WHEELING - Wheeling Central Catholic football coach Mike Young called Saturday night's 28-22 weather-delayed victory by the Maroon Knights against Weirton Madonna a confidence-builder for the rest of the 2012 season.
Central obviously had plenty of doubters among the fans following week one's 14-7 loss to Harrison Central, especially when it was confirmed prior to the game that all-West Virginia Class A quarterback Parker Henry had been lost for the year with a knee injury.
However, the Maroon Knights simply regrouped during practice and then came out and did what Wheeling Central does best which is win a football game.
''It was a big win over a very good opponent," Young acknowledged. ''When you look at everything that happened and then the long delay from the rain and lightning on game night, I was really pleased with we could come away with a victory."
The Maroon Knights were on the short end of the scoreboard 7-0 when play had to be halted for more than two hours because of the dangerous weather conditions. Once play resumed it appeared to be a much different Central team that battled back for a 14-14 halftime deadlock before rallying to outscore the talented Blue Dons 14-8 in the second half.
Having regained their momentum with that hard-earned triumph, the two-time defending state champion Maroon Knights are gearing up for another strong effort against Pittsburgh Westinghouse (0-1) Saturday night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
The visiting Bulldogs opened against another Ohio Valley squad last week, losing to Buckeye Local 24-6 in a game played at Yorkville's War Memorial Stadium. Young, however, stressed that his players had better be prepared for a challenge from the athletic Bulldogs.
''Westinghouse is one of the faster teams we will play all year," the veteran Maroon Knights coach said. ''They have good speed on the edge and throw the ball well. I thought they had plenty of opportunities against Buckeye but a couple of huge fumbles back in their own territory and a busted play on a punt kept them pinned back most of the game."
One of the big concerns the Maroon Knight defense has this week involves defending against the Bulldogs' deep pass patterns. ''Westinghouse likes to throw it long and they have some game-breaking type receivers," Young said.
The Bulldogs offense is triggered by the sophomore quarterback Brown, who is a returning starter. Brown struggled against the Panthers, managing just 13 completions in 33 attempts, although he had a couple of near-misses on deep patterns.
To answer the expected Westinghouse aerial assault, the Maroon Knights hope to put enough pressure on Bulldogs quarterback Ronald Brown to deny him the time to get the ball off.
The Maroon Knights managed to put a rush on Weirton Madonna quarterback Ross Comis last week but were unable to take him to the turf many times. The Blue Dons junior dazzler's escapability allowed him to get away and deliver the ball down field or take off for several long gainers on keeper plays.
''Our tackling definitely has to improve this week," Young insisted. ''We had him (Comis) several times in the backfield but he got away. When you trying to defend against good backs like Comis and Nick Ossman you have to bring them down when you get to them."
The biggest play of the game on defense occurred shortly after the Maroon Knights had scored to take a 21-14 lead near the midway point of the fourth quarter. Braxton Nolte blew up a planned Madonna pass by rushing through to sack Comis and force him to cough up the football. After the fumble recovery by Coty Knecht, Central went in for the score TD that proved to be a game-winner when Comis later broke off a 68-yard run to set up a touchdown and successful two-point conversion with less than a minute on the clock.
Along with the forced fumble and sack, Nolte recorded 11 tackles to lead the Maroon Knights' defense.
Brown is one of just five returning starters at Westinghouse, the others being running back Rico Christian, wide receiver Dominic Fuller, linebacker Darwin Pangor and two-way lineman Isiah Moore, the latter a four-year starter.
For Westinghouse to pull off an upset this week, it would probably require them to put a lot of points on the scoreboard.
After being held to just one touchdown in the loss to Harrison Central, Central's offense operated with much more crispness and efficiency last Saturday night. Junior standout C.J. Burch, alternating between quarterback and running back, rushed for over 200 yards for the second straight game. Burch collected 262 yards and scored three touchdowns, putting him at just under 500 yards rushing in the still-young season.
''Our running backs are getting to the point of attack, hitting the holes at the right time and the line is doing a much better job of blocking," Young said.
Another key to the offense has been the play of the lead blockers in the backfield.
''Nick Naumann is improving every week giving us the lead block at fullback," Young said. ''Joey John is getting better running the football. We have to take some of the pressure off CJ by running both Naumann and John more along with Nolte who gets the short yardage when he need it."
When playing at his usual tight end spot, Nolte and veteran senior tackle Chance Siebieda drew praise for their stellar work of clearing the way on the right side of the line.
Young will also continue to give freshman Matt Gruber snaps at quarterback which frees Burch return to the tailback slot..
''This win was a tribute to our kids and their work habits. We had zero turnovers as they were able to hold on to a slippery football from all the rain that fell through most of the game," Young added.
Central did have some disappointing news on the injury front as Young reported that injured junior linebacking standout Gary Gwynn has been lost for the season with a knee problem that will require surgery later this month.