WHEELING - And a freshman will lead them.
In the biggest moment of the game, in perhaps the pivotal game of the year, Wheeling Central freshman Isaac Rine, all 5-foot-8, 150 pounds of him, stood tallest. Rine led the game-winning drive to give Central a thrilling 27-20 victory against Magnolia on Saturday night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Rine completed four straight passes, including a key 11-yarder to Brandon Angalich on fourth-and-7 and then the game-winning 9-yard touchdown to Parker Henry with :30.1 left in a classic struggle between two perennial playoff powers.
Photo by Alex Kozlowski
Wheeling Central’s John Burkhalter drags a Magnolia tackler during Saturday night’s game.
"He played with intensity and with a lot of poise," jubilant Maroon Knights coach Mike Young said. "The guys trust him. For them to support him, in that situation, that's what a team is all about."
Down 20-15, Central took over at the Magnolia 37, but ended up backed up after a holding call with less than two minutes left.
Rine calmly completed a 9-yard pass to C.J. Burch on third-and-16 and then, on fourth down, found Angalich for the first down. He completed another 13-yarder to Angalich to give Central a first down at the Blue Eagles 11.
After a 2-yard run by Henry, Rine, who split time at quarterback with Henry, found his senior teammate behind a Magnolia defender for the go-ahead touchdown.
The try for 2 failed, so Magnolia, showing steely resolve, went right down the field behind senior signalcaller Jacob Brill.
First he hit Eric Smith for a 15-yard pass that took the ball into Central territory. Another 1-yard strike to Smith and a 16-yard run by Brill gave Magnolia the ball at the Central 23.
With eight seconds left Brill took the ball right up the middle to the 15, where Magnolia called a timeout to set up a 32-yard field goal.
However, Oscar Celedon's attempt was blocked by Coty Knecht and Derek Yocke scooped it up and returned it for a touchdown unimpeded.
"What are your options in that situation?" Magnolia coach Mark Batton asked. "You can throw it into the end zone or you can line it up and try a field goal. (Celedon) is pretty accurate from 25 yards in practice. We took a chance and it didn't work out."
Central had its chances earlier in the fourth, and a bit of bad luck might have actually worked to the Maroon Knights' favor.
Rine connected with Joey John on fourth-and-4 at the 5 and he came up just shy of the first down.
Magnolia took over and Brill was sacked in the end zone for a safety, making the score 20-15 Blue Eagles. It turned out to be a big play.
Magnolia also came up big on the ensuing Maroon Knights drive, when Henry fumbled at the 2 and Carter Seckman recovered it. It looked like the ball might have reached the end zone, which would have given Magnolia the ball at the 20. The officials, however, ruled it down at the 1 and Magnolia was forced to punt from its own end zone, giving Central good field position for its final drive.
"I just can't say enough about how our kids played," Young said. "They never quit and our coaching staff did an excellent job. Magnolia took it to us in the first half, as we expected, but we came out and took it at them. It was kind of like the Linsly game (a 26-21 Central win) only in reverse."
Magnolia did jump on the Knights, when Brill scored on a 31-yard run, in which he weaved his way to the end zone and Kage Rohde followed a 25-yard run by Drew Keller (20-117) with a 50-yard scoring run.
Magnolia's 12-0 halftime lead was also fueled by a defense that limited the Maroon Knights to 25 yards rushing and 16 yards passing.
In the second half Central (4-1) came out inspired.
After a fumble, it took Henry, who had 125 yards rushing in the second half and finished with 141, two plays, scoring on a 38-yard run to cut the lead to 12-7.
On the Knights next possession, Burch finished off seven-play drive with a 29-yard touchdown run, giving Central a 13-12 lead.
Magnolia answered with its own seven-play drive, Keller scoring from 4 yards out and Brill added the 2-point conversion for a 20-13 lead.
That set up a wild fourth-quarter finish.
"It was the kids," Young said. "I'll say this, you can never count this group out. They find a way. That was a good team we beat."
For Batton, the feeling went the other way.
"It's devastating," Batton said. "The kids in that locker room are devastated. We looked at this like a playoff game and that is what it was like."
Magnolia (2-3) has lost three games by a total of 15 points, though the loss Saturday was a one-point game for all intents and purposes.
"We will regroup and see where we're at," Batton said. "Right now, this one hurts. But we have five tough games left and we need to get things corrected. And we will."
Rine finished 6 of 9 for 53 yards and completed all five of his fourth-quarter passes.
"That formation (with Henry, the regular quarterback) in the backfield) gives us a little more explosiveness," Young said. "And Rine came in and lit it up for us."
Burch also reached 100 yards for the Knights, on 15 carries.
Central rushed for 236 yards in the second half.