Park Hammers Big Red

WHEELING – History was not only made Friday night at Wheeling Island Stadium, it was delivered in emphatic fashion.

Running back Savion Johnson ran for two touchdowns and caught two more and quarterback Zach Phillips threw for two scores and ran for one as Wheeling Park exorcised the demons of forever with a 42-22 victory against Steubenville.

Wheeling Park (7-1) had been 0-12 against Big Red, and that was just scratching the surface on the history-making win.

In the previous 12 losses, Park scored 30 total points.

Steubenville had not lost to a Wheeling public school since 1910 and Big Red hadn’t lost to a West Virginia school since 1963 (Weir), and had won 39 straight against Mountain State opponents.

That is all in the past.

“I’m just proud to be the coach at Wheeling Park High School,” said Patriots’ coach Chris Daugherty, who was still soaked from the Gatorade bath he took with 30 seconds remaining in the game. “I’m proud of these coaches, and I’m really proud of these kids.”

Linebacker Geremy Paige, who was seemingly in on every defensive stop on the night, took it one step further.

“I feel like we won a championship,” the senior linebacker said. “I really do. This is big for us, it’s big for the program. We beat them when we were freshmen, so we knew we could play with them. To come out and play like we did, it was just an incredible night.”

Phillips, also a senior, echoed that statement.

“It’s huge, and I think it showed that we can play with anyone,” Phillips said. “It sure is a big win for us. There are guys in (the locker room) crying. It is an emotional win. We knew what the numbers were. We also knew we could win. I don’t think anyone gave us a chance to score 42 points. Some probably didn’t think we could beat them. But we believed.”

Park started quickly, and it never really slowed down It started up front, with the Patriots blowing Steubenville off the ball, opening huge lanes for its running game to take over the game.

By the end of the first quarter, it was 21-0. It was 28-0 at the half.

Johnson scored on a 51-yard run on the third play of the game. Park got the ball back, and Johnson scored on a 6-yard run, set up by a 35-yard pass from Phillips to Michael Groves.

Johnson finished with 156 yards rushing and two receptions for 47 yards.

“On my first touchdown run, I had to make one guy miss, so that was just good line blocking,” Johnson said. “I can’t say it enough. I mean, they pretty much dominated the line of scrimmage.”

Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia agreed.

“Same as it was before the game,” Saccoccia said of Park. “They’re always good, they always have good skill (players) and they are well-coached. The most improved part of the Park team is the offensive and defensive lines.”

Phillips got in on the scoring, with a 56-yard touchdown run just before the first quarter ended.

Known more for his passing ability, Phillips showed off his footwork by eluding several Steubenville defenders, and scurrying down the sideline to the end zone.

“It was supposed to be a little tight end pass play, but before the snap I saw they were blitzing and we didn’t have enough blockers,” Phillips said. “I saw a crease and I was able to use my ability to get to the outside.”

Phillips finished 10 of 13 passing for 154 yards and added 80 yards on four carries.

Even when things went wrong, like an intentional grounding play that cost the Patriots 21 yards late in the second quarter, he made up for it almost immediately. On the next play after the grounding call, Phillips found Johnson for a 36-yard score that made it 28-0.

He again flashed his escapability in the second half.

Forced out of the pocket, Phillips first rolled left, then peeled back, eluding the rush, and running to his right, spotted Johnson all alone in the flat. He could have walked into the end zone.

“(Phillips) played well,” Saccoccia said. “I thought we had him sacked then he comes back and completes that pass on our sideline. For him to complete 10 of 13 means he was getting good protection and his line was blocking. It’s a three-pronged thing.”

“We like to think of Zach as a dual-threat quarterback,” Daugherty said. “He hasn’t had to do it a lot but he certainly showed he has that in his game. That run for a score was huge and he showed a lot of escapability on that second touchdown pass.”

Steubenville eventually got on the board when a bad snap into the end zone was wisely kicked out the back by punter Liam Casey and the Big Red scored on a Mandella Lawrence-Burke to Devin Ferguson 13-yard touchdown.

Big Red recovered an onside kick but a fumble recovery by Elijah Bell three plays later led to a 9-yard touchdown run by Paige.

Steubenville scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth, a 1-yard run by Johnnie Blue and a 17-run by Matt Sherrell.

“They’ve had a lot of injuries and I know it might not be the Big Red team they started with at the beginning of the season, but that is still a good team,” Daugherty said. “I can’t say enough about these kids. This started with a commitment three years ago. We changed the mentality around here.”

On Friday night, they changed the history.