By: Jack Withrow
Class AAA – No. 4 Capital (10-2) vs. No. 3 Wheeling Park (11-1-1) Saturday at 12:00 p.m.
The Capital Cougars are headed back to Wheeling and the WVSSAC Super Six Championships to defend their Class AAA title after defeating No. 1 seed Cabell Midland, 35-13, in Ona.
But the road back to Wheeling Island Stadium came as no easy task, according to Cougars’ coach Jon Carpenter.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” he said. “It’s been a heck of lot harder trying to defend a state championship than it was to win one.”
Capital (10-2) has overcome several hurdles to get back to the championship, including injuries and a couple of regular season losses. Last Saturday, the No. 4 seeded Cougars avenged a 21-14 loss as they defeated Cabell Midland in a dominating fashion.
Capital’s defense has played a major role in the Cougars’ postseason success and last week was no different. Capital limited Cabell Midland’s ability to break the long runs and held the Knights to 242 yards rushing, while forcing three turnovers.
“Those guys on defense are more interested in doing their jobs and not necessarily on making a tackle.” added Carpenter. “We’ve got to play team defense to be able to win.”
Everyone looks at junior linebacker Dorian Etheridge as the leader of the defense, but several players have come up with big plays including fellow linebacker Devon Adkins. Both Adkins and Etheridge are quick to the ball and have shown the ability to deliver big hits from anywhere on the field. The down linemen of Mack Peyton, Chris Harris and Savion Brown have also done a great job in disrupting offenses. Brown (6’-3’, 310 lbs.) is the anchor at the nose guard position.
On offense, senior quarterback Tyrhee Pratt once again stepped up to lead the Cougars, rushing for 163 yards and three touchdowns against Midland (he also added two scores passing in the win). With running back Silas Nazario (170 carries, 1,270 yards, 20 TDs) limited due to an injury, Pratt has taken a leading role in the Cougars’ ground attack the past two weeks with 346 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
“We knew Pratt would have to run the ball at least 20 times for us to win,” Carpenter said when asked about his senior quarterback’s performance the past two weeks.
“I woke up this morning and told myself that I had a huge game (coming up) today and I had to get back at Cabell Midland,” Pratt said. “I had to come out here and lead my team.”
Pratt, a WVU football commit, has completed 126-of-209 passes for 2,088 yards and 18 touchdowns on the year. Pratt’s favorite target has been senior wide out Miguel ‘Crunchy’ Bays. The speedy Bays averages 17.3 yards per catch with 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns while freshman receiver Kerry Martin, Jr. has added 23 catches for 385 yards and three scores.
In earning a trip to the Super 6 championship game, Wheeling Park has outscored its playoff opponents 113-28, including a 41-0 shutout of No. 11 South Charleston and last week’s semifinal victory over previously undefeated Point Pleasant, 35-14.
The Patriots’ offense averages 40.0 points per game and features senior running back Savion Johnson (1,770 yards rushing, 28 TDs), sophomore quarterback Cross Wilkinson (2,142 yards passing, 25 TDs) and senior receiver Elijah Bell (46 catches, 1,142 yards, 16 TDs).
This Saturday’s championship game will be a rematch of the 1991 state title game that saw the Cougars defeat the Patriots 15-14 in overtime at Charleston’s Laidley Field. The two teams met in last year’s quarterfinals as Capital defeated Wheeling Park 35-14.
Since the 1989 consolidation of Stonewall Jackson and Charleston High schools, Capital has made seven appearances in the Class AAA title game, while winning the championship in 1989, 1991, 1995 and 2014.