WHEELING - It doesn't matter to Chris Daugherty that perennial West Virginia playoff contender Bridgeport has dropped from Class AAA to AA this season, or that the Indians run a one-dimensional offense that relies almost exclusively on the running game.
The Wheeling Park football coach knows his Patriots (0-1) again face a difficult task Friday night when the Harrison County club invades Wheeling Island Stadium.
''Bridgeport may not be as explosive as St. Clairsville but they execute about as good as any team we have seen. They do what they do and they do it very well,'' said Daugherty, who is hoping Park can bounce back from last Thursday night's 47-27 loss to the powerful Red Devils in the McDonald's OVAC Kickoff Weekend.
Head coach Chris Daugherty and assistant Boogie Johnson hope to get Wheeling Park back on track after an opening loss to St. Clairsville.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
Bridgeport comes to the Friendly City with a 1-0 record after having defeated Buckhannon-Upshur 29-14 in their mutual opener.
The Park-Bridgeport rivalry has resulted in a couple of recent close defeats for the Patriots. Two years ago, the Indians pulled out a victory in the final 40 seconds and they won last year's battle 20-19 on a long field goal with 2.2 seconds on the clock.
''This will be a big test for us,'' Daugherty stressed. ''We still have some youth that needs time to grow up and the only way to do that is let them play football,''
Park displayed some promising signs against the highly regarded St. Clairsville contingent that is expected to make another deep run in the Ohio playoffs come November. The Patriots, trailing by two touchdowns after the opening quarter, rallied to go ahead 13-12 and left the field at halftime in front by that score after outgaining the Red Devils 220-90.
''Obviously we did some good things in the first half,'' Daugherty said. ''We know Bryce (Ingram) can be special. Geremy Paige also did a nice job running with the ball.
''Looking at the type of game it was, we were also pleased with our quarterback (Zach Phillips), a junior making his first start in front of 7-8,000 people. I was very happy with him.''
Phillips, son of Wheeling Park's defensive coordinator Keith Phillips, was 7 of 11 through the air, accounting for 108 yards, one touchdown and one pick.
Ingram, part of a highly regarded and speedy junior backfield duo along with Eric Banks, rushed for 92 yards and one score, while Banks caught a 9-yard scoring toss from Phillips. Paige carried the football eight times for 54yards.
While there might not have been much the Patriots could have done to slow down the Red Devils in the second half, Daugherty felt cramping problems with several of his two-way backs didn't help matters. Park also played the game without key lineman Markieth O'Neal and he is likely to sit out again this week. Another Patriots backup, Cole Bertol, sustained possible ligament damage to a knee that could result in surgery, according to Daugherty.
Special emphasis during practice since Monday focused on shoring up the line.
''The line definitely has to play better,'' Daugherty said.
But some good words were delivered to Matt Hackathorn, another junior coming off a solid game at right tackle.
From a preparation standpoint, the defensive game plan this week was a lot less cumbersome than for the opener. However, that doesn't mean the Indians will be any easier to stop. Bridgeport's package never seems to change. This week's visitors want to pound the ball and control the clock while keeping the Patriots' jittery offense standing on the sidelines.
During last week's victory against Buckhannon-Upshur, Coach Josh Nicewarner's Indians rushed for 275 yards, including 170 yards on 21 carries by stellar senior tailback Brett Hathaway.
Not surprisingly, quarterback Troy Anderson attempted just three passes and completed one. The play-action strike completely caught Buckhannon's defense off guard and resulted in a 56-yard strike to Cullen Cutright. Hathaway then ran in the 2-point conversion tying the score at 8-8, beginning a 29-0 run for the Indians.
Anderson attempted only 39 passes during his junior season, which was 22 more than Bridgeport tried the previous year.
Hathaway is the guy the Park defense will be challenged to contain as he is coming off a 1,620-yard, 22-touchdown season in 2011 when Bridgeport reeled off 12 straight victories before coming up short, 21-14, against George Washington in the Class AAA semifinals.
While several skill players return, the Indians had to replace all but one starter, junior Tyler Morgan on the offensive line.
However, similar to Park's roster this year, Nicewarner believes he has a talented group that will get better with experience. Bridgeport's current roster includes 22 seniors although one of their main backs, Anthony Bonamico, didn't play against Buckhannon because of an injury. He is expected to be in the lineup tomorrow night.
''The Hathaway kid is very tough,'' Daugherty said. ''But all their backs do a good job of running the ball. They always head downhill, getting their shoulders squared. You don't see a lot of shake and bake. They take it full tilt straight ahead.
''Bridgeport is very technical. They like to play a waiting game looking for you to make the mistake," Daugherty added.