CALDWELL - The elements and a feisty Caldwell football team that showed up to play despite its disappointing 1-7 record weren't enough to slow down Wheeling Central Catholic's playoff-bound express Friday night.
While the chilly temperatures and driving rain that fell throughout the contest hampered both teams, Maroon Knights quarterback C.J. Burch again played a leading role with both his arm and his legs.
Burch reeled off touchdown runs of 13 and 27 yards along with twice finding tight end Braxton Nolte for passing scores during a 26-13 victory against the host Redskins.
Although the final score indicated a much closer game, Central rolled in front 26-0 by halftime and allowed the backups to take over as Caldwell picked up most of its yardage and both of its touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Still, Wheeling Central coach Mike Young made a point of praising Friday night's opponent.
''Credit to them in terms of what they have and how tough it has been for them this season,'' Young said. ''They played us tough and they played us hard. This was a physical ball game but our kids rose to the challenge and I'm very proud of them.''
By winning their second straight game and improving their overall record to 6-3, the Maroon Knights moved another step closer to clinching an opportunity to go after a third straight West Virginia Class A state championship.
''We've got one more (game) next week and going to the dance is in our plans,'' Young stressed.
Central, which has qualified for the postseason 12 consecutive years and has won eight state titles during this span, came into this weekend in a tie for 13th place in the SSAC ratings. The Maroon Knights' visit to Monarch Stadium in Moundsville to play Bishop Donahue next Friday night could result in an elimination game for both clubs.
''We said all along we want to be playing on Dec. 1 and we will do our best to accomplish that goal,'' Young added.
The Maroon Knights scored on all four first-half possessions to take command against the Redskins. After Ben Duplaga returned the opening kickoff 18 yards to the Central 31, Burch came out firing as he hit the wide-open Nolte in the left flat for 20 yards. Three plays later, he rolled left and connected with Bradley Cottrell along the left sideline for 21 yards.
On first-and-goal at the Caldwell 13, Burch took the direct snap, found a hole up the middle and bolted into the end zone for the score. Cottrell was wide on the conversion kick but Central led 6-0 just 3:21 into the game.
It took the Maroon Knights one play to go up 13-0 following a short Redskins punt later in the opening quarter. Nolte took advantage of a busted coverage and was running free in the secondary when he hauled in Burch's pass that resulted in a 46-yard touchdown.
The next Central drive was also brief but covered 85 yards. Burch had runs of 22 and 41 yards before again finding Burch wide open again, this time for the final 13 yards of a six-play march. The Maroon Knights then drove 93 yards on nine plays with Burch picking up the final 27 yards with just 1:15 left in the half.
''C.J. ran the ball well and threw the ball well,'' the pleased Young said. ''He is getting more confident with the passing game every week and the receivers are catching the ball well.''
With the Central starters watching from the sideline during the second half, Caldwell got its single-wing rush attack going and found the end zone in the fourth quarter on short runs of 3 yards by Caleb VanMeter and 2 yards by Kale Rayner.
The Maroon Knights rushed for 232 yards on 31 carries, 144 by Burch for his nine attempts while Nolte racked up 66 yards rushing and added 79 yards on his three receptions.
VanMeter finished strong for the Redskins, picking up 122 yards on 21 carries. The Redskins attempted just one pass and it fell incomplete.