122, 18 TDs
RECEIVING — James Monroe: Tincher 6-238-3; Wayne: Jeremy Maynard 16-375-8, Brandon Fletcher 12-132-3. Gilkerson 11-161-3