MORGANTOWN - As the rain started to fall at the start of Friday night's Wheeling Park-University game, it became quickly and abundantly clear to Hawks coach John Kelley and his staff that Patriots coach Chris Daugherty and his staff had done their homework.
"We knew from the first series that Park was very well-prepared for our midline and veer offensive game plan," Kelley said. "So we really had no choice but to scrap it."
And on a windy, rainy night, UHS's passing attack wasn't an especially attractive alternative, either.
So that left good, old-fashioned, smash mouth, in-your-face, power football.''
Good choice, especially when your offensive line is powerful, your running backs are strong and quick, and your defense is dominating.
After surrendering a long touchdown drive to Wheeling Park early in the second quarter, University's offensive and defensive lines manhandled the Patriots, particularly in the second half, to grind out a bruising, 27-7 victory.
The Hawks offense started slowly, fumbling away the first possession and turning in a three-and-out on the second set of snaps. But after Park (2-2) capped a 17-play, 79-yard drive with a 5-yard TD run on a right sweep from running back Bryce Ingram to begin the second quarter, UHS responded with a long drive of its own.
Starting on its own 33, University (4-0) pounded out an 11-play scoring drive that included five rushing first downs, the bulk of the work turned in by Chance Michael (who led all rushers with 137 yards on 26 attempts). The diminutive senior, 5-foot-6 and 156 pounds of quickness and surprising power, moved the sticks four times in the drive, which culminated in junior fullback Tyler Piktel's 2-yard scoring blast off-tackle.
With the game tied, WPHS drove into Hawks territory, but defensive back Deion Cunningham came up with a juggling interception inside the 20 to stop the threat. After an exchange of punts, UHS got the ball back late in the half at the Wheeling 41-yard line. With just less than a minute to play, Kelley elected to go for it on fourth-and-7, even though placekicker Billy Kinney was prepared for the 50-yard attempt.
"I thought about kicking it," Kelley admitted. "He's got the leg for it. But it was just a gut thing, I guess. Just a feeling."
Good feeling, because quarterback Travis Renner found tight end Tony Richardson open for a 10-yard gain.
That was followed by the play of the game, a spectacular 32-yard TD catch by Cunningham, who leaped over a defender, tipped the ball three times, then corralled it at the 7 and tumbled into the end zone.
It was a backbreaker, although the opening drive of the second half might have sealed the deal. After a 61-yard kickoff return by Eric Banks, the Patriots had the ball on the University 38 with a ton of momentum.
But the Hawks' defense slammed the door shut, giving up just 1 yard on four plays to take over the ball on downs.
UHS steamrolled another TD drive, again all on the ground except for the final scoring play, a 9-yard pass from Renner on a roll-out to Jack Armstrong.
The fight seemed to have been squeezed out of Park. Piktel topped off his 12 carry, 76-yard evening with a 1-yard TD plunge in the fourth quarter to ice it for the Hawks.