WHEELING - If football is a game of inches, it was maybe an inch that was the deciding factor in Wheeling Central's season-opening 7-6 victory against Harrison Central on Thursday night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
With the game being played on the banks of the Ohio, it was only fitting that the riverboat gamblers came out, and Harrison Central coach Justin Kropka tried to one-up Wheeling Central's Mike Young.
He missed by an inch. Or less.
Wheeling Central’s Parker Henry (10) tries to break a tackle of Harrison Central’s Casey Runevitch (57) and Lance Smith (78).
After Nate Olmstead caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback David Miser, Kropka was left with a decision to go for the PAT kick and a tie or two and the victory. He went with the old theory of going for two on the road and the win.
The Huskies lined up in a wildcat formation, with Olmstead in shotgun formation. He took the snap and appeared to have an angle to the end zone to the right.
As he leaped toward the goal line, and a huge first-week upset of favored Wheeling Central, 5-foot-8, 145-pound junior Ben Duplaga had other ideas.
"I knew he was going to run the ball, they'd been going to him all night," Duplaga said. "I saw him leap and I just came up. I felt the ball come out and I didn't think he crossed (the goal line). I immediately looked at the referee to make sure he said he didn't make it."
Kropka wasn't so sure.
"In the heat of the moment, I'm not going to sit here and pass judgment," the coach said. "The officials had a better angle than I did, but it looked good to me. The film will tell the tale."
"They had our backs against the wall," Young said. "That says a lot for the character of these kids."
The game deserved a fitting end.
Both teams scored on what was their last real possession, and Central twice came up with big plays on fourth down to keep its lone scoring drive alive.
Parker Henry, back under center for the first time since the end of his sophomore year after missing last year with a knee injury, completed one pass on the night. It came on fourth-and-18 at midfield.
Henry connected with C.J. Burch on a 22-yard strike to keep the drive alive.
"That was a gamble, but our defense was playing tough and we would give the ball up at midfield," Young said. "Sometimes you have to take a risk."
"I guess it was a good time for the completion," Henry said.
It was the first of three big plays for Burch.
"We have a good chemistry," Burch said. "I knew I was going to catch the ball. I was just worried about the guy coming up to tackle me. I wanted to make sure I had the yardage I needed."
Later, on fourth-and-2 at the 20, Burch,who finished with 72 yards on 13 carries, went straight up the middle for 11 yards. He scored on the next play to give the Maroon Knights a 7-0 lead after Alex Calvert popped up the PAT that fell over the crossbar and provided what would be the winning points.
Wheeling Central's scoring drive was set up by a Joey John interception, the Knights' third interception of the game.
"I was just read the man and stayed in my spot where I was taught to be," John said. "We played well on defense most of the night and it just seemed like we needed to score on one of those turnovers. I was the first one who got to (Burch) after he scored."
Harrison Central mounted its own scoring drive and scored on third-and-10 after having the ball first-and-goal at the 1.
Henry finished with 55 yards on 24 carries and was 1-for-5 passing for those 22 yards to Burch.
Travis Stenson had 61 yards on 10 carries for Harrison Central. Miser completed 8 of 17 passing for 63 yards.