WHEELING - Linsly wrapped a pretty victory ribbon around its 2012 season by hanging on to defeat private school rival Kiski School, 27-20, on a blustery November Saturday afternoon at Lockhart Alumni Field.
''There are always a lot of 'what ifs' around any season but we're going to enjoy this one," Linsly Coach B.J. Depew said after his team finished 4-6 record after going 10-0 in 2011.
Having to replace 12 quality seniors from that perfect record squad, the Cadets got off to a 1-4 start before turning things around late this season.
Linsly’s Chinelo Oparanozie turns the corner.
Photo by Alex Kozlowski
''I give our kids so much credit," Depew continued. ''We were in every game for a while and had two games that got away from us. But, basically our kids played 40 quarters of good, hard football and a lot of teams don't do that in our situation."
Finishing off his sparkling career at Linsly was senior running back Chinelo Oparanozie, who battled for nearly every inch of his 124 yards on 26 carries running against an aggressive Kiski defense. It gave him 1,577 yards for the season and, although Oparanozie didn't find the end zone rushing the football yesterday, he turned a short pass in the flat from quarterback Jameson Murray into a 3-yard touchdown during the opening quarter.
''Kiski is a big and physical team. We had a hard time making holes for him. It was nice to see all of our six seniors go out with a victory," Depew added.
Murray, whose playing time was limited this fall because of injuries, also had a good day playing his final prep football game. The senior QB was 10 of 18 through the air for 118 yards and did not turn the ball over. In addition to the short toss to Oparanozie for one score, he connected with sophomore Zak Kriechbaum for a 27-yard TD late midway through the third quarter on what proved to be the game-winner.
Linsly's other touchdowns came on sophomore Chimechie Oparanozie's 1-yard blast and senior Brooks Simmons' 16-yard run.
While the Cadets' defense limited the Cougars to 51 yards rushing, the visitors rallied from a 27-7 deficit to make it close behind the strong throwing arm of senior quarterback Darrik Martin.
The 6-foot2, 210-pound Martin threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns, on just 11 completions in 20 attempts. He was picked off once by freshman Tyler Ashbrook in the third quarter.
Martin connected twice for touchdowns to speedy junior wideout Dan Swank on well-thrown deep balls that covered 57 and 37 yards. He also hit another speedster Tristan Colaire for a 60-yard touchdown. Colaire, unfortunately for the Cougars, had a 95-yard kickoff return to paydirt erased by a holding penalty.
Good field position helped Linsly open its 14-0 lead in the first half. Kiski failed to cover a bouncing ball on the opening kickoff when the ball was finally corralled Linsly sophomore Dillon Curtin at the Cougars. 24. Although that drive ended without points when Rainer Whiteside missed a 39-yard field goal attempt, Kiski had a three-and-out on the next series and the Cadets got the ball back at their own 47.
Murray's 10-yard completion to Simmons sparked the drive to the Cougars' 1 and sophomore Chmechi Oparanozie took it across for the TD, followed by Whiteside's successful conversion kick.
Early in the second quarter, Chinelo Oparanozie's 30-yard punt return to the Kiski 24 set up his scoring reception for the 14-0 lead.
Held without a first down to this point, the Cougars got back rebounded with a four-play,drive that ended on Martin's deep sideline pass that Swank caught and ran into the end zone to complete the 57-yard hookup with 3:36 left in the half.
The Cadets found the end zone twice within 2:07 seconds in the third quarter to open their 20-point lead. Simmons' 16-yard TD run came just 1:55 into the second half. An 18-yard punt gave Linsly the ball again at the Cougars' 26 and one play later, a beautifully-executed double-reverse pass enabled Murray to find Kriechbaum wide open in the the end zone for the TD. Whiteside's PAT attempt was blocked this time but Linsly led 27-7 with 7:58 left in quarter No. 3.
Martin's TD strikes to Colairo and Swank in the fourth quarter cut the deficit to seven points with just 31 seconds remaining. The Cougars attempt at an onside kick was recovered by Kriechbaum, enabling Linsly to run out the clock and seal the victory.
''What finish," Depew said. ''That was a great football game and we knew it was going to come down to the end.
''They have some big, strong boys and good weapons everywhere. Both teams played their hearts out and thankfully we came out on top."