WHEELING - Slash and dash no more, Wheeling Park flexed its big-boy muscles Friday night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Often known in the past as a finesse team, the Patriots (3-0) ran right through University (2-1) by a 17-6 score, in a battle of previously unbeaten West Virginia Class AAA heavyweights. Wheeling Park churned out an even 300 yards of offense, many of which were earned after the Hawks had made initial contact.
''That's the best stable of running backs that I have ever seen,'' University coach John Kelley said. ''They're difficult to tackle, they won't go down and as soon as you get one, another one is coming at you.''[
Wheeling Park’s Theo Blackston (35) is upended by University’s Dylan Cole (24) Friday night in Wheeling.
The Patriots benefited from an early Hawks turnover to take the lead. After holding Wheeling on its first drive, the ensuing punt bounced off a University player and was covered at the 6 by Spencer Wiley.
Wheeling Park immediately capitalized as senior Bryce Ingram, playing his first game this season, bounced right and went into the end zone for a 7-0 lead three minutes into the contest. The Patriots defense did the rest in the first half, limiting the Hawks to 65 yards on 24 plays.
A short punt allowed Coach Chris Daugherty's club to get three more points just before the half. Five plays resulted in 20 yards and Liam Casey booted a 37-yard field goal for a 10-0 cushion at the half. It could have been worse because earlier, with the Patriots driving, a fumble thwarted the drive.
''We came in here thinking we should be up 17-0 and suddenly we're up 11 and the next thing you know we're up 11 and they've got the ball and are moving,'' Daugherty said.
The Patriots went up 17-0 courtesy of an 11-play, 89-yard march that culminated in the game's poignant play, Theo Blackston taking a handoff at the eight, running and twisiting through the majority of the University defense before lunging into the end zone with at least two defenders on his back.
''He's a smart kid and he knew 'this is my one touch down in the red zone and if I do not get it in now, one of these two tailbacks are going to get two more shots at it,' '' Daugherty said with a laugh. ''He was determined.
''It was just shear determination because we didn't even really block that up that great. He said 'I'm scoring whether you like it or not.' ''
University had a tough time sustaining drives, but put together their best immediately after the Patriots' score. Quarterback Travis Renner, who passed for 104 yards and rushed for another 83, led the Hawks on a four-play, 80-yard drive that took a little more than a minute. He hit Jack Armstrong with a beautiful pass into the left corner of the end zone for a 25-yard score.
''I look at our guys and Renner tried to will us to win,'' Kelley said. ''He and Armstrong took over.''
The duo, though, couldn't carry the Hawks all the way back. They got into good enough position that Holden Talton could hit a 32-yard field goal, but a penalty negated it. The subsequent 37-yard attempt was wide right.
Wheeling Park's defense allowed 225 yards and saw Isaiah Myers and Chalmer Moffett register a pair of sacks apiece.
''A lot of people chipped in a little bit - some kids you know, some you don't know about,'' Daugherty said. ''This is a big win for us.''
Ingram led the Patriots on the ground with 83 yards on 16 carries, while Savion Johnson picked up 67 on nine touches. Quarterback Zach Phillips was an efficient 8-for-17 for 121 yards, with four of the completions going to Eric Banks for 65 yards.
''Since we started playing them on a regular basis this is the best' Wheeling Park team,'' Kelley said. ''I just made a prediction to my team that we will see these guys again.
''I guarantee we're going to play them again in the playoffs. It's coming.''