WHEELING - Call Saturday night's matchup with Linsly a swing game for Wheeling Central.
Coming off a humbling loss at Madonna a week earlier, another one could have sent the Maroon Knights stumbling downward with what lies ahead on a daunting schedule.
Faced with that reality, Wheeling Central (3-1) shot to a 20-0 halftime lead and held off a serious Linsly (2-2) charge for a 26-21 victory at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Wheeling Central’s Parker Henry tries to avoid a tackle Zak Kriechbaum during action of their game Saturday night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Photo by Alex Kozlowski
''We're not used to what happened last week,'' Maroon Knights coach Mike Young said. ''It was a great win for us morale-wise. It was a great win for us in terms of identity.
''I think we may have made a little bit of a statement that we're not down and out ... completely. Central's coming to play and I say that with a lot of pride and a lot of heart for the kids that we have and the coaches we have.''
That was evident from the outset against the Cadets.
Leading 7-0 by virtue of a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Parker Henry, the Maroon Knights tacked on a pair of scores in the final 1:33 of the second quarter for that 20-point bulge.
Henry capped a 10-play, 53-yard drive with a beautiful play-action touchdown pass to Joe John from the 4. Freshman quarterback Isaac Rine set up the score by lofting a pass down the sideline to Henry for a 22-yard gainer to the 5.
A quick three-and-out by the Cadets set the Knights up at their 49. Henry pitched the ball to C.J. Burch going right, but he pulled up and found freshman receiver John Burkhalter behind the defense for a score.
''The timing of those are crucial,'' Young said. ''Burkhalter did a great job of catching the ball and C.J. laid it right out there.
''Those are momentum gainers if you can get them, and we needed them. We needed the momentum down the stretch.''
Did they ever.
The Cadets awoke from a first-half slumber that saw them fumble five times (lost one), many on snapping issues, and gain 69 yards.
Linsly came out of the locker room and went 64 yards in nine plays, the end result being a 2-yard Chimechi Oparanozie touchdown run to get with 20-7.
The Cadets went right down the field after forcing a Maroon Knights punt, with Oparanozie going in again, this time from 15 yards. One play earlier on fourth-and-4, quarterback Jameson Murray found Oparanozie out of the backfield for 5 yards.
''We played a very poor first half, but I don't want to take anything away from Wheeling Central,'' Linsly coach B.J. Depew said. ''They came out on fire, believing they could win.
''For whatever reason, we didn't. I feel that we weren't prepared to play and that responsibility falls on me.''
The Maroon Knights had one more big play in them offensively, as Burch took a handoff right up the middle for what turned out to be the game-winning score from 51 yards to put his team ahead 26-14.
''Wheeling Central can do it both ways,'' Depew said. ''They can move the ball methodically when they have to and they have the weapons to break it.
''Whether it's a coverage breakdown or a missed assignment here, that's all it takes. When they are sharp and operating the way they were, they take advantage of those little mistakes.''
Oparanozie, who led everyone with 138 yards rushing on 23 carries, went in from the 5 to get the Cadets within six. Linsly recovered a Central fumble, but Brian Campbell brought down Murray for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-8.
''It was a great test. We moved some kids around and played some younger kids,'' Young said. ''We made some adjustments in terms of what we expect from them.
''I say that because we had some kids going both ways that weren't going both ways (Saturday). Based on how we played, it is what we've got do.''
Henry, who became physically ill at one point but didn't miss much time, rushed a team-leading 89 yards. Burch came up with 88. Burkhalter had a pair of catches for an even 100 yards.