WHEELING - Arguably the most anticipated season in Wheeling Park history began with a big thud, or as much of a one as a three-and-out on a first series can be considered. It wasn't long before the machine got revved up, though.
Quarterback Zach Phillips missed his first five passes and then hit on the next five for 127 yards including three touchdowns, and sophomore Savion Johnson rushed for 120 yards and a score on 16 carries as Wheeling Park (1-0) turned what was considered across West Virginia as a Week 1 showdown with Keyser (0-1) into a laugher, 45-22, on Friday night at Wheeling Island Stadium in the finale of the McDonald's OVAC Kickoff Weekend.
''As coaches, you're just as excited and chomping at the bit as the kids. Every once in a while it takes a while for coaches to settle down and figure out what would go well and work,'' Patriots coach Chris Daugherty said. ''I thought once we settled down we started to move the ball and we were really taking care of things.''
Park sophomore Savion Johnson (21) rushed for more than 100 yards in his first varsity start Friday night.
Were they ever.
Phillips got it started by breaking containment and racing down the sideline 71 yards for the opening touchdown with a little more than three minutes left in the first quarter, and on the Golden Tornado's next play, Wheeling Park's Chalmer Moffett picked up a second Keyser fumble and raced 19 yards for a 14-0 lead.
Moffett had quite an eventful first 12 minutes or so with a sack and that fumble return, then tacked on a second score on the first play of the second quarter as Phillips stuck a pass between two defenders for a 6-yard touchdown that made it 21-0.
''I thought our line did a real good job because they were throwing a lot of different fronts at us and we seemed to block just about everything,'' Daugherty said. ''A play here, a play there ... that's a good football team, especially on the defensive front and in the linebacking corp.''
Keyser dented the scoreboard after Danny Fife took the ensuing kickoff at his 20 and returned it to the Park 8. Even though Fife eventually plowed in on fourth-and-goal, it served as a good indicator of just how difficult things were for the Tornado.
In fact, Keyser had 25 yards on 25 plays at halftime.
A lot of that had to do with the play of guys like Moffett, Theo Blackston and Geremy Paige, a two-time all-stater who could find himself in the conversation for the Huff Award, which is given to West Virginia's top defensive player, by season's end.
''He's so good,'' Daugherty said of Paige. ''He can be athletic and he can be tough, but he reads his keys and gets to the ball.
''We're real happy with him.''
Johnson, making his first varsity start, broke off the first big run of his career, a 43-yarder that put the ball at the Keyser 35. Two plays later, Phillips threw a beautiful ball to Eric Banks in the corner of the end zone for a 36-yard score and it was 35-6.
Johnson, the son of legendary Park running back 'Boogie' Johnson, who is his position coach, capped a six-play, 56-yard drive with a 2-yard TD. The big play was made by Phillips, who scrambled and at the last minute dropped it over the middle to Paige, who picked up 20.
Park took over with 1:56 remaining in the half and two Johnson runs netted 18 yards before Phillips went up top to Banks, who leaped over a defender and pulled the ball in, taking three or four steps while running backward after coming down, and then racing to the end zone for a 58-yard score that made it 42-6 at halftime. The Golden Tornado gave up 68 points all of last season en route to the Class AA title game.
The Patriots tacked on a 42-yard Liam Casey field goal in the second half, while Keyser netted a pair of scores on the Patriots' second and third teams. Fife ended with 105 yards on 18 carries.
''The pressure at 1-0 feels a lot better than the pressure at 0-0, so we'll take it,'' Daugherty said.