Wheeling Park Patriots, University Hawks to Invade Wheeling Island

Highly anticipated matchup in stadium’s first game of season

Photo by Scott McCloskey Wheeling Park will play at Wheeling Island Stadium for first time this season when it welcomes the undefeated University Hawks.

WHEELING — After months of renovation, Wheeling Island Stadium opens back up for football Friday.

And what a dandy for its first game.

Wheeling Park and University are two of the top teams in West Virginia and this week’s game will go a long way in determining the pecking order in the Class AAA landscape.

When the first WVSSAC rankings were released Tuesday, the Hawks (3-0) found themselves at the top, tied for first place with Musselman.

Wheeling Park is in a four-way tie for seventh with Cabell Midland, Ripley and Spring Mills.

While the rankings mean nothing after three weeks, the winner of the Wheeling Park-University game will be in line for plenty of points as the season progresses.

That is one of the reasons Wheeling Park coach Chris Daugherty is glad to be back to the friendly confines of Wheeling Island Stadium after opening the season at West Liberty, followed by two road games.

“In the last five, six years, we have done really well on our home field,” Daugherty said. “We only have a handful of losses and that is the first time we have been able to say that in a long time. We definitely feel like we have a home-field advantage there.

“We practice there so the kids are comfortable. I remember when I played in 1988, we didn’t practice there so when you got to the stadium on Friday night, it was just as new to us as the incoming team. It is nice to be home and to have that feeling again.”

Wheeling Park (2-1) bounced back from its first loss with an impressive 35-19 victory at Taylor Allderdice last week. Quarterback Cross Wilkinson threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns in victory, Donnie Evans scored three touchdowns (including 165 all-purpose yards) and the defense was stout. Jermain Snodrass led the way with 14 tackles and a sack, while Nate Phillips had 13 tackles and two interceptions — one taken back for a touchdown.

The Patriots will have a much tougher matchup this week against the unbeaten Hawks.

University pulled away late from Brooke in a 34-15 victory.

Leading 21-15, Owen Zeiders intercepted a Bruins pass and returned it 56 yards for a score.

That is nothing new for Coach John Kelley’s squad. His opportunistic defense has a score in all three games this season.

“So far, that has been the thing that has been big for us and broke the back of our opponents,” Kelley said. “Our offense has been real good and we have been scoring points, but our defense has been good, too. Most of the points scored against us has been against our jayvee teams.”

One of Kelley’s top defensive players is also his top offensive weapon.

Receiver Amir Richardson has been grabbing all the highlights with his acrobatic one-handed catches. He has offers from a number of Division I colleges, including West Virginia University.

“What is impressive about Amir is that he is pretty darn good at defense, too,” Kelley said. “He is a spectacular free safety. He has made some great plays, great reads. He gets a lot of the attention and that has really opened things up for our other players.”

Richardson will obviously be a key focus for Daugherty’s coaching staff, but he is quick to stress that he can’t be the sole focus.

“It is a Catch-22,” he said. “You double-team him, they have good enough players to make you pay. We have to know where he is, but we can’t get too enamored with him.”

The two teams met last season in Morgantown with University claiming a 28-19 victory.

Both teams are familiar with each other and both coaches agree that looking at each is almost like looking in a mirror.

“They are so dynamic and they have the type of kids that defensively, offensively, they make plays,” Daugherty said. “There is a lot of firepower and the line of scrimmage may be where this one is won. I think we are the first team they have faced that athletically can match up with them. It is going to be neat matchup and a great game.”

Added Kelley: “Great skill, good special teams, good defense. Park has a lot of things out there for us to defend. Cross is the best quarterback in the state and I think (Rennie) Clark is the most underrated tailback in the state. Park is not going to make a lot of mistakes and who makes the most mistakes could turn out to be the difference.”