POINT PLEASANT - Oak Glen made the more than four-hour trip south Saturday looking not only for its first home playoff game in school history, but also a its deepest journey into the West Virginia state playoffs.
And early on it looked as though Coach Tony Filberto's troops might fight top-ranked Point Pleasant all the way to the end.
However, it turned out to be injuries, depth and a very explosive Big Blacks offense that made the difference.
Oak Glen’s Jeff Hissam hauls in a pass on his way to a touchdown score in the Golden Bears’ loss to Point Pleasant.
The Golden Bears battled Point Pleasant to a 28-28 stalemate the first 16 minutes only to be outscored by a 31-0 margin during the ensuing 16 as the Big Blacks raced to a convincing 66-40 shootout victory against Oak Glen in front of a large crowd on their own turf Saturday afternoon.
With the victory, Coach David Darst's 12-0 Big Blacks move one victory away from a Dec. 2 trip to Wheeling Island Stadium and the Class AA state championship game. Point Pleasant will play host to a familiar foe next weekend in Chapmansville for the right to advance to the finals.
''We have an old conference foe coming in next week in Chapmansville,'' Darst said. ''We beat them 41-18 earlier this year, but we only led them 14-12 at the half before exploding in the second half.
''It was a real similar game to this one, but I can tell you that they are a very good football team.
''I can also tell you that I was very impressed with this Oak Glen team. They are much quicker in person than they are on film and those kids came to play (Saturday). They are a class act with an outstanding coaching staff and they had a great year.''
The Bears capped a 10-2 season, the first 10-victory campaign in school history.
''One thing we were concerned about coming in was our depth,'' Filberto said. ''But you know four years ago when we took over there were 23 kids in the program and today there are 40. We need to get that number up to 50 in order to compete in these types of games.''
The hosts shocked the Bears right off the bat, with junior Marquez Griffin hauling in the opening kickoff all the way back at his own 4, avoiding a pair of tacklers and dancing down the sideline untouched for a 94-yard kickoff return just 16 seconds in. Josh Parsons' PAT made it a 7-0 score.
However, Filberto's club showed it came to play, scoring a pair of touchdowns in the ensuing 1:15 to take a stunning 14-7 upperhand.
On Oak Glen's second play from scrimmage following the kickoff, Lucas McDowell lofted a pass deep down the far sideline that Jeff Hissam hauled in near the 45 before outracing the defense to the end zone. Josh Weltner's PAT knotted the count at 7-7 at 10:46 of the first.
On the Big Blacks' next offensive play quarterback Eric Roberts was hit hard and fumbled with junior Zach Staley falling on the ball at the enemy 17. The Bears then scored its second touchdown on just its third play of the game as McDowell faked a handoff up the middle, tucked the ball and headed to the left corner of the end zone to cover the 17 yards.
Point Pleasant dominated most of the remainder of the quarter, scoring on a 44-yard Teran Barnitz run and a 74-yard bomb from Roberts to a wide-open Brandon Toler to make it 21-14 with 26 ticks still showing.
But the opening period was not over yet.
After beginning at its own 34, McDowell again found Hissam, this time streaking across the middle of the field and beating the defense for a 66-yard score. Weltney's boot made it 21-21.
It looked like the Big Blacks might finish the opening 12 minutes with the game's seventh touchdown, however, after hauling in the kickoff at his own 4, Griffin tripped over his own feet at the Oak Glen 35 for a 59-yard return and the end of the quarter.
The hosts did take advantage of the field position with Roberts finding senior Layne Thompson on a diving grab in the end zone from 18 yards away with 10:14 to go in the half. Parsons' conversion gave Point Pleasant the lead back at 28-21.
Point Pleasant found out again that Oak Glen was not going to go away as the Bears moved 80 yards on eight plays, the big one a 34-yard strike from McDowell to Trey Smith on a third-and-15 along with a personal foul call that moved the ball all the way to the 7. McDowell finished that off two calls later with a run to the right and a dive into the end zone at 8:05 to make it 28-28.
An unconventional, 12-play march, put the Big Blacks up at the half. Point Pleasant appeared to be stopped near midfield on dropped third-down pass, but a 15-yard illegal participation penalty moved the sticks.
The hosts later converted a fourth-and-2 at the Bears' 14 and then scored when Barnitz ripped off a 13-yard run but fumbled into the end zone, only to have Jason Stouffer fall on the loose ball for the score. Parsons' made it a 35-28 score.
After McDowell was intercepted by Josh Hereford, giving the Big Blacks the ball back at the Oak Glen 37, Point Pleasant managed to convert a third-and-33 with two pass plays, including a 26-yarder on a fake punt, before Parsons' 24-yard field goal with one second showing capped a wild first half.
In all, the teams combined for 544 total yards and 66 points in the first 24 minutes of play.
Oak Glen looked to retaliate to open the third, however, McDowell's second pick of the day set Point Pleasant up at the enemy 41 and they managed to take advantage again. Jerrod Long's 3-yard burst capped the drive with Parsons making it a 45-28 margin and giving the hosts control.
After a short punt put the Big Blacks back in business at the Bears' 49, Point Pleasant put more distance between themselves and their guests. Roberts' third touchdown pass of the afternoon, this one 38 yards to Toler, and Parsons' PAT pushed the score to 52-28.
The Blacks' third touchdown of the third, another Long run, this time from 5 yards away made it 59-28 with 4:32 still showing in the frame.
Dylan Davis' interception did allow the Golden Bears to dent the scoreboard again. Oak Glen converted a pair of fourth-down plays along the way before capped the drive with a 14-yard burst to pay dirt. The pass for two failed.
The Hancock County squad then recovered the onside kick, Davis rolled 26 yards to the 5 and then covered the final yardage for the score. The two-point attempt was again unsuccessful, but Davis' two touchdowns in a span of 28 ticks made it a 59-40 count.
''I think we made a statement (Saturday),'' Filberto said. ''But we got some kids banged up and we just can't play the numbers game. On one series we had a kid (Justin Stivason) play three different positions (quarterback, tackle, tight end) because of injuries.
''We have managed to stay healthy all season and it caught up with us a little the last couple of weeks. But we made history with 10 wins and I am very proud of this team.
''Lucas McDowell was phenomenal, but he played banged up. I didn't want to let him play the second half, but he talked me into it and I told him we would thrown the ball and not run him. Of course he is a runner and throwing it just isn't really his forte.''
While being impressed with Oak Glen, Darst was also happy with his team's performance.
''That was a fun game, but I know I would have enjoyed it much more from the stands,'' Darst joked. ''We kind of committed to stopping McDowell early on and that hurt us.
''But defensively we did an outstanding job in the second half. I know that I can tell you on offense we are blessed with a great quarterback in Eric Roberts. He has been our leader all season and (Saturday) was no different. He really showed he could play."
There were plenty of offensive standouts in the contest with Roberts throwing for 257 yards and three scores, Barnitz rushing for 147 yards and two touchdowns and Toler catching two passes for 112 and two more touchdonws for Point Pleasant.
For Oak Glen, McDowell threw for 255 yards and two scores, while being picked off twice, Hissam had six catches for 181 yards and both touchdowns while Davis finished with 79 yards and made two trips into the end zone.
The Golden Bears have only six seniors on their roster, unfortunately for Filberto McDowell, Hissam and Davis are three of them.