POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — As Point Pleasant head football coach Dave Darst came over to the media at midfield for his postgame interview, he simply stated that he’d like to have one play back before being asked a single question.
The play he was referencing was indeed a big one.
Elijah Bell picked off a screen pass by PPHS quarterback Aden Yates and took 31 yards to the house, allowing Wheeling Park to turn a tight one-possession game into 21-7 edge before ultimately rolling on to a 28-7 victory over the Big Blacks in a Class AAA quarterfinal at Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field in Mason County.
Point Pleasant (11-1) kept things competitive throughout most of three quarters of play, as the hosts stayed within striking distance after entering the intermission down 14-7. Neither team could muster much offense in the third quarter, and a key defensive stand late in the third gave PPHS its biggest upcoming possession of the night.
The Big Blacks survived a 12-play Patriot drive that ended in a loss of downs at the Point 32-yard line with 1:16 remaining in the third quarter. On Point Pleasant’s very first play from scrimmage, Yates dropped back and fired a screen pass to the outside — which Bell stepped in front of before going untouched to the end zone, giving WPHS a little breathing room at 21-7 headed into the finale.
PPHS was never closer the rest of the way, as Wheeling Park recorded three consecutive sacks on Point’s next drive before tacking on a late score to wrap up the 21-point triumph and secure a date with top-seeded Huntington (12-0) in next weekend’s state semifinal. HHS defeated George Washington 17-13 in its quarterfinal matchup Friday night.
Darst — who is now 53-20 overall and 4-6 in the playoffs over his seven season at PPHS — was quick to explain his opening statement after the game.
“We changed up the call and it was supposed to go to a different guy. We had been running that screen play successfully to the outside, but we chose to go with the guy on the inside just to see how it would look,” Darst said. “We missed a block, and the guy we missed made a great play on the ball. I really wish I could have that one back, but I can’t do it.”
The pick-six was one of three crucial turnovers committed by the Big Blacks on the night, as Wheeling Park (11-1) finished the night plus-2 in turnover differential. The interception return by Bell also resulted in the only points scored off of four total takeaways.
Statistically, Point Pleasant produced similar numbers to the Patriots — as the Big Blacks finished the night with a slim 14-12 edge in first downs. Wheeling Park outgained the hosts 311-243 in total offensive yards, including a 182-142 edge on the ground.
As the smallest school — enrollment-wise — remaining in the Class AAA playoffs, Darst thought his program earned some respect Friday night with how well they played against a proven triple-A contender.
And with a majority of his team returning next fall, he even admits that Point’s future is already looking brighter.
“I’ve basically got my whole offense back next year, so that’s encouraging. Even though we scored a lot of points this year, we knew that this was a young group. We really grew as the year went on, and we can build on that. I am proud of the way the kids played this year,” Darst said. “Wheeling Park has got a really nice football team, but defensively I was really proud of the way we hung in there against a team that has put up a ton of points.
“I told people coming in that I wanted a game like this just to see where we were at in triple-A. I am encouraged by what I saw tonight against what I consider to be one of the top few teams in the state. Where we are in triple-A right now, this loss can be a positive step forward for this program.”
Darst also showed his respect for the Wheeling Park program after what he witnessed first-hand Friday night.
“I don’t want to take away from Wheeling Park. They made a three-hour trip and came in here and did what they had to do. They passed the test,” Darst said. “I wish them the best and hope they are state champions.”
After trading punts on the first two possessions of the game, WPHS struck first blood midway through the opening period after Elijah Bell hauled in a deep 58-yard scoring strike from Zach Phillips for an early 7-0 edge. Bell’s TD catch capped a four-play, 70-yard drive at the 5:39 mark of the first stanza.
Point Pleasant retaliated with its best possession of the night, a nine-play, 65-yard drive that led to a tie game after Gage Buskirk hauled in a 27-yard scoring pass from Aden Yates on fourth down. Buskirk’s grab came at the 1:38 mark of the first quarter, which knotted things up at seven apiece.
Point’s lone takeaway came on the ensuing kickoff, as Jon Peterson scooped up a fumble by the kick returner — giving the hosts possession at the WPHS 25 with 1:35 left in the first period. That drive eventually ended in a loss of downs after a bad snap on what would have been a 32-yard field goal attempt by Colin Peal.
After dodging a bullet, the Patriots countered with some quick lightning. The guests marched 86 yards in three plays to take a 14-7 lead, thanks in large part to a 79-yard TD scamper by Savion Johnson. Johnson’s mad dash gave Wheeling Park a one-possession cushion at the 8:11 mark of the second, which also held up headed into halftime.
Point Pleasant ran twice as many offensive plays in the first half (34-17), but was outgained by a 187-132 margin in total offense. If you take away the two scoring plays by WPHS in the opening 24 minutes, the Patriots accumulated just 50 yards on their other 15 offensive plays from scrimmage.
Both teams again traded punts to start the second half, but a Point Pleasant fumble ended its second third quarter drive — which set up the long drive by Wheeling Park that ended in a loss of downs. Bell’s pick-six followed on the next play, giving Wheeling Park a 21-7 lead with 1:10 remaining in the third period.
Yates was sacked three consecutive times for minus 25 yards on Point’s next possession, which ended with a punt that gave the Patriots the ball at the Big Black 35-yard line with 11:05 remaining in regulation.
Five plays and 35 yards later, Wheeling Park claimed a 28-7 advantage following an eight-yard TD scamper by Geremy Paige at the 8:50 mark.
Point followed with a 12-play drive that ended in a loss of downs at the WPHS 35 with 3:10 left, and the guests gradually ran out the clock with their final possession.
The Big Blacks finished the night with 142 rushing yards on 42 attempts and produced 101 yards in the air on 11-of-14 passing. Point also had four penalties for 25 yards and punted four times for an average of 38 yards in the setback.
Cody Mitchell led the hosts with 58 rushing yards on 15 attempts, followed by Chase Walton with 45 yards on 10 tries. Cody Marcum also had two carries for 10 yards and Gage Buskirk added one run for three yards.
Aden Yates finished the night 11-of-14 passing for 101 yards, which included a touchdown and an interception. The junior signal-caller also ran 14 times for 26 yards.
Buskirk led the wideouts with four catches for 49 yards and a score, while Mitchell hauled in four passes for 30 yards. Jon Peterson added two grabs for 22 yards and Austen Toler had one reception for zero yards.
The Patriots ended the game with 182 rushing yards on 25 attempts and produced 129 yards in the air on 9-of-16 passing. WPHS also had four penalties for 35 yards and punted three times for an average of 35 yards.
Savion Johnson led the Wheeling Park rushing attack with 144 yards and a score on 14 attempts, followed by Geremy Paige with 36 yards and a TD on six carries. Thad Blackston also had one tote for three yards in the victory.
Zach Phillips finished the night 9-of-16 passing for 129 yards, which included one touchdown pass and zero interceptions. Phillips also had four rushes for minus one yard.
Elijah Bell had two catches for 76 yards and a score, followed by Michael Grove with two grabs for 32 yards. Johnson caught two passes for 16 yards and Eric Banks had three receptions for five yards.
The Big Blacks are now 28-4 alltime at OVB Field since the stadium opened in 2009, which includes a 4-2 playoff mark during that span. Point Pleasant’s six straight playoff appearances are also a school record.
It was the final football game for seniors Colin Peal, Brandon Edge, Austen Toler, Zach Hardman, Zach Stewart, Levi Doolittle, Thomas Mitchell, Colin McDermitt, Brycen Reymond, Chase Walton, Levi Russell, Luke Halstead and Tyler McDaniel in the Red, Black and White.
“Those seniors have nothing to be ashamed of. Chase (Walton) is leaving here as the school’s alltime leading scorer and his classmates join him as the winningest class in school history,” Darst said. “This group will be the one that future teams aim for, and that’s not a bad legacy to leave. They are great young men and they should be proud of what they have done here at Point Pleasant.”