WHEELING - On any other football team, Jaylon Brown would be the headliner. In this case, playing alongside two BCS-level recruits he sometimes gets overlooked.
Wheeling Park, however, is well aware of what Brown can do.
The junior speedster carried 24 times for 140 yards and four touchdowns and returned an interception 44 yards for a fifth score as highly touted St. Clairsville (1-0) debuted with a 47-27 victory against Wheeling Park (0-1) on Thursday night at Wheeling Island Stadium as part of McDonald's OVAC Kickoff Weekend.
St. Clairsville’s Michael Ferns (10) looks for room to run as Wheeling Park’s Geremy Paige (34) and Andrew Wheeler (54) close in during action of the first half of their game Thursday night.
''I wish I could put stilts in his shoes because if I could, there would be people all over the country knocking down our door for him,'' Red Devils coach Brett McLean said. ''I think that will happen for him eventually.
''He's a great football player. He's smart, he's fast and he's disciplined. Good things are going to happen for him.''
And for his team.
The Red Devils turned a 13-12 halftime deficit into a laugher by scoring twice in a little more than three minutes early in the second half. Brown went in from 7 yards and hauled in a 2-point conversion from Matt Kinnick to put St. Clairsville in the lead for good, then scored on a 2-yard run to make it 27-13 after a failed fake punt by the Patriots deep in their own end.
''A miscommunication - part of our youth,'' Wheeling Park coach Chris Daugherty said of the fake. ''For a lot of kids, that was their first night of football. It was a tough team to choose for their first fight of the year, but I was actually proud of most of the kids.
''We'll be a good football team and we'll be just fine.''
McLean said his ballclub showed nerves typical of a team that has such expectations early in the season. Once the Red Devils got their footing, it was smooth sailing.
''I think we came down here a little tight. I don't know how you can keep 16-17-year-olds from being that way, with what's on their shoulders right now,'' McLean said. ''They relaxed in the second half (and) they listened at halftime. I think our coaching staff did a good job adjusting in the second half.''
The Patriots had gouged the Red Devils with a deliberate, between-the-tackles running game that featured 92 first-half yards from Bryce Ingram and another 54 from Geremy Paige. But St. Clairsville tightened the reins and didn't allow another first down until deep into the fourth quarter.
''Give them credit early. We knew they had power and backs that run hard,'' McLean said. ''We made some little, minor adjustments in the middle and that made a world a difference in the game. We tackled better.''
St. Clairsville jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the first quarter. Michigan commit Michael Ferns caught a Kinnick pass on fourth-and-3 and rumbled 17 yards, carrying three Patriots the final 4 for the opening touchdown. After a pooch kick recovered by Dan Monteroso, the Devils went 38 yards, the last 7 on Brown's first score.
The Patriots took the ball 75 yards in 10 plays on their next possession. Ingram carried in from the 10 to make it 12-7.
The Red Devils were marching again when they lost a fumble that was recovered by Wheeling Park at its own 1. Quarterback Zach Phillips immediately went up top to Ingram who nearly broke it for a score, but was tripped up after a gain of 40. Eight plays later Eric Banks hauled in a 9-yard scoring pass from Phillips between two defenders.
That, however, is where the fun ended for Wheeling Park.
''St. Clairsville's a good football team and we hung in there for a half. We thought we probably should have been up more than a point at halftime,'' Daugherty said. ''I think it's a sign that we have a good football team, but we've got some youth and youth showed a little bit in spots. I thought special teams was a big thing - they did a nice job and we've got to get a little better there.''
Banks returned a kickoff 82 yards in the fourth quarter for the Patriots, and reserve running back Max Steinman added a 7-yard TD run.
Kinnick completed 10 of 15 for 117 yards, with Monteroso, who is going to Boston College, catching four for 35 yards.