PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Although the two schools are separated by nearly 200 miles, Capital and Wheeling Park have an extensive recent history of playing each other when it matters most.
For the fourth time in the last six seasons, the Cougars and Patriots will square off in a Class AAA playoff matchup when No. 6 Wheeling Park welcomes No. 11 Capital to Wheeling Island Stadium for a first-round showdown at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“For whatever reason, we’ve found ourselves matched up with Capital,” Wheeling Park head coach Chris Daugherty said. “Out of all the teams in the southern area of the state, we’re probably most familiar with Capital.”
The Patriots and Cougars have each won a state championship over the last decade — the only Class AAA programs to do so besides Martinsburg, which has claimed seven titles since 2010.
The recent playoff history between the two storied programs began in the 2014 playoffs, when Capital defeated Wheeling Park in a quarterfinal en route to winning it all. However, the following season, the Patriots exacted some revenge with a 23-15 victory over the Cougars in the Class AAA title game.
In 2017, Capital had its way in a 63-21 first-round win over Wheeling Park.
“It’s crazy how it works out. We’ve played them a lot,” Capital coach Jon Carpenter said. “It doesn’t take much to break each other down.
“It’s exciting. You want to play good people. You want to play on that field and in that stadium. It’s what high school football is about.”
The Patriots (8-2) enter the postseason winners of three straight and are unbeaten since their lone loss to an in-state opponent, 26-24 at Musselman on Oct. 18.
Wheeling Park is 3-2 in games decided by single digits this year, while the Cougars (5-5) are 1-3 in games decided by 12 or fewer points and 0-2 in games decided by single digits.
“We know that 5-5 or 10-0, they’re going to have some kids that can play and they’re coached well,” Daugherty said. “We’re five points away from being undefeated, but a handful of plays away from being 5-5. That’s the way football is and it rolled that way for them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not any good. I know better than that.”
Both teams have explosive passing attacks, with the Patriots led by quarterback Alex Dunlevy.
Dunlevy, a Kennedy Award candidate, has a variety of weapons at his disposal, including wideouts Steven Mitchell, Shaheed Jackson, Carson Namack, Sincere Sinclair and Xavier Morris.
When Patriots’ tailback Rapheal Bradley is able to get going, an offense that scored at least 24 points in all 10 games and 33 or more in nine contests is that much more dangerous.
“Just like always, they’ll spread the ball around and you have to defend the whole field,” Carpenter said.
Capital, meanwhile has scored 205 points in its wins and only 62 in its setbacks. The Cougars have often relied on big plays to succeed, though quarterback Evan Landers has a knack for producing them.
Landers likes to look the way of wideouts Kerion Martin, K.J. Taylor and Chance Knox, while running back Tay Calloway has also been a standout.
“Even if you’re holding them at bay, it only takes one play for them to get 6 points,” Daugherty said. “The Martin kid is very, very good.
“They’ve run the ball predominantly. I know they might’ve struggled a little bit, but I know the coach is still going to try to run the football and make big plays through the air.”
With a surplus of skill position talent on both sides, the contest could very well come down to what team is more physical at the point of attack.
“We have to find a way to not get blown up on the line of scrimmage and get the ball out in space to alleviate some of that,” Carpenter said. “But it won’t be easy.”