By SHAWN RINE
WHEELING - Mike Young shrugged off the suggestion that his team was at a disadvantage because of its lack of experience.
Renaissance Christian’s Troy Simons (3) tries to make a catch over Wheeling Central’s Ben Duplaga (22) and Dylan Baker (6) during their game on Wheeling Island Stadium Saturday
''We're still Wheeling Central and there's still expectations,'' he said.
Speaking of the expected, the Maroon Knights knew what they were getting into Saturday at Wheeling Island Stadium when Troy Simons and Renaissance Christian Academy paid a visit. Knowing and stopping are two entirely different things, however.
Simons turned 16 offensive touches into 286 yards and four touchdowns as the Rising Tide (3-4) walked away with a 32-26 victory against the Maroon Knights (5-3), who now are in a fight for their playoff lives.
''I don't know if the better team won,'' Young said. ''But the best kid won.''
Simons. who has an offer from Stony Brook but is drawing significant Division-I interest, was scintillating right from the start. He answered an 11-play, 73-yard Wheeling Central scoring drive that culminated in the first of two Joe John touchdown runs, this one from 5 yards, by taking the Wildcat snap and running left for a 45-yard gain. Two plays later, John McDonald came down with a jump ball in the end zone for a 16-yard score to tie it 6-6.
''In 41 years of coaching, he is one of the best ones I have seen,'' RCA coach Muzzy Colosimo said of Simons. ''Because of the schedule we play, in our state nobody knows about him. Although last year in the WPIAL he finished second in interceptions.
''He sets everything up. He cuts the gear back to let the guys get in front of him. I wish I could say I taught him something, but he's taught me.''
Simons made it 12-6 when he started left, cut across the field and made nearly every Central defender miss - sometimes twice - on his way to a 59-yard score, hurdling over a defender into the end zone.
The Tide's Ron Johnson pounced on a fumble at the Maroon Knights 16 but 25 yards in losses and a run for no gain left RCA with a fourth-and-25. No problem, as it turns out, because quarterback Kiev Southern lofted a pass toward the middle of the field that Simons yanked in with one hand - in double coverage - and dragged the defenders into the end zone.
''We had guys right there,'' Young said while shaking his head. ''You can't turn the ball over against a team like this and give them opportunities to make plays, which they basically did.''
The Knights got back in it with a score right before the half after an RCA punt went straight up and got caught in the wind, leaving Central the ball at the Renaissance 17. Four players later, John was in the end zone from 3 yards on a trap play.
''That play was killing us,'' Colosimo said. ''I've coached against these guys in the past and it's almost impossible to prepare for.
''We got into the half and made the adjustments.''
Saddled with a fourth-and-20 on their second drive of the second half, the Rising Tide went to Simons. Southern found him wide open, taking advantage of single coverage that was the result of trips to the left. The 20-yard score and 2-point conversion pass to Arrington Johns made it 26-13 with 5:55 left in the third quarter.
That's the way it remained until freshman Central quarterback Isaac Rine (10 of 21, 152 yards) got a little bit lucky, as his pass tipped off the hand of John and into the diving arms of classmate John Burkhalter for a 9-yard score at 3:33 of the fourth.
''He took a couple shots out there but he is going to be fine,'' Young said of Rine. ''He's only a freshman and he will continue to get better.
''Being a freshman, he's got time.''
Simons provided the clincher as he went 28 yards on a third-and-21 reverse, then on fourth down from the Central 46, took his fourth touchdown to the house.
Rine drove the Knights down the field late and hit Burkhalter on a 27-yard touchdown as time expired.
''If he were playing in West Virginia, he would definitely be a Kennedy Award candidate,'' Young said of Simons.
C.J. Burch, playing with a cast on his broken hand, picked up a game-high 110 yards rushing for Wheeling Central.