WHEELING - Memories of last season's incredible West Virginia Class A quarterfinal playoff game when Wheeling Central edged previously undefeated Bishop Donahue 24-20 continue to loom large heading into their Saturday night regular-season battle at Wheeling Island Stadium.
The shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, as the Maroon Knights come in as the team trying to protect a perfect 8-0 record. The battling Bishops are 6-2, their losses coming in hard-fought games against Beallsville and Weirton Madonna.
While this certainly isn't a lose-and-out scenario for both teams in their hopes of earning playoff berths this season, more than just pride and bragging rights are on the line.
Coached by Mike Young, Wheeling Central is trying to hang on to its No.1 position in the state Single-A ratings. If successful, the Maroon Knights could find themselves staying on the island turf as long as the defending state champs remain alive in postseason action.
Victories by Bishop Donahue against Central this week and Paden City on Nov. 5 would assure Coach John Durdines' club the at least open the playoffs at home.
''With all the respect we have for Wheeling Central, you don't have get motivated for this game,'' Durdines said. ''Last year was one heckuva a ballgame but the way it ended did not sit well. Obviously, our kids are fired up and want another shot at it.''
Young remains more inclined to look forward as he prepares the Maroon Knights for Saturday night's game.
''A lot of people are going to focus on last year but we have different teams with different players that are making their own marks,'' he said. ''Both teams have played well. We are excited to be 8-0. Coach Durdines and his staff have done an excellent job with kids and that program..''
The two head coaches and their assistants have much to be proud of with the accomplishments of both teams during their tenures.
Young, after taking over at his alma mater seven years ago, has guided the Maroon Knights to a glittering 74-14 record and four state championships, including three in a row from 2005 through 2007. The 2006 and 2007 squads both finished at 14-0.
Before Durdines came on the scene, Bishop Donahue's football program was on the verge of extinction because of a dwindling enrollment at the school and several years when the team roster was below 20 players.
With both the enrollment and the total number of players wearing the Bishop Donahue uniforms on the rise, so have the fortunes of the football team. During five of the last six years, the green and gold has turned in winning records, highlighted by last year's 11-1 finish, and two other seasons when Donahue finished at 7-3.
''The one thing that has helped us be successful is that we have had a great group of unselfish players,'' Durdines said. ''They are buying in to what we are teaching them.''
Although Bishop Donahue and Wheeling Central sustained heavy graduation losses last spring, neither team appears to have missed a beat.
The Bishops rebounded from a disappointing 10-7 loss to Weirton Madonna to roll past Valley 52-14 while the Maroon Knights overcame some early turnover problems and 95 yards in penalties to defeat stubborn Caldwell, 34-13.
''I thought we played one of our better games last week,'' Durdines said. ''We were coming off our bye week and the kids were excited for their Homecoming game. We took care of business and did everything we needed to do.''
Six different Bishops scored touchdowns against the Lumberjacks, three of the scores provided by junior Jordan Bonar, now Donahue's leading rusher with 714 yards and 11 TDs. Senior Ollie Parker scored once on a 3-yard run and racked up 43 yards rushing to give him 673 yards and eight TDs. Quarterback Cody Ballard, steady as ever directing the attack all season, was 8-for-8 passing accounting for 86 yards.
''Bishop is getting steady play from their quarterback and their running game is very good,'' Young noted.
Despite the miscues and penalties, Central staved off Caldwell behind a bend but don't break defense and a rush attack that racked up 257 yards and five touchdowns. Senior Gino Bianconi, just 52 yards away from a 1,000 for the season, scored on touchdown runs of 2, 1 and 63 yards, while classmate Erik Gompers had 35 and 40-yard TD jaunts.
The Maroon Knights vaunted spinner offense was among Durdines' main areas of concern while putting together his game plan this week.
''Defending Central will be a huge challenge,'' the Bishops coach said. ''Bianconi is the best running back I have seen. He is unbelievable the way he hits the holes. Parker Henry has stepped up big time this year as a sophomore.
''You can't be more impressed with the way he has led this offense. It's almost like he was born to be a spinner quarterback.
''Assignment football is much easier said than done especially when you are talking about defending an offense this. You can try to over-adjust but the best thing might be to just play your scheme.''
Most coaches look at the record of their teams and believe they could have done better. Durdines is no exception, although he is pleased with Donahue's success this year.
''We were winning both games in the second half that we ended up losing,'' he said. ''Sometimes the tendency is to let down after games like that. I like the way we rebounded both times.
''There may be a few more valleys than there were last year but we still have a lot of peaks in front of us. Our kids understand that just because we don't have the same players from last year, that doesn't mean we can't accomplish the same things.''
Young also is pleased with the Maroon Knights' success at overcoming all their miscues last week to still win by a comfortable margin. Holding a Caldwell team that was averaging 33 points a game to just 13 was a huge key.
''It says a lot about our kids,'' Young said. ''We were able to take their running back away but we also gave up something to their quarterback. The adjustments we made at halftime made a big difference in our holding them below their scoring average.
''We need to contine to play hard this week and not have as many turnovers. Our kids are looking forward to playing Bishop Donahue just as much as they want to play us. It's going to be a great high school game.''