WHEELING, W.Va. — After making the playoffs the last two seasons, but subsequently losing in the first round both times, Wheeling Park head football coach Chris Daugherty believes the Patriots are ready to take the next step.

Over the last two postseasons, the Patriots have had to make two long road trips in the opening round of the playoffs — Cabell Midland in 2011 and Spring Valley in 2012.

This fall, meanwhile, Wheeling Park has a wealth of talented players returning that could land the Patriots a home playoff game for the first time since 2008.

“We got a lot of guys coming back and some of those guys will be on the other side of the ball too, defensively,” Daugherty said. “We feel like we’re returning some guys that have played a lot of football. We feel good about the core group of guys that are returning.”

Wheeling Park returns eight starters on an offense that averaged 31 points per game in 2012. Included is all-state quarterback Zack Phillips, a pair of second team all-state receivers Bryce Ingram and Eric Banks and all-state lineman Matt Hackathorn.

If the Patriots are to get back to the playoffs in 2013 — and that elusive home playoff game — they will have to navigate through another difficult schedule.

Not only do the Patriots face the likes of University, Morgantown and Parkersburg South in the TRAC, but they also have non-conference affairs with Class AA heavyweights Bridgeport and Keyser.

“Our TRAC conference is going to be cutthroat,” Daugherty said. “It’s going to be one of the toughest conferences I think in the whole state with University, Morgantown, us, (Parkersburg) South and John Marshall. I don’t think there’s a week off in there.”

And Wheeling Park got a small preview of those TRAC opponents at a seven-on-seven tournament last month at Morgantown High.

“Seven-on-seven, I think most of the coaches would agree is about one-fourth of football,” Daugherty said. “We all tend to do a little bit that we wouldn’t do on a Friday  night. We all know that playing good defense and stopping the run is the first thing you have to do.”

Daugherty believes the challenging schedule has both positives and negatives.

“It toughens you up,” he explained. “When you get into the playoffs, you’ve seen just about everybody’s best shot. At least you feel comfortable.

“The downfall is you find yourself on the road,” Daugherty continued. “Sometimes, an easier schedule can allow you to have some home playoff games. So, a tough schedule could come back to bite you that way, and it has the last two years for us as we’ve been on the road instead of hosting a game. Hopefully, we get the opportunity to host one this year.”

2013 Football Schedule

08/30/13 07:00PM  H  KEYSER  
09/06/13 07:30PM  A  BRIDGEPORT  
09/13/13 07:00PM  H  OPEN  
09/20/13 07:00PM  H  UNIVERSITY  
09/27/13 07:00PM  H  BROOKE  
10/04/13 07:00PM  H  EAST LIVERPOOL,OH H.S.  
10/11/13 07:30PM  A  MORGANTOWN  
10/18/13 07:00PM  H  ELKINS  
10/25/13 07:00PM  H  STEUBENVILLE,OH H.S.  
10  11/01/13 07:00PM  H  PARKERSBURG SOUTH  
11  11/08/13 07:00PM  A  JOHN MARSHALL  


– Wes McKinney

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