WHEELING - For all the skill the Wheeling Park football team possesses - there's an abundance - its offensive line is the straw that is going to stir the playoff drink. South Charleston took a sip of the Patriots' concoction Friday night at Wheeling Island Stadium and left with a sour taste in its mouth, courtesy of a 55-34 rout in the first round of the West Virginia Class AAA playoffs.
From left, to right, Henry Gompers, Elliott O'Brien, Josh Messner, Eric McCave, Matt Hackathorn and even tight end Chalmer Moffett, made minced meat of their Black Eagles counterparts.
''I think maybe we shocked them by how big and how physical we are,'' Coach Chris Daugherty said. ''We felt like we were stronger and we were bigger and we just had to use it to our advantage and run downhill.''
Downhill? Heck, Wheeling Park running backs Savion Johnson (193 yards, four touchdowns) and Geremy Paige (148 yards, two scores) were content running right through South Charleston defenders.
The Patriots have long been known as a finesse team. To be completely honest, the knock has always been that they've been too soft up front.
''We're just going out there and doing what we do best, which is pound it,'' said Hackathorn, a senior. ''We just got a hat on a hat and Savion found a hole and kept on going.
''He makes it pretty easy for us.''
Perhaps that's making it sound a little too simple. After all, any offensive line coach will tell you that running the football is an attitude. It seems the Patriots are dead set on showing the rest of the state just how bad their attitude really is.
''Everyone else may think they're not physical, but they know what we, the skill people, think of them,'' Johnson said. ''South Charleston was blitzing so many different people and showing so many different looks and we scored (55) points.
''There was a lot of running room. I honestly don't know how they do it.''
How many prep teams, at any level, can change up the weekly game plan based upon where the opposing team's weakness lies? Not many, but the Patriots have proven to be one of those very few.
Daugherty and his staff knew the Black Eagles could match Park athlete-for-athlete, but weren't so sure they would be able to withstand a punishing ground game. So the Patriots ran the ball 50 times for 351 yards and five touchdowns.
''As people know we can air it our a little bit, but (Friday) was totally different,'' quarterback Zach Phillips said. ''We basically said they weren't as physical as us and our line was going to win the battle.
''My freshman and sophomore years the line was undersized a little bit, but four years of hard work, and three years for some of the guys, gets you the results we have.
''It's the dedication in the weight room and sticking together. I'm going out there with five guys I know are going to protect me and protect everyone else.''
Again, to be frank, that type of feeling hasn't always been prevalent at Wheeling Park, at least if you listen to the naysayers. Then Daugherty tells you what the difference is.
''When kids work hard in the offseason it's funny how they get vested,'' he said. ''They care more and things like going offsides hurts them more than it does you, and then they stop doing it.
''The credit goes to our kids. It's one thing to coach them up and get them ready, but it's another thing when they go out and do exactly what you tell them to do.''
The only thing that went 'wrong' was Phillips being dropped for a first-half sack.
''I'll get after them and they will hear it,'' Phillips managed through a hearty laugh.
Hey, when you dominate the way the Patriots did Friday night, you've got to find something to critique.
Shawn Rine can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org