DELBARTON - With the rolling hills of Southwest West Virginia serving as a backdrop, Wheeling Central rolled up a big victory Saturday afternoon that may have clinched another West Virginia playoff berth for the Maroon Knights.
C.J. Burch threw three touchdown passes and ran for another, Brad Cottrell caught a scoring strike and kicked five extra-points, and the Wheeling Central defense picked off a pair of passes as the Maroon Knights thumped Mingo County, 35-16, at 'Buck' Harless Stadium.
It was the overall performance Coach Mike Young was looking for after his team was blanked last week by Shadyside.
Wheeling Central’s Jeff Gwynn breaks free for yardage Saturday against Mingo County.
Photo by Teddy Paynter
"We might not have the greatest athletes in the world, but we're a pretty good team,'' he said. "That's what these kids have to do believe in themselves.
"This is a great win. A long road trip down, but the ride back will feel a lot shorter."
It was about a four-and-a-half hour trip for the Maroon Knights. The team traveled to Charleston on Friday, practiced at Laidley Field and then spent the night in South Charleston.
But it was well worth it as far as the playoffs are concerned. The Class AA Miners (4-3) entered the game 10th in the computer ratings, so Saturday's victory represents plenty of points for the Maroon Knights (5-3), who entered the tilt 16th in Class A.
Wheeling Central finishes the season against Caldwell and Bishop Donahue.
"Maybe this set the tone for us,'' Young said. "We beat a good Double-A school. They came out fired up, but we were able to shut them down and our offense put 35 points up on the board.
"We struggled last week. But we executed better (Saturday)."
The defense set the stage for the Maroon Knights as Nick Naumann picked off Miners quarterback Matt Lester on Mingo Central's second play from scrimmage.
With a short field to work with, Wheeling Central needed just three plays to score.
Burch ran for 12 yards on the drive's second play and scored from 3 yards on the next to help make the score 7-0.
Wheeling Central's big surge came in the second quarter.
The Maroon Knights used 10 plays to move from their own 24 to the Miners 37. On the 11th play, Jeff Gwynn took a handoff and sprinted down the middle of the field untouched for a score that made the count 14-0.
Michael Pleva picked off Lester four plays into Mingo's ensuing drive. Then, one play later, Burch lofted a 34-yard strike to Cottrell for a touchdown and the score jumped to 21-0.
Taking advantage of turnovers, stopping the Miners' offense and keeping the ball for a large portion of the quarter all figured heavily into Central's dominance during the second 12 minutes.
Nowhere was this more evident than during the middle part of the quarter when the Maroon Knights drove 60 yards in 15 plays. Burch hit Braxton Nolte for a 4-yard scoring strike to cap the drive which saw Young's team move ahead 28-0.
The Miners got the ball back with a little more than a minute remaining in the half but Central's defense came up big again when Joe John recovered a Lester fumble at the Mingo Central 40.
On the next play, Burch found a wide open Ben Duplaga for a 40-yard touchdown that capped the first-half scoring.
Duplaga was one of the many freshman that played a major role in the victory, along with Gwynn, who paced the team with 75 yards rushing.
"We just had those young kids step up," Young said. "That's what we've been working toward all year. You never know when you're bell is gonna ring.
"The kids stepped up and made big plays," Young said. "We had a couple of big interceptions in the first half and a couple of big catches."
Young called the game the most balanced of the season offensively for his club. Of the team's 317 yards, 173 were gained on the ground. And that total was totaled by eight different runners.
"It was just an overall team effort," Young said. "I'm proud of what the kids did. Now, it's time to get ready for Caldwell."