By DAVE MORRISON
Even the critics agree, No. 5 Wheeling Park (9-1) vs. No. 12 South Charleston (7-3) is not your typical 5 vs. 12 playoff matchup. The teams, despite their difference in seeding, are near mirror images on the field.
“If you look at us, I think you can see that we are built the same,” Park coach Chris Daugherty said. “We like to run the football and they like to run the football. Both teams can and do pass the football. Both teams have outstanding receivers and we are pretty similar on defense as well.”
No doubt, if Wheeling Park wants to defend its home turf and move on, it must contain elusive sophomore quarterback Kentre Grier. He is 133 of 222 passing (59 -percent) for 1,969 yards with 25 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has also rushed for 451 yards and six touchdowns. Any other year (one not dominated by Morgantown’s Chazzy Thomas) those would be Kennedy Award-candidate numbers.
A.D. Cunningham leads the rushing attack with 987 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kevin Forest, a returning first-team all-stater, leads the Black Eagles with 42 catches for 771 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The offense packs a punch.
“I don’t know if you can slow them down,” Daugherty said. “You just hope that at the end of the game, you have more points on the board than they do. They have athletes, they spread you out and they execute. You like to think if you can hold them to 17, 10 points, that is a great night’s work. They are capable of scoring a lot of points. I don’t want to get into a shoot out. Whether it’s 3-0 or 41-40, we just hope to be the one with more points.”
Park, too, is capable of putting up points.
Quarterback Zach Phillips is 88 of 141 on the year for 1,531 yards and 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Over the second half of the season his is completing 77 percent of his passes.
Savion Johnson leads the rushing attack. With 1,101 yards, he is the first Park sophomore running back to top the 1,000 yard mark. He has 14 touchdowns.
Eric Banks leads Park with 38 receptions forf 699 yards and seven touchdowns.
Defensively, linebackers Geremy Paige (108 tackles, five sacks) and Theo Blackston (55-2) lead the Park defense. Defensive ends Chalmer Moffett (66 tackles, 10 sacks) and Tommy Ricker (53-7) will be key to containing Grier.
“It should be a great game for the ticket holders,” Daugherty said. “But somebody is going to leave that stadium upset. I think if you had a true No. 1 through 16 in the state, we would probably both be in the Top 8.”
No. 16 Tucker County (6-4) at No. 1 Madonna (10-0)
In a redo of sorts, Madonna starts the playoffs with the team it beat in the semifinals a year ago in double-overtime.
Things have changed. Tucker, then the No. 1 team in the state, lost 14 seniors and fell to a 16 seed this year.
Madonna returned a plethora of talent from its state runner-up team and has been No. 1 most of the year,
“Tucker County, they have a real good program,” Madonna coach Doug Taylor said. “They have a great coaching staff. The fact that they graduated 14 seniors and came back to make the playoffs says a lot about them.”
Madonna, too, has a great program, and a great cast of players, which includes quarterback Ross Comis who has thrown for 1,299 yards and 20 touchdowns and has rushed for 1,254 yards and scored 22 times. Last year in the playoffs he had over 1,000 yards of total offense in four games.
Elliott Nero leads the team with 1,289 yards rushing and has scored 19 touchdowns. Madonna’s defense is largely underrated mostly because the offense piles up points by the bushels.
Only three times has Madonna given up double figure points and it has only had one opponent come within single digits, a 22-17 over Steubenville Catholic, which has advanced to the second round of the Ohio playoffs.
“We knew we had a lot of people coming back,” Taylor said. “We set our goals high, after coming so close last year (a one-point overtime loss to Wahama in the state championship game on Wheeling Island). What we try to do is take it one game at a time.”
It’s worked so far.
No. 14 Magnolia (6-4) at No. 3 Valley (10-0)
Magnolia coach Mark Batton never doubted his team.
After four losses and a 4-4 record, the Blue Eagles coach did doubt whether or not his team would make the playoff field of 16.
“After our third loss, to Wheeling Central (27-20 after the game-winning field goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown) we knew we had to keep winning to get in,” Batton said. “Then we had the heartbreaking loss to St. Mary’s and at that point it was iffy if we were going to get in at all. But these kids kept battling and they never quit. They came out, had good practices and they played well.
The Blue Eagles (6-4) finished the season with a big 24-0 victory against Ohio playoff qualifier Stuebenville Catholic and then 54-13 over Class AA Oak Glen. They were rewarded with a No. 14 seed and a trip to Charleston to take on No. 3 Valley-Fayette Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Laidley Field.
You don’t have to convince Greyhounds long-time coach Benny Hopkins about Magnolia.
“They very well could be at the top of this thing,” Hopkins said of the Blue Eagles. “You look at the losses Magnolia has had and they were in every one of those games and could have won. They could be 10-0.”
Valley is 10-0 for the first time in school history. Montgomery High finished 10-0 in 1969, eight years before Valley opened, and didn’t make the playoffs. Only two teams advanced to the playoffs in those days and the Greyhounds finished third.
The teams boast some similarities, most notably they have hard-running tailbacks who are each over 1,000 yards rushing.
Magnolia is led by returning all-stater Drew Keller, who has 1,420 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“He is what they go to and he is a good player,” Hopkins said. “They’ve been lining him up in that wildcat formation, they line him up in the I. He’s a hard runner to bring down once he gets going.”
The wildcat was something Magnolia had tinkered with all season.
“We even talked about it at the beginning of the season,” Batton said. “We started working with it about the middle of the season and we put it in a little bit against St. Mary’s. It really gives us variation, and Drew is a great player with the ball in his hands.”
Hopkins knows the Blue Eagles aren’t a one-man team, though.
“They have a real nice quarterback and some good receivers,” Hopkins said.”They can throw the football and they have a lot of weapons to they can throw at you.”
Quarterback Jacob Brill has completed 69 passes for 1,069 yards and 11 scores, with just one interception.
Likewise, Valley has some weapons, and a lot of speed.
Keyshawn Payne leads the Greyhounds attack with 1,104 yards on 110 carries and 12 touchdowns.
“Payne is a nice runner,” Batton said. “He really runs downhill well.”
The emphasis for Batton is quarterback Raeshawn Breckenrdge, who has 367 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. He has also completed 31 of 68 passes for 773 yards and four touchdowns.
“He is very elusive, we have to know where he is at all times,” Batton said. “He does a good job running their offense.”
Dru Bowen is the leading receiver with 16 receptions for 428 yards and three touchdowns.
Wilkerson also has five catches for 118 yards and a touchdown.
“Valley is an excellent football team,” Batton said. “There is a reason they are 10-0 and No. 3 in the state.”
Many think they could well be an underdog given Magnolia’s staunch schedule and close losses to highly ranked team.
“We told our team that 10-0 doesn’t mean anything,” Hopkins said. “It’s starting all over again Saturday and our kids have to show up and play well.”
“Our record is what it is,” Batton said. “We were fortunate enough to win and squeeze in there and now we have the opportunity to play. Hopefully we can take advantage of it.”
No. 12 Bishop Donahue (7-3) at No. 5 Man (9-1), Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Sitting at 3-3, Bishop Donahue coach John Durdines knew his team would likely have to run the table to get into the postseason.
It did just that.
Led by outstanding junior quarterback Jesse Padlow, a great group of receivers and a hard-nosed defense, the Bishops won four straight, including a big 33-32 victory against Wheeling Central and a 47-28 victory against Tyler Consolidated, which knocked Bishop Donahue out of the playoff contention last year, to finish it off.
Padlow has been lights out over the last four games,
After missing two games when he was injured against Clay Battelle, Padlow returned to finish the regular season completing 129 of 203 passes for 1,998 yards (he is trying to become the fifth QB in the state to pass for 2,000 yards) with 20 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Over the last four games Padow is 66 of 103 passing for 1,069 yards and 10 touchdowns with no interceptions.
“He is really getting his timing back and we have had a lot of receivers step up,” Durdines said. “In five games this year he has completed passes to seven or eight different receivers.”
Lavonte Hampton has been a major target, catching 29 passes for 624 yards and nine touchdowns.
Man is a physical team, having won nine straight after a season-opening loss to Class AAA playoff qualifier Logan.
Neil Mullins and Braden Griffin lead the running game with a combined 1,050 yards and quarterback Thomas Kiffer has thrown for 1,170 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Hillbillies average 32 points per game and give up 14.
“They are big and they are good,” Durdines said. “They can through the ball but they like to control the game with their run game. They are 9-1 for a reaason and they have played some good teams. They have a lot of talent.”
No. 13 Wheeling Central (6-4) at No. 4 Williamstown (8-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
It’s been a strange season for Wheeling Central. Games decided by two point conversions in the waning seconds. Wins and losses each way. A blocked last-second field goal to preserve another win. Losses to key personnel.
But one thing never changed – the playoffs.
Wheeling Central did just that, matriculating a tough schedule to earn a No. 13 seed.
It will be a tough out for anyone. The Maroon Knights have been in this situation many times and they have won championships by going on the road.
“Obviously, you want to play at home,” coach Mike Young said. “Everybody wants that. But we have been down that road before. You learn from experience and every game is an experience.”
This year has been an incredible experience.
A season-opening 7-6 win over Harrison Central when Central stopped a two-point conversion.
A 27-20 win over Magnolia, in which the Knights scored a late two-point conversion and then blocked what could have been the game-winning field goal and returned it for a touchdown.
A 20-18 win over Kiski when the Maroon Knights broke up the game-tying two point conversion.
A 33-32 loss to Bishop Donahue when the Knights went for a two-point conversion pass which was broken up.
All that has led to Friday night’s matchup with a familiar foe, Williamstown. The Knights are 5-2 all-time against the Yellowjackets.
Central lost key players in quarterback Parker Henry and running back Jeff Gwynn to knee injuries.
The Maroon Knights now start five freshman, including quarterback Isaac Rine, who has passed for over 500 yardsand rushed for 200 more helping the Knights get back to the playoffs, where they have won eight state state titles in 13 years.
C.J. Burch had 200 yards in a victory against Springs Mills last week and now has over 1,000 yards for the season.