By Dave Morrison
WHEELING, W.Va. — For Wheeling Park, the time is now.
No. 5 in the Metro News Power Rankings, the Patriots are primed for a breakout season – one many area media and fans haven’t seen since 1991.
That was the year Park fell to Capital 20-13 in the Class AAA state championship game at Laidley Field.
Could it happen again with a little twist? The Super Six, of course, is now at Wheeling Island Stadium, the Patriots’ home field, as Laidley was Capital’s home field 22 years ago.
Both teams are in the poll’s top five.
First things first, and that comes Friday when Class AA No. 2 Keyser comes to town.
Keyser is hardly your Class AA pushover.
The Golden Tornado will open their season where it ended last year, when Keyser fell to perennial power Wayne in the Class AA state championship game at Wheeling Island.
They are stocked with a veteran lineup, led by quarterback Cody Eversole, running back Blake Ravenscroft and fullback Danny Fife. Additionally, 10 starters return to the defense that helped the team reach its first state title game since 1969 and finish 12-2.
Park’s cupboard, though, isn’t exactly bare.
Chris Daughery’s team returns a plethora of talent, including a big line — one of the knocks on Park teams of the recent past.
Zach Phillips returns at quarterback after finishing the season completing 59 percent of his passes for over 1,200 yards. His main target returns, with 25 additional pounds of muscle, in Eric Banks.
Bryce Ingram, who was a second-team all-state utility player, leads the running game.
HARRISON CENTRAL VS. WHEELING CENTRAL, (Thursday)
The big news at Central is Parker Henry is back.
The quarterback, who missed last season with a knee injury sustained in practice, will be a key in getting Central back to the state championship game. That means C.J. Burch is back, too, at his normal running back position.
Last year Burch stepped in for Henry, and still led the team in rushing (1,73 yards and 21 TDs) and threw for 763 and nine scores. With both weapons back, the sky is the limit for Central.
Harrison Central (Ohio) did make the postseason last year, but lost 14 players to graduation, including the school’s all-time leading rusher, Maurtice Hython.
BROOKE AT MORGANTOWN
The Bruins open what will be a brutal schedule with one of the toughest opponents it will face — Morgantown.
The No. 2 Mohigans are one of the teams favored to potentially knock Martinsburg from its three-year perch as the Class AAA state champion.
Brooke has a talented team, but a schedule that includes University, Wheeling Park, Parkersburg South and Cabell Midland — making an a run to the postseason a tough chore.
With three-year starter Alex Buchmelter graduating, there would seem to be holes to fill. But Aaron Walker stepped in after an injury to Buchmelter and did an admirable job. He will take over the role on a full-time basis.
LINSLY AT MAGNOLIA
The Stephen Rogalski Era is over at Magnolia. That is the good news for Blue Eagles opponents.
The bad news?
The team’s top two rushers return in all-staters Drew Keller (1,377 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Kage Rohde (857 yards, 15 touchdowns). They will be led by a huge offensive line, as Magnolia looks to continue its dominance of the 2010s.
Linsly lost 85 percent of its offense in Chinelo Oparanozie. But the Cadets do return their entire line to lead, among others, Oparanozie’s brother, Chimechi.
Cameron vs. Bishop Donahue, 5:30 p.m. Thursday
Beallsville at Madonna, 8:00 p.m. Thursday
Clay-Battelle at Paden City
Hannan at Valley-Wetzel
Tyler Consoliated at Williamstown