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Football Lookahead: Wheeling Central Faces Familiar Foe

November 14, 2013
By JIM ELLIOTT , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - It's Wheeling Central vs. Williamstown.

Seriously, who else would the 13th-seeded Maroon Knights face after a season in which they had to scratch and claw to make the playoffs (for a 15th straight season)?

These two clubs have met seven times, with Wheeling Central winning five, including the state title games in 2005, 06, 07, and 2011. Central also stung the Yellowjackets on the road in the second round in 2009.

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Does freshman quarterback Isaac Rine have what it takes to help lead Wheeling Central to an upset of Williamstown?

Williamstown beat Wheeling Central in the 2008 state semifinals (when it won a state title) and in the 2003 regular season.

That's eight meeting in 11 years, all but one by chance.

''We consider them a rival because we play them so many times,'' Wheeling Central coach Mike Young said. ''We're just glad to be able to meet them, really. It's been an enduring year. I'm proud of what our kids and coaches have been able to accomplish.''

Needing a victory against a Class-AAA team four hours from home last week to secure a playoff spot, Wheeling Central got 220 rushing yards from cast-on-arm senior running back C.J. Burch in a 50-20 victory. Burch went past the 1,000-yard mark for the season with that effort.

''We weathered a lot of storms, a lot of injuries (senior quarterback Parker Henry and sophomore running back and linebacker Jeff Gwynn were both lost to ACL injuries), and a couple of tough losses. It's been a relentless group of kids that just wanted to maintain our string of making the postseason,'' Young said. ''Coming back with a victory made that ride a lot easier.''

Williamstown, seeded fourth, went 3-0 against OVAC schools, beginning with victories against Tyler Consolidated and Magnolia to begin the season, plus a Week 6, 55-25 victory against Oak Glen.

Quarterback Jake Tracewell leads the Williamstown offense. Last week against Roane County, he rushed for two touchdowns, pased for two, and had an interception on defense - one of two for the Yellowjackets defense that led to scores.

He wound up with 59 yards on 14 carries, while completing 9 of 13 passes for 58 yards. Hunter Neely was the club's leading receiver, catching five passes for 117 yards.

''We've played tougher competition and won,'' Young said. ''Then again, we've played competition like this and lost. Our kids realize what's at stake. When you make a postseason, a positive outcome is a reward. We don't want to be a one and done.''

Though no one knows how any of this will shake out, Young likens this season to 2005, when Central finished 6-4, went to Greenbrier to open the playoffs, then ended up on the island for Super Six.

With all of the injuries, Wheeling Central has gotten younger as the season has unfolded, which is something of a rarety.

The Maroon Knights start five freshmen in Isaac Rine at QB; John Burkhalter at receiver, Clayton McCabe at tight end; Chance Chambers at LB; and Dylan Baker at linebacker.

Rine, who will be making his fifth start, has completed 14 of his last 16 attempts. In those two games, he's completed nearly 500 yards worth of passes, plus run for 200. Burkhalter is the team leader in receiving yards, touchdown catches, and yards per catch (better than 20).

Joe John has 294 rushing yards and 225 receiving yards out of the Wheeling Central backfield. He's also the club's leading tacker with 76.

Ben Duplaga has 69. Baker had eight tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery last week.


Last year, Wheeling Central lost in the first round of the playoffs at East Hardy. Prior to that loss, dating back to 1999 when this playoff streak started under the late Jim Thomas, the Maroon Knights had either won the state championship or lost to the team that won the championship each year. Central has won eight state championships during this run.

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