WHEELING, W.Va. — Wheeling Central’s quest to repeat as Class A champion began back on Aug. 23 with a 33-0 win at Williamstown.
On Saturday night at Wheeling Island Stadium, the Maroon Knights finished their mission with a 44-15 victory over those same Yellowjackets in the Class A title game.
“I’m proud because they knew what was at stake as far as being a defending state champion,” Maroon Knights coach Mike Young said. “We battled last year to get in (the playoffs) and people thought well that was a fluke and we showed tonight that it wasn’t.
While Williamstown moved the ball much better than it did in the season opener, the Maroon Knights (13-1) were never seriously threatened thanks in large part to scoring the game’s first 16 points.
Wheeling Central took the opening kickoff and marched 52 yards, capping off its drive with Adam Murray’s 1-yard touchdown run. Jacob Rine knocked in his first of six successful point-after kicks, leaving Central with a 7-0 lead 5:40 into the action.
“We were able to set the tone early somewhat and we thought maybe they’d go away, because these are high school athletes and they think, well we won 33-0 and we’re up 7-0 early and they’re just going to quit,” Young said. Well they didn’t and that’s a credit to (Williamstown) coach (Terry) Smith and his staff and their kids. They played with a lot of heart, they played with a lot of pride.”
A blocked punt led to a safety 51 seconds into the second quarter that allowed the Maroon Knights to hold a 9-0 lead, and 40 seconds later, Central upped the advantage to 16-0 on Vinny Mangino’s 1-yard TD run. Mangino found the end zone one play after a 43-yard pass from Curtis McGhee to Bray Price.
Williamstown (11-3) responded with a 70-yard drive and scored on Donathan Taylor’s 2-yard run. The Yellowjackets got the two-point conversion on a pass from Carter Haynes to Nick Bondi, cutting what had been a 16-point deficit in half 6:51 before halftime.
But the Maroon Knights had an immediate answer and took a 23-8 lead on McGhee’s 14-yard TD run with 3:52 to play in the half. Prior to McGhee’s rushing TD, Murray ripped off a 34-yard run on what started as a botched punt, preventing the Yellowjackets from getting the ball back down one possession.
“They have a bad snap and the guy looks up and the seas part,” Smith said. “So they get the ball right back and you kind of look at it and think well we had the opportunities.”
The first of Jalen Creighton’s two interceptions helped lead to McGhee’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Robbins on the final play of the half, which sent Central into the break with a commanding 30-8 lead.
“That changed the game right there,” Murray said. “They kind of had a little bit of momentum going and Jalen’s pick set the tone to turn things around. We found our mojo and got into it.”
Smith viewed the back-breaking touchdown as more of a matchup in the Maroon Knights’ favor.
“The long pass at the end is kind of their 6-4 guy versus our 5-8 guy so it’s hard to win that battle,” Smith said. “He was right there and he did tackle him, but it was in the end zone.”
The Yellowjackets put together a 65-yard drive to start the second half and scored on Haynes’ 1-yard run to pull to within 30-15 at the 7:23 mark of the third quarter.
But Central had an answer again and went back on top by 22 points following Murray’s 2-yard TD run with 2:49 left in the third quarter.
Price’s 58-yard run with 6:57 remaining was the lone fourth-quarter touchdown.
Central finished with a 427-317 advantage in total yards, with McGhee completing 10-of-17 passes for 154 yards and rushing 23 times for 131 yards. Price and Murray added 73 and 55 rushing yards, respectively, on five carries, while Price also had six receptions for 87 yards.
“We have an array of backs,” Young said. “The stable is great in terms of the ponies coming out.”
Taylor had 198 rushing yards on 28 carries in defeat.
The Maroon Knights have won 10 Class A championships since 2000.