— By Eric Little
For the first time since 2014, the Williamstown Yellowjackets will play for a state football championship this weekend.
No. 1 Wheeling Central (12-1) vs. No. 6 Williamstown (11-2)
When: Saturday at 7 p.m. at Wheeling Island Stadium
Last Week: Williamstown shook off the offensive struggles of the previous two weeks in a 56-8 win over Midland Trail. The Yellowjackets scored 35 points in the second quarter. Wheeling Central handed Doddridge County their first loss of the season, 47-7. The Maroon Knights became the first team all season to limit Bulldog running back Hunter America to fewer than 100 rushing yards.
Why It’s Important: Wheeling Central is looking to repeat as Class A state champions. Williamstown is looking for its first title since a triple overtime win in the 2014 state final. Both teams defeated St. Marys to win those championships.
This game is a rematch of the season opener between these schools, won by Wheeling Central 33-0 on August 23 in Williamstown. Both teams are perennial favorites in Class A and are led by two of the most decorated coaches in the state — Wheeling Central’s Mike Young and Williamstown’s Terry Smith.
Who to Watch for Williamstown: After struggling to gain footing in its first two playoff games, the Williamstown offense looked like the juggernaut that area teams know it can be in the Yellowjackets’ win over Midland Trail last weekend. Two of Donathan Taylor’s 16 carries went for touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass. The Jackets also got two rushing scores from Ty Moore.
Quarterback Carter Haynes was sharp also against Midland Trail, connecting on 7-of-10 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns — two to Eric Brown. This is a more complete offense than it was when these teams met in Williamstown at the start of the season, though the passing game wasn’t off by much back in August.
Early in that first matchup, Haynes misfired to a wide-open Taylor on Williamstown’s first possession and Taylor couldn’t catch up to a deep ball from Haynes on the second possession. Had Williamstown scored on either, or both, of those plays, the complexion of the game could’ve been much different.
If the game is close, Williamstown can turn to Boston Caruthers. His three field goals in Williamstown’s quarterfinal win over Mount View set a new state playoff record for most field goals in a game.
Don’t forget about a defense that’s only allowed 32 points in three postseason games. That’s a group that can pounce on Wheeling Central’s mistakes. And to win, that’s what they’ll need to do. The Maroon Knights actually lost the turnover battle in the first round to No. 16 Tyler Consolidated, so while Wheeling Central is loaded with some of the state’s best talent, they aren’t immune to mistakes.
Perhaps the hardest challenge facing Williamstown? Super Six experience. None of the Yellowjackets were in high school when the 2014 team won the state championship. Wheeling Central returns many of its key players from last year’s state championship team, including quarterback Curtis McGhee. Williamstown will need to maintain composure and make sure it takes advantage of Wheeling Central’s mistakes.