MAN — If the previous meeting was any indication, Friday night’s Man-Tug Valley playoff game should be a barn-burner.
Hold onto your hats.
The Class A post-season game pits No. 5-seeded Man (8-2) against No. 12 Tug Valley (7-3) in a rematch of the Oct. 30 classic at Naugatuck which was won by the Hillbillies, 14-12 in overtime.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Man’s George A. Queen Memorial Field.
The two teams also met last year in the playoffs with Tug Valley winning 16-12 over Man in a game which was played at Mingo Central.
The Hillbillies, coached by longtime mentor Harvey Arms, are making their third straight trip to the playoffs.
Friday’s game has lots of intriguing matchups.
“From the looks of the games last year and this year it looks like two pretty even teams,” Arms said. “All of the games have been close and a play here and a play there could have made the difference for either team so we don’t expect this game to be any different. We look for it to be a tough game. Whoever goes out and plays the best on Friday night should be able to win the game.”
In the last meeting between the two teams a couple of weeks ago, Tug Valley dominated the game statistically, outgaining Man 452-150 in total yards but could not convert several drives in the red zone into scores as the Billies were able to stop them when it counted.
Tug Valley had 50 rushing attempts for 245 yards for the game to just 82 yards on the ground on 30 tries for Man. TV also outgained the Billies 207-68 in the air and had a 23-10 edge in first downs.
Tied 6-6 going into overtime, Tug Valley won the coin flip and elected to go on defense.
Man put the pressure on the Panthers right away as senior quarterback John Thomas Keffer rolled out and found Ross Osborne on a 19-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the drive. Keffer then ran in the two-point conversion as the Billies led 14-6.
Needing a score and a two-point conversion to send the game into a second OT, Tug Valley reached pay dirt with a 1-yard TD plunge by Phillip Lucas on a fourth-and-goal play. That put the Panthers to within 14-12. Man’s defense, however, stopped Lucas short of the goal line on the two-point conversion play as the Billies preserved the big road victory.
The Hillbillies scored just before halftime as Matt Sanders reeled in a 28-yard touchdown on a beautiful pass from Keffer to put the Billies on the board.
Keffer was 5-for-15 passing for 68 yards with two touchdowns and one pick during the game. Tug Valley QB John Conley was 12-for-25 passing for 207 yards with one TD and one interception.
Jace Duba had 12 carries for 49 yards to lead Man.
Lucas led Tug Valley with 13 rushes for 88 yards. Corbin Oliver had 10 tries for 70 yards.
Osborne finished with three catches for 29 yards, including the game winner. Jake Adkins also had a leaping catch for 10 yards.
Oliver reeled in three passes for 105 yards for Tug Valley. Dillon had five grabs for 62 yards, while Lucas snared three passes for 20 yards. Calvin Blankenship had one catch for 20 yards.
Blair led the Man defense with 13 total tackles. Christian McCoy had 12 stops.
Tug Valley’s potent offense was on full display two weeks ago.
The Panthers were able to move the ball on Man’s usually stout defense.
Conley has passed for 1,058 yards this season and 13 TDs this season. Oliver has 67 rushes for 673 yards and eight TDs. Blankenship has 17 catches for 487 yards.
Arms said Tug runs many different formations and has many offensive schemes from Wildcat formations, the shotgun, quick screens, long downfield passes, trick plays and even the power-I.
In short, Coach Tony Clusky’s Panthers are very unpredictable and tough to defend.
“They do a lot of different things,” Arms said. “They come up and run out of the I-formation and out of the Wing-T. They spread the field with their passing game and they can run reverses and sweeps. They run the ball well. They really do it all on offense and give you a lot to prepare for. You have to be ready on defense. You really don’t know what to expect from them.”
Man’s offense has also had its moments this season.
One of those moments was last week in a 42-22 win at home over Van when Keffer, Man’s senior signal-caller, ripped apart the Bulldog secondary with 329 yards through the air and six TD passes as he completed 17-of-24 of his passes.
Sanders snared five passes last week for 122 yards and one touchdown. Osborne reeled in eight catches for 108 yards and three TDs. Adkins had two TD grabs covering a total of 49 yards.
On the season, Keffer is 100-for-167 passing for 1,534 yards with 24 touchdowns and four interceptions.
With Keffer’s passing, Man has been able to achieve offensive balance this season.
On the ground, Man’s “running back by committee” is led by Duba with 137 rushes for 696 yards and seven touchdowns. Dustin McCoy has 89 carries for 541 yards and two TDs. Frye has 45 attempts for 237 yards and four scores.
Osborne has 58 catches for 820 yards and 13 touchdowns. Sanders has another 26 grabs for 436 yards and seven scores. Gabby Brown and Adkins each have a little more than 100 yards receiving.
“We think that our offense has played well, especially since we have been able to throw the ball,” Arms said. “We probably have not been able to run with the ball for as many yards as we normally do but that’s probably due to the fact that we’ve been able to throw it better.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Adkins has punted very well for the Billies this fall.
Tyler Blair, Tanner Bailey, Christian McCoy, Richie Nelson, Duba, Sanders, Osborne, Nick Collins and Tyler Vance have been Man’s statistical leaders on defense.
“We’re really proud of our defense and special teams, too,” Arms said. “In a lot of games both of those have played big roles for us.”
The winner of the Man-Tug Valley game gets a second-round playoff game against the winner of Friday night’s game between No. 4 Moorefield (9-1) and No. 13 Meadow Bridge (7-3).
If Man beats Tug that could mean a very long trip to the eastern panhandle by the Billies to No. 4 Moorefield next week in the state quarterfinals if the Yellowjackets are able to win its playoff game.
“It’s a pretty tough bracket,” Arms said. “When it comes down to the best 16 teams in the state there is no easy bracket I don’t think. You just have got to go put it out there on the line each time and play the best that you can play.”
Man has a dream to make it back to Wheeling and the Super Six.
The Hillbillies did just that in 2009, eventually falling 27-7 to Weirton Madonna in the Class A state championship game on a very cold December night in Wheeling.
“That’s the goal of every team — to be playing in Wheeling on the first weekend in December,” Arms said. “That’s what we want to do. We want to try to get on a roll here and go through the playoffs and play up in Wheeling.”
The weather forecast looks good for Friday night.
A high temperature of 57 degrees is expected in the Man area with sunshine and little chance of rain. By game time, temperatures will most likely be in the 40s.
Since Man has Field Turf, playing conditions will be a non-issue.
It will be Man’s first ever playoff game on its home Field Turf, which installed over the summer.
Man vs. Tug Valley Series
Last 10 years (Tug Valley leads 3-2)
2015: Man 14, Tug Valley 12 (OT)
2014: Tug Valley 16, Man 12 (Class A state playoffs)
2014: Tug Valley 26, Man 20
2013: Man 24, Tug Valley 14
2012: Tug Valley 30, Man 24
2015 Man High School
Football Schedule (8-2):
Aug. 28: Logan, W 18-13
Sept. 4: at Mount View, W 48-6
Sept. 11: at Westside, W 27-24
Sept. 18: River View (Hall of Fame Game), W 54-0
Sept. 25: at Fayetteville, W 26-6
Oct. 2: Bye week
Oct. 9: Chapmanville (Homecoming), L 28-35
Oct. 16: at Sherman, W 48-6
Oct. 23: Pocahontas County, L 14-40
Oct. 30: at Tug Valley, W 14-12 (OT)
Nov. 6: Van, W 42-22
Nov. 13: Tug Valley, 7:30 p.m. (Class A state playoffs)
(Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached at 304-752-6950 ext. 1730, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner).