WHEELING - Trailing by two scores and with just a pair of first downs to its credit, Linsly decided to change things up in the third quarter. Even Coach B.J. Depew didn't think it could work this well.
The Cadets went to the Wildcat and Chinelo Oparanozie went to the end zone - three times - as Linsly rallied for a 21-20 victory against Magnolia on Saturday night at Wheeling Island Stadium in the concluding game of the McDonald's OVAC Kickoff Weekend.
Oparanozie, who along with Jameson Murray had late interceptions to seal a victory, carried 25 times for 220 yards and scored on runs of 33, 25 and 36 yards. He had touchdown runs of 27 and 45 yards called back by penalties.
Magnolia’s Stephen Rogalski (5) tries to get out of a
tackle by Linsly’s
Saturday’s game at Wheeling Island
''We knew that with a very inexperienced offense on the field that we might have some trouble moving the ball and it was a combination of things,'' Depew said. ''We do have a first-year quarterback and we had receivers making mistakes with alignments. We had our share of Week 1 errors.
''So the solution was put the ball in the hands of your veteran and see what he can do. I think he proved he's one of the top players in the valley.
''We rallied around him and the line did a good job. Thankfully it worked.''
The combination of sweltering temperatures and the hard running of Oparanozie ended up being too much to overcome for the Blue Eagles (0-1), according to Coach Mark Batton. The senior back had nine carries for 31 yards at halftime.
''Hats off to (Oparanozie) - what a player he is,'' Batton said. ''He broke tackles and that was a great move by them putting him in the Wildcat.
''I actually thought he got stronger as the game went on. It looked like he was running harder in the fourth quarter than he was in the first.''
The Magnolia defense was having its way early, particularly freshman Kyle Ritz. He recorded three sacks of Murray and also recovered one of two Oparanozie fumbles.
That work enabled the Blue Eagles to jump in front. A 10-play opening drive was finished by all-state receiver Stephen Rogalski taking a reverse and going in from the 4, but his extra point was wide. The big play was a fourth-and-7 completion from Tanner Hanna to Rogalski that picked up 14 yards.
Magnolia took its opening drive of the second half and drove 83 yards in 12 plays, with Hanna taking it into the end zone on a QB keeper. Rogalski then made it 14-0 when he hauled in the 2-point conversion.
That's when things changed.
Oparanozie broke off a 17-yard run and a late hit tacked on 15 more. Oparanozie did the rest on a 33-yard touchdown scamper to cut the lead in half, 14-7.
The Blue Eagles, though, seemed to take back the momentum with a drive that spanned the final 2:48 of the third and the first 51 seconds of the fourth. It ended with Rogalski hauling in a 28-yard touchdown on a slant pattern, breaking Kenny Fisher's school record for receiving scores in a career. The extra point was again no good.
Oparanozie broke off a 25-yard touchdown on Linsly's next possession, and Murray got to Hanna for a sack to force a Magnolia punt.
''Both offenses and defenses kept giving each other chances all night,'' Depew said. ''Luckily they missed some deep balls, but our kids were right there and hanging with them.
''Ironically we got the biggest defensive plays of the night out of our quarterback.''
Oparanozie broke off a 15-yard run and then appeared to score from 45 yards, only to have it wiped out by an illegal formation penalty. Not to worry though, because four plays later he burst into the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown with 4:57 remaining. Rainer Whiteside's PAT provided Linsly with its 11th consecutive victory.
''When an event like the kickoff weekend tried to match these teams up, I know what they were looking for was an end-of-the-year style high school football in Week 1,'' said Depew, whose team did not complete a pass. ''Nobody would have expected a game like this, but that's what they got. It was one of the most amazing games I've ever been a part of.''
Rogalski finished with 10 catches for 135 yards, while Hanna completed 12 of 27 for 166 yards. Drew Keller pounded and sliced his way to a 28-carry, 140-yard performance.
''Drew didn't get many carries last year,'' Batton said. ''He mainly blocked for his brother, Jayson, but Drew has a lot of that Keller in him - that vision and balance.
''He did a great job for us. But this is a tough game to lose.''