By Dave Morrison
WHEELING, W.Va. – The stakes don’t get much higher than Wheeling Park at Morgantown Friday at Pony Lewis Field.
For a myriad of reasons.
Park (5-0), despite being No. 3 in the latest SSAC playoff ratings, feels it still hasn’t received the respect it has earned and might need a signature win to justify its perfect start at the midway point.
Morgantown (5-1) is No. 12, the one loss coming to perennial power and thee-time defending state champion Martinsburg (28-21). However, Martinsburg is juggling an ongoing eligibility issue which could cause it to forfeit five games (currently), including the Morgantown win. That would clear the one loss and give Morgantown 13 big points in the ratings.
The Mohigans pose a threat to the Park defense because of Chazzy Thomas, the outstanding running back who would have to be the clear-cut leader in the race for the Kennedy Award, with over 1,593 yards rushing at 25 touchdowns.
Last week, in a 52-21 win over Dubois, Pa., Thomas had 380 yards and six touchdowns.
Park won’t counter with a Chazzy-type runner, though the backfield tandem of Bryce Ingram and Savion Johnson (452 yards), and fullbacks Geremy Paige and Theo Blackston, put up similar numbers combined.
The Park offense has started quickly in its last two games.
Ingram scored on the first play from scrimmage in a 34-16 win over Brooke and in a 52-0 win over East Liverpool, Eric Banks, one of the state’s top receivers, caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Zach Phillips on the game’s first play.
Phillips is 35 for 65 passing for 593 yards and seven touchdowns. Banks has caught 19 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns.
Bishop Donahue (3-2) at No. 2 Madonna (5-0)
This one always seems to come down to the wire – at least over the last two years.
Madonna, en route to a berth in the Class A state championship game, and loss to Wahama, beat Donahue 15-14 with an 80-yard touchdown run late.
The Blue Dons are loaded, led by the offensive prowess of quarterback Ross Comis (30 of 43 passing for 661 yards and eight touchdowns and 610 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns) and Elliot Nero (680 yards rushing and six touchdowns).
No need to convince Donahue coach John Durdines.
“They are easily he best team we’ve seen this year,” Durdines, whose team has lost to playoff-caliber teams Notre Dame and Clay-Battelle) said. “You really can’t concentrate on stopping one or the other (Comis or Nero). either has the ability to make the big play. We just have to stop their successes when we can and understand that they are going to have success.”
Durdines team is rebounding from early-season injuries, which hurt it in its two previous losses. Quarterback Jesse Padlow is back, and leads and leads the offense. He has completed 51 of 76 passes for 715 yards and seven touchdowns.
“They always play us well,” Madonna coach Doug Taylor said. “They have great size, they have great speed. I know they’ve been banged up, but we expect to see a fully healthy team. We know we are going to see their A game.”
Shadyside (6-0) at Wheeling Central (5-1)
Wheeling Central coach Mike Young continues to live right.
For the second time this season, the Knights stopped what would have been a game-changing two-point conversion with inside a minute left. The latest came in a 20-18 win over Kiski Saturday at Wheeling Island Stadium.
The other came in a 7-6 season-opening win over Harrison Central.
Add to that a blocked (and returned for a touchdown) game-winning field goal attempt by Magnolia in a 27-20 win and holding off powerful Linsly late in a 26-21 win, and you have four wins coming by a combined 15 points.
The Knights will need to continue the same against undefeated Shadyside, a team that features an offensive juggernaut led by running backs Austin Dorris and Eric Howell and Chris Littrell.
Shadyside puts up points aplenty, scoring over 40 points in its last four wins, and no fewer than 22 points.
The defense has given up double figures in all but one win.
Central counters with the one-two punch of quarterback Parker Henry and running back C.J. Burch. The Knights also have gone to a few sets where freshman QB Isaac Rine comes in and Henry and Burch lineup as wingbacks or in the backfield.
Valley Wetzel (2-3) at Bellaire St. John, Ohio (0-6)
It’s been a strange season so far for Tom West and his Lumberjacks.
Valley’s 45-22 loss to Clay-Battelle Monday was the team’s first game in 18 days. They had a game with Hundred cancelled because Hundred didn’t have enough players and also had a scheduled off week earlier.
The game was moved to Monday after the tragic death of Clay-Battelle junior Sydney Rush.
“I wanted to do whatever we could to help Clay-Battelle, whether it was moving the game or whatever they needed,” West said. “That team, that school, that community, they are going through a real rough time. It’s just a terrible tragedy.”
The Valley team joined the Cee-Bees on the field before the game for a moment of silence and released balloons.
West is hoping for a more traditional second half for his own team. He said he is going to run the football and run some more and first up is St. John’s, which is winless.
Trey Streets leads Valley with over 400 yards in four games and Peyton Palmer, Kale Lloyd, T.C. Long and Matt Throckmorton will all see action.
“We think we can run the football on (St. John),” West said. “We have some pretty good backs. We have some backs with speed and some power backs. We are going to use them all.”
John Marshall (3-2) at Parkersburg South (1-4)
The Monarchs three-game win streak came to a halt last week at Musselman, 34-7.
They’ll try to restart a streak at Parkersburg South this week.
The homestanding Patriots got off to a big start to the season, especially Andrew Schwendeman, who had 405 yards in the season-opeing win over Ripley (47-45.), He has just over 100 yards since. Quarterback Garrett Gilkerson had thrown for over 400 yards.
The Monarchs are led by running back Trevor Hardesty and sophomore quarterback Noah Martin, who was 13 for 25 for 120 yards and a touchdown.
Weirton (2-4) at Magnolia (3-3)
The playoffs started right after a 27-20 loss to Wheeling Central and the Blue Eagles bounced back nicely, with a win over Monroe Central
Drew Keller led the way with 148 yards and a touchdown. He also returned an interception for a score and recovered a fumble.
It’s the proverbial trap game for Magnolia, who is set to face Class A No. 1 St. Mary’s on the road next week.