Wheeling Central won its eighth high school football state championship Saturday night by defeating previously unbeaten and top ranked Wahama 28-14.
It was Wahama’s first ever trip to the state title game – and things certainly didn’t get off to a good start for the White Falcons. On the first play of the game, it was Wheeling Central’s senior running back Marcus Clifford taking the ball 67 yards down the field to give his team the early 7-0 lead.
“It felt great,” Clifford said. “I wasn’t expecting to bust one like that, but when I did, we got the momentum and it felt good.”
It certainly did give the Maroon Knights the momentum. Statistically, the first half was dominated by Wheeling Central – but Wahama’s stubborn defense forced a couple of turnovers and kept the White Falcons in the contest.
Wheeling Central added to its 7-0 lead later in the first half on an 11 play, 69 yard drive. Quarterback Lee Peluchette capped off the drive with a nine yard touchdown pass. Wahama’s Isaac Lee blocked the extra point to make the score 13-0 with Wheeling Central in front.
Wahama would get its chances in the first half, however, as Ryan Lee picked off a Peluchette pass late in the second quarter to give the White Falcons the ball inside of Maroon Knight territory. Wahama, however, turned the ball right back over to Wheeling Central just a few plays later inside Wheeling Central’s 15 yard line.
But on the ensuing possession, a bad snap gave the ball back to Wahama at the 10. Wheeling Central’s defense then came up with a crucial stop, forcing the White Falcons to a four and out, maintaining their two score lead into the half.
Overall in the first half, the usual high powered Wahama offense was held to just 44 offensive yards. Wheeling Central, meanwhile, tallied 206 first half yards.
In the second half, the Maroon Knights jumped the score out to 21-0 with 4:11 to go in the third on a 53 yard Peluchette touchdown pass, putting Wahama in a critical position on its next drive.
Needing a touchdown to get itself back in the ball game, Wahama responded with a 14 play, 69 yard touchdown drive. Quarterback Trenton Gibbs connected with Elijah Honaker on fourth and goal from the three to cut the deficit to 21-7.
Wheeling Central, however, sealed its eighth all-time state championship with a nine play, 65 yard touchdown drive, capped off by an Austin Frohnapfel two yard touchdown run.
Wahama added another score with under a minute to go on an eight yard touchdown pass from Trenton Gibbs.
The win puts Wheeling Central back on top of the Class A mountain – the Maroon Knights had been held out of the state title game in each of the last seasons.
“It hurt us being so close to it,” Peluchette said. “It was my first time getting here because we didn’t get here the last two years. And once we got here, we knew we had to get it.”
Despite the disappointing loss for Wahama, the young White Falcons completed what was their best season in school history. Wahama loses just four starters from this year’s team for next season.
“I’m proud of what we did, but they earned it,” said Wahama’s Jamin Branch.
Overall on the game, Wheeling Central finished the contest with 390 total yards. 232 of those yards, meanwhile, came from Clifford on the ground.
“We’re very proud and we’re very proud of what the people did (at Wheeling Central) before us,” said Maroon Knights’ head coach Mike Young. “We’re very proud of what these kids did this year. They were challenged week in and week out and they answered the call. Our goal in August was to be here in December and we’re here now.”
Clifford was named the player of the game for Wheeling Central. Ryan Lee earned those honors for the White Falcons.