Point hosts Patriots in AAA quarterfinal

Bryan Walters

November 20, 2013

POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — Two great stories, but only one gets another chapter.

A pair of magical gridiron seasons will be put to the test Friday night when fourth-ranked Point Pleasant hosts fifth-ranked Wheeling Park in an epic Class AAA quarterfinal playoff contest at Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field in Mason County.

Both the Big Blacks (11-0) and visiting Patriots (10-1) are enjoying historical 2013 football campaigns, as each squad is rewriting some records that cover significant amounts of time. WPHS won its first playoff game since 2008 Friday night with a 55-34 victory over No. 12 South Charleston, while Point recorded its first AAA postseason victory since 1979 last Saturday evening with a 41-14 decision over No. 13 Logan.

The Patriots — whose only loss this year came Week 7 at Morgantown (41-38) — advanced past the first round of the playoffs for just the eighth time in the program’s history last weekend, but that accomplishment is not even close to the crowning jewel in their season thus far.

Wheeling Park became the first West Virginia-based team to defeat Steubenville (42-22) since Weir accomplished the same feat back in 1963. The Patriots — who also scored just 30 points in a dozen previous losses to the Big Red — were also the first Wheeling public school to beat Steubenville since 1910. WPHS also became the first OVAC program to beat the three-time OHSAA champion in over a decade.

WPHS put together just its fourth nine-win regular season in school history and also came away with the Class 5A championship in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference this fall.

Point Pleasant, conversely, earned the program’s fourth undefeated regular season in school history — joining the 1979 group as the only teams at PPHS to ever go 11-0 in Class AAA. The 1969 team went 10-0 and missed the postseason, while the 2011 squad finished 13-1 before losing to Wayne in the Class AA championship game.

The Big Blacks — who own an alltime playoff record of 5-10 — defeated Ripley for the first time in nine years and currently own the alltime record for wins over a four-year span with a 39-8 overall mark. PPHS — which snapped a six-game losing skid in the Class AAA playoffs last weekend — is also making its sixth consecutive playoff appearance, another school record.

Both teams enter Friday night averaging more than 400 yards of offense per game, as well as over 40 points per contest. Both defenses are also stingy, as each squad is surrendering less than 18 points per outing.

In some ways, it’s like the two gridiron teams are a mirror image of one another. That both excites and concerns seventh-year PPHS coach Dave Darst, particularly with a state semifinal appearance on the line.

“In all reality, this is probably one of the biggest games in the history of Point Pleasant football since we’ve been in triple-A. They (Wheeling Park) are a quality opponent that’s played a good schedule, and they have some quality athletes that can make plays,” Darst said. “Our kids are going to have to be ready to play four quarters of football. We have to be solid and make them earn anything they get. We have to be efficient offensively in what we do and we have to take care of the football.

“We are going to have to play our best game of the year this weekend if we want to have success. At this point in time, everyone has to do that to move on.”

Darst does, however, have one added advantage at his disposal this weekend. That edge, of course, is Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field — where the Big Blacks are 28-3 overall in its five years of existence.

Point Pleasant has won four straight playoff games at home and owns a 4-1 alltime mark at OVB Field. The Big Blacks have also won 10 consecutive contests at home, which is the current record at the new facility.

Two of those three rare home setbacks also came against double-A programs, with Wayne (22-10) and Roane County (33-28) earning those respective wins in the 2009 regular season and the opening round of the 2010 playoffs. Brooke is the only AAA opponent to win at OVB Field, doing so in the 2012 regular season by a slim 34-33 margin.

Darst, who is 53-19 overall and 4-5 in playoff games since taking over the program in 2007, believes the friendly confines should make a difference for his troops — in arguably the biggest game of the program’s tradition-rich history.

“We certainly hope that the 12th man and being at home play a factor in this. Traditionally, we are tough at home. We’re hoping that some of those things hold true,” Darst said. “At the same time, I don’t know that we’ve ever had a quality opponent like this come in here either. We’re excited about the opportunity, but it will also be a good gauge of exactly where our program is now that we’re in triple-A.

“I think this game will truly tell us where we are and what we need to do to keep moving up that latter. Then again, we might find out that we are good enough to be considered as one of the top triple-A teams in the state. This game is going to let us know a lot of things about ourselves.”

The Big Blacks are 8-0 in home contests and 5-0 against playoff qualifiers this year, doing so in a robust fashion. PPHS has allowed only 21 points twice in games this fall while outscoring opponents by a whopping 477-135 margin, averages of 43.4 and 12.3 over 11 contests.

Point Pleasant is plus-12 in turnover differential and has scored four defensive touchdowns while allowing just 13 first quarter points and four rushing touchdowns all year long. Opponents are averaging a mere 8.2 first downs, 91.6 rushing yards and 173 total yards of offense this season, with Point also coming away with 13 interceptions.

Offensively, the Big Blacks go for around 20 first downs and 432 yards of total offense per night — including a whopping 327 rushing yards each contest. PPHS is averaging 7.3 yards per carry on the season, which has led to 49 rushing touchdowns.

The passing game produces 105 yards through the air, which has included 13 touchdowns strikes to just three interceptions. Point Pleasant — which has outscored opponents 320-55 in the first half — has also converted two field goals and is 56-of-59 on PAT kicks this fall.

Darst notes that his squad is ready for the test ahead of them, particularly since a majority of his best players will be available. Now, it’s just about execution and belief — and maybe even a little luck along the way too.

“Everybody seems to be upbeat and we are mostly healthy headed into the game,” Darst said. “The kids are ready to go and we have a good game plan in place, now we just have to go out see if we can deal the right cards.”

That will be a challenge, as Wheeling Park puts its current five-game winning streak on the line with an offense that averages 41.6 points and 406 total yards this fall. The Patriots are producing over 244 yards on the ground and over 161 yards through the air in 11 contests, all while limiting opponents to an average of 17.2 points with a defensive unit that is plus-14 in turnover differential.

WPHS also went 8-0 in home games this year in beating Steubenville, SCHS, Keyser (45-22), University (17-6), Brooke (34-16), East Liverpool (52-0), Elkins (41-13) and Parkersburg South (62-0) at Wheeling Island Stadium. The Patriots defeated Bridgeport (17-14) and John Marshall (54-21) to finish 2-1 overall in road outings.

Wheeling Park — the 1991 AAA state runner-up, the program’s best-ever finish in the playoffs — has multiple ways of scoring points, most notably on the ground. Sophomore Savion Johnson leads the rushing attack with 1,294 yards and 17 TDs on 190 carries, followed by senior Geremy Paige with 443 yards and nine TDs on 32 attempts.

The Patriots have scored 40 of their 64 touchdowns this year on the ground, with seven different players scoring at least one rushing TD. Senior Bryce Ingram also has 361 yards and six TDs on 33 totes for the Patriots.

Quarterback Zach Phillips became the program’s alltime leading passer this year, and the senior has been efficient in his craft. Phillips is 96-of-152 for 1,703 yards, including 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Phillips also has 193 rushing yards and two scores on 30 carries.

Senior Eric Banks leads the wide receiving corps with 40 catches for 756 yards and seven touchdowns, followed by junior Chalmer Moffett with 22 grabs for 332 yards and four TDs. Six different receivers have at least one score for Wheeling Park this year.

The place-kicking duties fall on senior Liam Casey, who is 58-of-63 on PAT tries and 5-of-7 on field goal attempts. His longest field goal of the year came from 42 yards out.

Paige leads the Patriot defense with 121 tackles, followed by Moffett with 71 tackles and junior Theo Blackston with 60 stops. Senior Josh Angalich leads the secondary with three interceptions, while senior Matt Hackathorn and junior Spencer Wiley each lead WPHS with two fumble recoveries apiece.

After a year of preparation and 12 weeks of battling, the next few gridiron matchups will be determined simply by who plays better and makes fewer mistakes. Darst knows his program may be viewed as a slight underdog in this contest, but he and his troops are truly looking forward to the challenge.

“It’s been a long season, but this is what you build for. These are the games that players and coaches want to be part of,” Darst said. “I’m interested to see how our kids react to playing a really good football team. I do know this though, they are going to step up to the line and get after it.”

The Class AAA quarterfinal football contest between Wheeling Park and Point Pleasant at OVB Field will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. Friday night.

NOTES: Morgantown owns the last two wins against both Point Pleasant and Wheeling Park. Besides handing the Patriots’ their only loss this year, MHS also beat the Big Blacks by a 49-28 margin last year in the opening round of the AAA playoffs. … Friday night will mark the 40th high school football game to be played at OVB Field since it opened in 2009. Mason County teams are a combined 12-1 in playoff games over that five-year span, which includes a perfect 8-0 mark by Wahama in the Class A postseason. Mason County has also won all 12 of those playoff contests consecutively.