WHEELING - Wheeling Central's C.J. Burch had been chipping away at the Linsly defense all night long on quarterback sweeps. Coach Mike Young wanted to see what he could do as a back in the spin series.
You know, the one the Maroon Knights annually win state titles with?
So with Wheeling Central trailing 14-7 and the seconds ticking down near the end of the third quarter, he inserted freshman Matt Gruber at QB and unleashed Burch.
Wheeling Central’s C.J. Burch carries the ball as Linsly’s Dillon Curtin (55) goes in for the tackle.
During the remainder of that drive and Wheeling Central's next one, Burch rushed for 69 yards - part of a 35-carry, 160-yard effort - and scored a pair of touchdowns as the Knights rallied past city rival Linsly, 24-14, on Friday night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
''We knew C.J. could break it,'' Young said. ''We felt strong we could battle with them in terms of punch for punch. And we felt we could outphysical them, eventually.''
Physical? Check Burch this morning. It isn't every football game that a 165-pounder gets the ball 35 times out of 52 snaps.
''I really don't (want him having that many carries) but these kids believe whatever it takes,'' Young said.
Burch's effort wound up shinning a bit brighter than that of the Cadets' Chinelo Oparanozie, who had 28 carries for 128 yards and a pair of touchdowns, plus the admiration of every coach on the field.
''Oparanozie, without a doubt, is one of the best backs we're going to see,'' Young said. ''He's a tremendous kid, and I told him that after the game.''
When it was all said and done, Wheeling Central (3-1) had rattled off the last 17 points, with Bradley Cottrell adding the coup de grace with a 19-yard field goal with 26.9 seconds remaining.
How they got to that point was something to see.
After Burch had scored his second touchdown to put Wheeling Central up 21-14, Linsly took over at its own 20 and 6:20 left on the clock.
The Cadets advanced 23 yards - all on Oparanozie runs - before facing a fourth-and-12 with a sophomore backup quarterback (Jibri Blount) having been directing the offense since early in the first quarter when starting quarterback Jameson Murray separated his right shoulder.
Did the Cadets have a play call for a situation like that?
''Doesn't everybody?'' joked Linsly coach B.J. Depew.
What happened was almost unfathomable. Blount couldn't get a handle on the snap, finally picked it up, retreated 15 more yards looking to make a play before losing it again. It wound up in Wheeling Central's hands at the 2 with 1:32 left.
Young called three running plays that were stuffed before sending Cottrell on to put one through.
''The thing I wanted to do mainly was run the clock,'' Young said. ''And I didn't want Oparanozie to have the ball unless we got another score.''
Despite the obvious talent lurking inside the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Blount, Murray's injury hindered the Cadets (1-3).
''The game plan wasn't totally out the window but we certainly had to adjust right away when we went to our No. 2 guy,'' Depew said. ''I think that would be true for any team. But we didn't hang our heads and pout because our starting quarterback went out. Jibri came in and did a nice job. It was a tough position for a sophomore to come into.''
That didn't stop the Cadets from feeding it to Oparanozie, who opened the scoring with an 11-yard touchdown run, then gave Linsly its second lead via a 3-yard run that capped a 15-yard drive after Wheeling Central turned it over on a muffed punt.
Oparanozie carried the ball on 28 of 41 offensive snaps.
''I think they were going to key on him regardless,'' Depew said. ''We tried to stick to our guns as best we could. I give them a lot of credit for how they played. I don't think there was any tremendous advantage their way when we lost our quarterback. They were going to play hard regardless of who we had on the field.''
Burch and Nick Pleva connected for 13 yards to give Central a 7-6 lead a third of the way through the second quarter. Braxton Nolte added 40 yards on eight carries.