Knights Stay On Top

WHEELING – If records are made to be broken, Wheeling Central’s Gino Bianconi left behind a near impossible challenge for future running backs in West Virginia Super Six state championship games.

The speedy Maroon Knights’ senior ace shattered all-class records for single-game rushing attempts, yardage and touchdowns during Saturday night’s 35-21 victory against previously undefeated Williamstown in the Class A finale at Wheeling Island Stadium.

Bianconi, helped out by a spectacular blocking performance from his offense line and lead backfield mates, carried 41 times for 355 yards and five touchdowns.

The previous Class A records were 36 carries for 251 yards by Duval’s Marty McClure against Sistersville in 1984 and four touchdowns by another former Maroon Knight, Brandon Tucker, in the 2005 title game. Four TDs were also the most rushing scores in both the past triple-A and double-A Super Six title games, while the previous bests for carries and rushing yardage in the upper two divisions were 37 attempts and 287 yards.

Bianconi racked up 248 yards and four of his touchdowns in the opening half as he found the end zone on rushes of 18, 27, 19 and 21 yards. He added his final 2-pointer from the 1 in the fourth quarter to put the Maroon Knights up 35-14 and virtually salt the game away.

This monster night pushed his senior year rushing totals to 2,172 yards and 31 touchdowns. Bianconi also scored three times during the season while on the receiving end of passes from sophomore quarterback Parker Henry.

”If you got a horse, you ride it,” Wheeling Central coach Mike Young said, also noting that injuries to a couple of Bianconi’s backfield mates added to his work load.

”We had to lean on him a little more than we wanted because Parker had a hip pointer and Andrew Keane had a bad quad.”

Henry was hurt late in the first quarter, which limited his mobility and opportunities to carry the football. He entered the game having rushed for 1,132 yards, but carried just seven times for 31 yards. Henry had to stay on the field because his backup quarterback and Central’s starting defensive end, senior Patrick Biega, also went down with a leg injury early in the first half.

The state championship, capping off a 13-1 record season, was the second in a row for the Maroon Knights, their fifth title since Young took over the coaching job in 2005, eighth in the last 12 seasons and ninth overall.

Afterwards, Young said the 2011 championship team might be the one he remembers the most because of the way it was accomplished.

”It was just a tremendous experience in the way the kids started the season off with as many graduations as he had the inexperience of the kids we had coming back,” he said. ”That is (also) a tribute to our coaches. I have the best coaching staff in the tri-state area and great kids that responded to those coaches.

”These kids were so resilient all year. I love them because they stepped up and played above their talent to a degree. I said to somebody in August (that) we are the defending state champions, so don’t count us out.”

”We are just so happy and blessed and thankful that our kids could finish as state champions.”

The Maroon Knights wasted no time taking control of the game, scoring on four of six possessions in the opening half. They stopped themselves on one drive when Bianconi couldn’t get control on football after bumping into Henry during a handoff attempt with the ball at the Yellowjackets 15. At the end of the half, a holding call hampered another opportunity as Henry was sacked on a third and long pass attempt from inside the visitors’ 30.

Central was pinned back inside its own 10 on the opening kickoff but needed just six plays and 2:13 seconds of clock time to drive 91 yards. Bianconi did most of the leg work but a 15-yard personal foul penalty against Williamstown also helped out. With the ball at the Yellowjackets 18, Bianconi started let before quickly spotting some running room in the middle of the field. He then cut through a huge hole and took the ball to house. Bradley Cottrell added the first of his five straight conversion kicks for the 7-0 lead with 9:47 left in the opening quarter.

After fumbling on the next drive, the Central defense forced a punt and took over on Williamstown’s side of the field again at the 43. It took just two carries, both by Bianconi to put the ball in the end zone. He picked up 16 on first down, then started left again and took the same route up the gut, this time breaking several arm tackle attempts to score from the 27.

The Maroon Knights went a long way in a hurry the next time they got the ball after a punt was downed inside their own 20. One play into the second quarter Bianconi broke one for 39-yards. With the ball at Williamstown 19, Bianconi followed offensive lineman Nick Naumann through another huge hole for the touchdown and a 21-0 advantage with 8:46 left in the half.

Williamstown finally got on the board thanks to a long-distance jaunt covering 55 yards by its stellar senior tailback Trey King, a 19-yard completion to the one from sophomore QB Jake Tracewell and King’s plunge into the end zone.

However, it took the Maroon Knights just nine plays for its third 80-plus yard drive of the half. Bianconi, getting a nice block from lead back Erik Gompers cruised to paydirt from 21 yards out. The TD with 3:10 left in the half hiked the lead back to 21 points at 28-7.

”We know Bianconi was a very good back and because of his speed it was difficult for us to simulate him in practice this week,” Williamstown coach Terry Smith said. ”Hopefully, though, he would be the first to say that his offensive line did a great job of blocking for him. That line was terrific all night. They were hustling downfield getting blocks on our guys and opening some huge holes.”

Although disappointed that the Yellowjackets were unable to complete their dream of an undefeated season and bring home the school’s since state championship since 2008, Smith was proud of their effort.

”I think we played hard. My feelings right now are that I just wish we could have played a little better for our seniors.”

Williamstown did bring a little fire to the field at the outset of the second half, getting a 31-yard kickoff return by Dakota Watson near midfield and then going on a 5 minute, 5 second drive that King finished off from two yards out, cutting the deficit to 28-14.

Unfortunately for the Yellowjackets fans, they couldn’t get the ball back during the remainder of the third quarter as Wheeling Central held it for over 7 minutes, driving 76 yards with Bianconi scoring from the 1 on fourth-and-goal with 10:32 remaining in the game.

Aaron Jones later blocked a Maroon Knights’ punt with Williamstown falling on the ball at 1. Tracewell lugged it across for the TD with 4:30 to play. Central then kept possession as the the ball bounced out of bounds during a failed onside kick attempt.

King finished his Williamstown career with a strong game, rushing 21 times for 133 yards and two touchowns.

”Trey did a great job for us,” Smith pointed out. ”When our offensive line gives him a sliver to run through, he’s tough to bring down.

With Bianconi leading the way, the Central ground game collected 526 yards on 65 attempts. The Maroon Knights attempted just two passes none of which were on target.

”Our offensive line came off the ball really well,” Young said. ”Williamstown had a scheme to stop us and they just couldn’t do it. It was a combination of a cat and mouse game. Because they were scheming to take away the power sweep, we just cut it up inside.”