photo by: Nick Henthorn
WHEELING – The playoffs are dawning in West Virginia this weekend, and for the Wheeling Park Patriots, ranked No. 11 in Class-AAA, that means a four-hour ride to the Eastern Panhandle to tangle with No. 6 Jefferson.
When looking at the Cougars (8-2), Wheeling Park (7-2) head coach Chris Daugherty was struck by similarities between the Patriots’ opponent Friday, and his own collection of talent.
“They look a lot like us,” Daugherty said. “They’re athletic, they’ve got some kids who can run, they can throw the ball, but they can run it too, both their tailbacks are very good. I think it’s going to be a mirror image of each other offensively, and quite honestly defensively we’re going to be very similar too. A lot of guys up on their feet in a 3-4 scheme. We look like each other, we’re built the same way, we try to do a lot of the same stuff to opposing defenses and offenses, so it’ll be an interesting matchup.”
Rodrigo Delgado and Tay’Shaun Roper form a talented duo of backs for Jefferson, while Keyshawn Robinson will be capable of a big play at any time as a receiver or punt returner, recording a 63-yard punt return touchdown and 65-yard touchdown reception last week against Clarksburg (Md.) in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
Managing all these weapons will be junior quarterback Dylan Harich, a threat with his feet as well.
“This team is explosive, and for us to win our defense is going to have to limit the explosive plays, make them drive the field and play consistent football,” Daugherty said of Jefferson.
Park’s defense, propelled by linebackers Jameson Maynard (74 tackles) and Zac Lydick (48 tackles, five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), safety Jared Marsh (52 tackles, five interceptions), defensive linemen Derek Croghan (46 tackles, four tackles for loss) and many others, have been immovable for stretches this season, only surrendering more than 17 points once this year. They will have to continue to perform in the postseason for the Patriots.
“That’s always hard on high school teams, and I think our defense has done a really good job of that all year long, eliminating explosive plays and making people run 13, 14, 15 solid plays to sustain a drive and score,” Daugherty said. “Hopefully they will continue that, but Jefferson has kids that can strike in three seconds. We’re going to have to limit that as much as possible.”
As for Park’s own offense, junior quarterback Aiden Davis has thrown for 2,238 yards, 28 and just one interception, while Mykel Davis (761 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns) and Keohn Stephens Jr. (732 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns) have been as good a receiving combination as any duo. Sophomore Amare Johnson finished the regular season with 902 yards and 12 touchdowns to go with 214 receiving yards and a touchdown catch.
Wheeling Park has been tested throughout the regular season with matchups against the likes of Steubenville, St. Clairsville and Morgantown. The playoffs will bring a new test each week, starting with the long trek to the Panthers’ house.
“It’s a business trip,” Daugherty said. “This isn’t a fun trip. We’ve got to be business-like from beginning to end when we wake up that day. All year long we’ve done a really good job of playing on the road in hostile environments. What we haven’t done is having to travel four hours to go do that. So we’ll find out how we handle that Friday, but I think that is an important piece.
“Last year we played Musselman, we beat Musselman in the regular season, then we had to go back out there in the playoffs and we lost the game. I think our kids remember that obviously and they realize that nothing is given in the playoffs. Travel does matter and we’re going to have to handle it well.”