NEW MARTINSVILLE, W.Va. — Facing an uncharacteristic offensive uncertainty the Wahama White Falcons turned to its defense and the toe of senior placekicker Zack Wamsley Saturday afternoon to secure another opportunity to realize its goal of a first ever, Class A State Football Championship following an exhausting 10-7 semifinal round upset win over heavily favored Magnolia.
Wamsley’s 26-yard field goal with only 25 seconds to play in regulation snapped a 7-7 deadlock and provided the margin of victory to the delight of a large contingent of WHS followers on a cold, blustery day at the Wetzel County School.
The win was the Falcons 13th straight triumph on the 2012 season and earned the Mason County team its second berth in three years in the Class A championship game next week at Wheeling Island Stadium. Fourth-ranked Madonna will provide the opposition in the title game encounter after the Blue Dons defeated top-ranked Tucker County by a 21-14 margin in double overtime.
Magnolia, the odds-on favorite to capture the Class A title after dropping down to the small school division this year, saw its 2012 grid campaign come to an abrupt conclusion with the Blue Eagles finishing the year at 11-2.
The White Falcons normally high-powered offense was grounded for most of the afternoon against a rigid Magnolia defense, but the Bend Area team came up with enough defensive stands of its own to spur the Falcon triumph.
Wahama recorded five turnovers in the playoff outing and held the Blue Eagles scoreless over the final two quarters. The Bend Area offense constructed a pair of second half scoring drives which proved to be enough to secure what may have been the biggest football victory in school history.
The rare, low-scoring contest between two normally explosive teams quickly turned into a defensive struggle throughout as each team managed just one touchdown on the afternoon.
Both teams had a touchdown called back due to a penalty. Drew Keeler raced 31 yards for what seemed to be a Blue Eagle touchdown in the first period but a holding penalty canceled that score. For Wahama Kane Roush returned a Magnolia punt 80 yards early in the final period for an apparent go-ahead touchdown but the electrifying punt return was negated by a block in the back penalty on the White Falcons.
After generating a meager 12 yards of total offense in the first half, Wahama created just enough of a rally during the final two quarters to come away with the win. WHS knotted the score at 7-7 on a Trenton Gibbs’ 54-yard touchdown pass to Crandal Neal on its initial possession of the second half before embarking on a thrilling fourth period drive to set up Wamsley’s game-winning field goal boot in the contest’s final minute.
Although Magnolia entered the semifinal postseason outing with a highly-regarded defense, it was the White Falcon defensive 11 that came through at the most critical times. The Bend Area team limited Magnolia to just 19 yards on the ground during the game’s final 24 minutes while coming up with a pair of fumble recoveries and two interceptions following the halftime break.
“Defense wins championships and our defense proved to be the difference today,” Falcon assistant coach Joe Johnson said following the nail-biting affair.
A great deal of credit for the semifinal victory must be awarded to the White Falcon coaching staff following a halftime adjustment that caught the Magnolia defense off guard in leading to Bend Area team’s first score. Another crucial modification late in the game by the Falcons’ coaching staff enabled Wahama to engineer a late, time-consuming, drive that ultimately provided the opportunity for the game winning field goal.
WHS failed to do anything offensively throughout the opening two quarters. Leading rushers Kane Roush netted just one yard and Zack Wamsley picked up 25 while quarterback Trenton Gibbs lost 29 yards trying to elude an intense Magnolia pass rush.
The Falcon defense, despite giving up 88 yards on the ground and another 36 yards through the airways in the first half, limited Magnolia to what became its lone score of the day when Tanner Hanna capped a 50-yard, nine-play drive with a one-yard plunge. Clemens Raitmayr kicked the extra point to stake Magnolia to a 7-0 edge with 9:41 remaining in the second canto.
Wahama evened the score on its first possession of the third quarter. After receiving the second-half kickoff the White Falcons needed just three plays to complete a 58-yard drive. Thanks to a change in the offensive formation Trenton Gibbs finally received enough time to toss a 15-yard pass to a wide open Crandal Neal on the far sideline.
Neal eluded a possible tackler at about the 40-yard line before speeding into the end zone to complete the 54-yard touchdown reception. Zack Wamsley drove home the PAT boot to knot the score at 7-7 with 10:50 to play in the third stanza.
Interceptions by Crandal Neal and Trenton Gibbs prohibited the Blue Eagles from producing any further advances towards a go-ahead score. However, the White Falcons experienced similar distractions of its own following the game tying score by fumbling the ball away on successive possessions as the game progressed into the final 12 minutes.
Wahama received the break it needed when junior tackle Tyler Nutter recovered a Blue Eagle fumble at the Magnolia 45-yard line with just over eight minutes remaining in the game. Behind the running of Kane Roush and a crucial third down run by Gibbs to pick up a first down the Falcons methodically moved the ball deep into Magnolia territory.
After advancing to the Blue Eagle nine-yard line things began to deteriorate rapidly for the White Falcons. Successive five-yard penalties and a six-yard loss set Wahama back to the Magnolia 22 and what once was a little more than an extra-point kick for the win became a possible 40-yard attempt. On third down, Roush made what turned out to be a huge contribution with a 12-yard run back to the Blue Eagle 10-yard line with 29 seconds remaining in regulation.
Wamsley came on and despite a somewhat high snap that was handled perfectly by holder Wyatt Zuspan, split the uprights for the 26-yard field goal to give WHS its first lead of the day at 10-7 with just 25 seconds to play.
Wahama didn’t want to give return specialist Stephan Rogalski a chance to return the ensuing kickoff and as a result Wamsley booted the pigskin just past the front line of the Blue Eagles with Timmy Gibbs recovering the loose ball for the White Falcons to ice the game and allow the celebration to begin much earlier than anticipated.
WHS ended the contest with seven first downs on 87 yards rushing and 63 passing for a net total of 150 yards. The Bend Area team lost two-of-four fumbles and was penalized six times for 45 yards while averaging 35.6 on three punts.
Individually, Roush picked up 61 yards in 11 carries with 60 of those coming in the final quarter. Zack Wamsley gained 41 yards in 11 carries with Trenton Gibbs connecting on two of two aerials for 63 yards a one touchdown. Crandal Neal caught one pass for 54 yards and a score while Austin Cole had one reception for nine yards during the Falcons’ final drive.
Magnolia finished with 11 first downs on 107 rushing yards and another 94 through the air. The Blue Eagles had two passes intercepted and lost three fumbles on the day. The Wetzel County team was penalized six times for 55 yards and punted the ball away twice for a 31.0 average.
Individually, Drew Keller led all ground gainers with 72 yards in 16 carries while Kage Rohde had 64 yards in 10 tries. Tanner Hanna completed six of 10 passes for 94 yards and with two of his offerings being picked off. Rogalski caught four passes for 84 yards while Keller had two receptions for 10 yards.