'Dogs earn another title shot

November 27, 2004|by MARK KELLER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - It's hard to imagine that a game in which 38 points were scored in the first quarter would come down to defense in the end.

Unable to move the ball with any consistency in the second half, Martinsburg turned to its defense, which turned up the heat on Parkersburg late in the fourth quarter as the Bulldogs held on for a 31-28 victory Friday in a Class AAA semifinal game at Cobourn Field and earned a second consecutive trip to the state championship.

The Bulldogs (12-1) will play the winner of today's game between top-seeded Morgantown and No. 12 seed Riverside next Saturday at noon at Wheeling Island Stadium.


Quarterback Nate Sowers threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 73 yards and another score to lead the Bulldogs to their third state final appearance in four years.

"It was the game before states, and against Parkersburg. They knocked us out the last three years," Sowers said. "We knew what we had to do. We didn't want that happening to us again."

But as has happened those last three years - in 2001 against the Big Reds and the last two against Parkersburg South - the Parkersburg team just wouldn't go away.

The Big Reds (10-3) grabbed the momentum early in the fourth quarter, pulling within 31-28 when quarterback Chance Litton threw his third touchdown pass with 11 minutes remaining in the game.

The Big Reds caught another break when, after holding the Bulldogs on their next possession, they blocked Josh Roemer's punt and took over at their own 43.

"(Parkersburg has) years and years of history and they've got an outstanding team and we knew they weren't going to lay down and let us beat up on them," Martinsburg coach David Walker said. "They've always been a good second-half team."

Martinsburg's defense held after the blocked punt and caught a break of its own, getting a good bounce on Parkersburg's punt to take over at its own 47.

Once again, the Parkersburg defense held. This time, however, Roemer got off a booming punt that Adam Kee downed at the Big Reds 4-yard line with 3:20 to play.

Litton steadily drove Parkersburg downfield, causing Walker to stick his head in the defensive huddle during a timeout.

"It's just one of those things that where you try to motivate them any way you can," Walker said. "If you can get in their ear, maybe you can wake them up and get them focused."

Mission accomplished. Two plays later, D.J. Porter picked off a Litton pass with 2:05 left, giving the Bulldogs an opportunity to run out the clock.

Josh Twyman picked up one first down, but Sowers was stuffed on the next three plays and Martinsburg was once again forced to punt, giving the Big Reds a last chance with 26.7 seconds to go.

Litton completed two passes to move the ball to the Bulldogs 47, but on fourth-and-1, Kee broke up a pass on the sideline to seal the win for the Bulldogs.

"I didn't know it was fourth down. I was mad at myself for not intercepting the pass," Kee said. "Once I realized I came over here and almost started crying. I was close."

There was no crying going on in the first quarter, if for no other reason than there was no time.

The teams combined for 38 points in the period and five touchdowns in the first 10 minutes of the game, leaving most to believe they were going to see a shootout.

The Bulldogs took advantage of three Big Reds turnovers - including two more interceptions by Litton - to take a 24-14 lead at the end of the quarter.

Sowers was especially sharp in the first half, completing 10 of 15 passes for 181 yards. The two touchdown passes were impressive, hitting Ryan Miller in stride for a 42-yard score, then threading a pass to Shaun Dozier in the corner of the end zone between three defenders for the other.

"He was on the money in the first half," Walker said. "He's made so many fantastic plays here, plays that a lot of people really take for granted."

Despite the two interceptions, Litton was sharp, too. He completed 11 of 14 passes for 92 yards in the first half and kept the Big Reds in the game with his arm and his legs.

He finished with 168 yards passing and two touchdowns and rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown in what some would call a Sowers-like performance.

"He's their version of Nate," Walker said. "He's a great player. If they don't turn the ball over in that first quarter it could be a different ballgame. We were fortunate to capitalize."

In doing so, the Bulldogs erased a short-lived curse and kept hope alive for their elusive first state title.

"We know no matter who we play we're going to have our hands full," Sowers said. "It's a great feeling to be going back.

"Hopefully, I won't have that horrible feeling of losing there again."

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