POINT PLEASANT -Three big plays.
That was the difference in Wheeling Park's 28-7 victory against Point Pleasant Friday night in the quarterfinals of the West Virginia Class AAA playoffs at frigid Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field.
Three plays, but they were all timely and all big for the Patriots, who advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1991 and meet Class AAA No. 1 Huntington (12-0) next Friday.
Bryan Walters photo/Point Pleasant Register
Wheeling Park’s Elijah Bell (4) signals a first down Friday night against Point Pleasant.
For most of the game, the No. 4 Big Blacks, who had been 11-0 entering the game but were, in most circles a decided underdog, held their own, putting together drives and taking away the big play capabilities of Wheeling Park.
They couldn't hold Park off forever.
"Sometimes it works out that way, but we'll take it," Wheeling Park coach Chris Daugherty said. "You have to give them a lot of credit. We looked at them on film and they just didn't do things to beat themselves."
Except they did.
None was bigger than sophomore Elijah Bell's 32-yard interception return late in the third. Point Pleasant had a lot of success with screen passes during the game, and Bell had been burned by one earlier.
Not this time.
"I noticed the formation, I sat on it and jumped it," Bell said. "I felt like it was a good gamble because even if the receiver had run a route I could have covered it, so it was a safe play. Luckily I guessed right."
It turned the tide of the game.
"If I could have one play back, it would be that one," Point Pleasant coach Dave Darst said. "We changed that one up, we had been running an outside screen and we went to an inside screen. They made a good play on it."
Park then had three straight sacks on Point Pleasant quarterback Aden Yates on the Big Blacks' next possession and Geremy Paige ended the scoring later with an 8-yard run.
Bell was also in on the first big play, a 58-yard hookup with quarterback Zach Phillips to give Park an early 7-0 lead.
Phillips said he saw the corner bite, and Bell got free behind the secondary.
"All I had to do was lay it out there and I knew he was going to score," Phillips said.
"It was just a great call by Coach," Bell said. "As soon as he bit, I took off and Zach made a good throw. I never thought the ball was going to come down, though. I thought the corner was going to catch me."
He wasn't close.
Point Pleasant came back and answered, when Yates hit Gage Buskirk on a 27-yard strike on fourth-and-13.
In the second quarter, Savion Johnson made his presence felt with a 79-yard run, when he broke an arm tackle near the line, went straight up the gut and outraced the Big Blacks defense to give Park a 14-7 lead at the half.
"I thought we played pretty well," Darst said. "We really wanted this game to see just where we stand in Class AAA (Point was reclassified from Class AA to AAA two years ago). We thought they were one of the top teams in the tournament coming in. I know it sounds funny after a loss, but I think this is going to help us down the road because that is one heck of a football team."
Johnson, who was banged up midway through the fourth, finished with 143 of Park's 178 rushing yards. Phillips completed 9 of 15 for 134 yards and Bell had two catches for 79 yards.
Paige had 19 tackles and two sacks to lead the defense.
Cody Mitchell led Point Pleasant with 16 carries for 59 yards and four receptions for 34 yards. Yates was 10 of 13 passing for 96 yards and Gage Buskirk had four catches for 49 yards.