MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Over the last twenty seasons, either Wheeling Central Catholic or Williamstown have played in the Class A state football championship game fifteen times. On four occasions, the two programs have played against each other.
This year, neither team was able to escape the first round due to the state’s COVID metrics map. Both schools were scheduled to take the field Sunday in opening-round contests, but Saturday’s map listed both Ohio County and Wood County in the ‘orange’, ending their respective seasons.
“I question the system,” said veteran Wheeling Central head coach Mike Young. “I question the ‘why’. You were told a week before you might not be playing, but these kids have been planning on playing the whole year. They have been planning on playing since they were in junior high and in grade school. And to be shut out in this way where you don’t have high school football players with COVID. You do all the protocols that you are supposed to do and you go play.”
“This thing could have been handled a lot better for the benefit of our young people but it wasn’t,” said first-year Williamstown head coach Chris Beck. “But the message has been that you can only control what you can control. And you know what, life is not fair. If this is the worst thing that has ever happened to you, consider yourself blessed.”
Sensing the good news was not going to come on the Saturday 5 p.m. map release, both coaches guided their teams through a final walk-through practice early Saturday.
“To look at these kids and say, ‘Hey fellas, it could be over’, our kids always take a last trip around the field, a last lap. And we had them do that. I had tears in my eyes seeing these young men knowing it was possible they could be shut out. It is tough,” Young said.
“We knew then that there were long odds. You know when the map comes out Friday what you are dealing with. Our kids responded. They had a great practice again. I think it was admirable. You have to face things in life and the odds were stacked against us,” Beck said.
“We were pretty honest with the guys. They knew what was going on but they still practiced their butts off. That’s a testament to them and just how resilient they are.”
Both the Yellowjackets (5-2) and the Maroon Knights (6-3) navigated challenging schedules this fall and were two of the teams best equipped to make a long run through the Class A bracket.
“We got beat early,” Young said. “And we took some on the chin because we played up (in class vs. Poca and Parkersburg) and we accepted that. But we really felt if we can continue to improve and go to practice and work and do the things we were supposed to do, do the social distancing, stay away from parties and gatherings, they did it all.”
“We lost to a Fort Frye team that went to the final four in Ohio and we lost to a three-time defending champ in Central,” Beck said. “A couple losses with nothing to be ashamed of there. We beat St. Marys, who is one of the top three or four teams in Class A. I thought we progressed week-to-week and kept getting better. We were looking forward to hopefully a deep run in the playoffs.”
Beck has already turned his attention to his second season guiding the Yellowjackets. Four starting linemen must be replaced but several promising young skill players return.
“We are excited about next year. We have Trevor Oates back in the backfield, Ricky Allen back at fullback and middle linebacker, he progressed as they year went on.
“We are really excited with our skill guys coming back. If we can get some big bodies up front that can move people around, we should be in good shape.”