WHEELING - Rebounding from last week's disappointing road loss to Magnolia, two-time defending West Virginia Class A football champion Wheeling Central started to battle its way back into the playoff hunt Saturday night with a stellar all-around effort in knocking off Taylor Allderdice 35-20 at Wheeling Island Stadium.
C.J. Burch rushed for three touchdowns and 195 yards on 25 carries but he had plenty of help from his teammates in turning back the Dragons.
While Burch scored on runs of 2, 10 and 1 yard, junior classmate Joey John caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Matt Gruber and later found the end zone from 12 yards out as Central improved to 4-2. The Maroon Knights racked 298 yards rushing, including 61 yards from Braxton Nolte and 51 yards provided by John on his nine totes.
''When people say Central is in trouble, that causes our kids to rally and our coaches to rally," coach Mike Young said. ''This is the way we respond to a challenge. When people think that we are down is when they better look our way again."
The final score in no way indicated how tough of the battle was for Maroon Knights against the 2-3 record Allderdice club that had previously lost to Pittsburgh City league rival Perry and perennial West Virginia Class AAA title contender Morgantown.
Led by 6-0, 265-pound running back Patrick Ferguson, the Dragons rallied from a 14-0 deficit to close within 21-20 early in the third quarter before Burch closed them out with his last two trips to the end zone.
Ferguson, reportedly getting looks from WVU, also flashed some excellent moves while rushing 21 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns. His scoring trips both came on power blasts from a yard out.
''That kid is a heck of a tailback," Young said. ''But our guys did not back down. We might have gotten knocked down a few times but we stopped him enough to win the game."
Offensively, the Maroon Knights threw a few unexpected wrinkles the Dragons' way. Central also ran several isolation plays from the '1' and played the Gruber a bit more at quarterback. The improving plebe completed three of his five pass attempts for 37 yards and one score.
''We used more zig motion and shifting motion that we have in the past," Young noted. ''I don't know how much they did to try and counter what we did in our spin series but they had some blitzes coming in there that our kids did a great job of picking up.
''Matt threw the ball really well and forced them to have to defend another end of the field. Joey had had the game of his life on both sides. Braxton run hard and blocked hard all night."
The Maroon Knights took advantage of two early breaks to jump in front 14-0 during the opening quarter. The snap on punt formation was fumbled, giving Central possession at the Allderdice 25. Burch's cutback carry to the 6 and was followed two plays later by his short TD run. Bradley Cottrell's foot and alert also played a key role as he connected on all five of his PAT attempts and recovered his own onside kick following the first score after Dragons were called for roughing the kicker on the first PAT attempt. It set up a wheel pass from Gruber to John elevating the lead to 14-0 at the 4:11 mark of the first quarter.
Ferguson's 50-yard bolt and dash into Central territory set up his 1-yard dive to paydirt early in the second quarter but Alex Hahn's PAT conversion attempt was blocked by Derek Yocke, another night-long defensive standout.
Gruber's 27-yard strike deep along the left sideline led to John's 12-yard rush as Central went ahead 21-6 with 8:22 remaining in the half.
Allderdice battled back behind quarterback Bishop Gethers, who is reportedly being looked at by Akron, to pull within 20-12 at halftime. Gether's picked up the final seven yards of a drive that started at the Dragons' 35. A handoff to Marquis Martin failed to add the two-point conversion.
Cornelius Ray's 35-yard kickoff returning to midfield starting the second half and his 38-yard reception despite double coverage led to Ferguson's TD from 1. The bruising back rolled into the end zone for the two-points that cut the deficit to 21-20.
However, again the Allderdice defense couldn't stop Central as some hard-running by Nolte keyed a 79-yard drive with Burch picking the final 10 yards a sweep to the right side, restoring the Maroon Knights' 8-point lead, The clinching TD run from the 1 came by Burch with 5:24 remaining in the game .
Allderdice Coach Jerry Haslett, brother of former New Orleans Saints head coach and current defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, was disappointed with the Dragons effort on defense.
''Central did the same things they've done the first five weeks but we didn't do a very good job of getting into the gaps and making the tackles. They're a good team for sure. But there was no excuse for us to play the way we did tonight," he said.