Two-time defending champion Wheeling Central's reign at the top of the West Virginia Class A mountain may not be in jeopardy yet, but the Maroon Knights probably can't afford many more slipups during the second half of the 2012 season.
Last Friday night, Coach Mike Young's team saw its record drop to 3-2 as the result of a turnover, penalty-marred 17-13 setback at the hands of 4-1 record Magnolia, the new menacing kid on the state's small school block.
To make things a little more challenging, Central will be lining up against another highly-formidable opponent when Pittsburgh City League visitor Taylor Allderdice (2-2) shows up on Saturday night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
The Dragons record may be a bit deceiving considering their losses have come against powerful Pittsburgh Perry and West Virginia Class AAA playoff contender Morgantown. Perry currently leads the race for this year's City League title.
One of Allderdice's victories was a 21-7 triumph against Linsly, a team the Maroon Knights defeated 24-14 two weeks ago. Another common opponent was Westinghouse which Dragons defeated 32-6, while Central tamed the Bulldogs 37-22 in a game that was never close.
Despite the recent loss, Young and the Central coaching staff remain upbeat.
''We will be OK," the veteran head coach said. ''I have good kids. They know they have to execute better, hold on to the football and cut down on those turnovers. We had more turnovers (five) against Magnolia than in the first four games combined.''
Along with the three pass interceptions and two fumbles, the Maroon Knights also were penalized eight times for 55 yards. Magnolia also had its share of mistakes, coughing up the ball four times, including an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Central's Joe John. The hotly contested contest also saw the Blue Eagles penalized 13 times for 115 yards.
''Nobody feels good about losing," Young said. ''We're not used to this and it left a bad taste in our mouths."
Similar to Wheeling Central, the Allderdice football team lost most of its standout players from last year as only four starters return. Two of the top performers back are the keys to the offense, hard running fullback Patrick Ferguson (6-foot-1, 250 pound) and quarterback Bishop Gethers (6-3, 225). Ferguson is headed for his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season while the cannon-armed Gethers continues to be a threat running and passing the ball despite having lost nearly all of his top receivers from last year.
Up front, the line is led by 6-6, 300-pound Shawdi Parker, while his bookend tackle mate is Brady Miller (6-3, 270).
''Allderdice is big, fast and has a lot of speed," Young noted. ''When the fullback (Ferguson) gets his motor running, he is pretty good. The quarterback definitely has a nice arm."
The size and strength of the Dragons' defensive line is also a concern although Young believes there are some areas the Maroon Knights may be able to exploit with their spin offense.
Central is hoping to get better production from its running game after being limited to 102 yards by the Blue Eagles.
Quarterback/running back C.J.Burch, who appeared to be nicked up somewhat, was limited to 81 yards on 24 carries. While victimized by the three interceptions, Burch still managed to hit rangy wide receiver Michael Pleva for a 46-yard touchdown in the first quarter. That TD would turn out to be the Maroon Knights only offensive score of the game. A missed extra point after John's interception return wiped out the possibility of Central going for a game-tying field goal after moving the ball near the Magnolia 10 in the second half.
For the season, Burch continues to be the Ohio Valley's leading small school ballcarrier with 774 yards and nine touchdowns on 130 carries.
When asked about Burch's health, Young replied, ''We had several player banged up last week but I expect everybody will be ready to go Saturday night."
Central has been involved in hard-hitting physical football games nearly every week the first half of the season and that has taken its toll. Returning all-state quarterback Parker Henry was lost in the final preseason scrimmage and linebacker Gary Gwynn went out in Week 1. Both players sustained knee injuries that required surgery.