Wheeling Central, East Hardy Renew Rivalry

Photo by Scott McCloskey Wheeling Central’s Vinnie High (14) and Ethan Turner (22) swarm Madonna’s Thomas Sessi in the backfield.

WHEELING — What a difference a year makes.

At this time last season, Wheeling Central entered its showdown with East Hardy limping, an 0-2 record in tow. Fast forward and it’s the Cougars who come in licking their wounds with a winless mark.

East Hardy (0-2) and top-ranked Wheeling Central (2-0) renew their recent rivalry at 7 p.m. Friday night on the turf of Bishop Schmitt Field on the campus of Wheeling Jesuit University.

”They’ve got a new head coach (Devon Orndorff) and that usually takes a little bit of time,” Maroon Knights coach Mike Young said. ”But they’ve got good numbers — 45 kids on the squad, which is pretty good for Single-A.

”They’ve got a good tradition and they’re coming in here like a hungry dog. We don’t want to give them anything to chew on.”

That hasn’t been a problem so far for the Maroon Knights. They’ve literally given the opposition nothing, outscoring their first two opponents — Williamstown and Madonna — by a combined 88-0 score. Young knew the Maroon Knights would be tough, but even he is surprised with the back-to-back goose eggs.

”I am pleased with our aggressiveness defensively,” the coach said. ”We have kids stepping up and making tackles, and that is what the game is. It’s blocking and tackling.

”I tell the kids all the time success is your reward for hard work. We tell them every week to reward yourself.”

The Maroon Knights defense has been dominant, as the numbers suggest. It has known commodities in junior Adam Murray, the reigning Huff Award honoree as the state’s best defensive player, as well as three-time all-stater Vinny Mangino. But guys like Curtis McGhee III, Anthony Robbins and Bray Price, and new names such as Trey Helms and Payton Marling have begun to put themselves into the conversation on that side of the ball.

”As far as Payton Marling, I almost want to say it’s the right place, the right time and the right kid,” Young said of The Intelligencer/News-Register Defensive Player of the Week following the season opener. ”It turns out when you lose a Dawson Wear and a Patrick Brown to graduation, both of those guys were keying our defense as seniors.

”Payton gives us that ability as well as the receiving ability.”

After leading Central to the Class A state title as a sophomore, McGhee looks much more comfortable in charge of the offense this time around. In less than a half of action last week against Madonna, he rushed for 49 yards and a score while completing six passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns — to three different receivers.

”He is playing with much more confidence and has a better understanding of what we are trying to do and what we need to do,” Young said. ”He realizes the value of his receivers and his legs, where most quarterbacks can only do one.

”The key is, more than anything he knows that’s it’s not as important knowing when to throw, as it is knowing when not to throw.”

Price has been a machine offensively, showing an uncanny availability to score from anywhere on the field. His game appears to have been taken up a couple notches.

”Price worked hard in the offseason because he’s receiving offers from a lot of places, so he sees the value of hard work,” Young said. ”He’s been to places like Toledo, Marshall and Youngstown.

”So he has been out in quality programs and seeing what kids are doing to get better.”

East Hardy has suffered losses to Bishop Carroll (19-13) out of Pennsylvania, and to Frankfort (45-7). Both those games were at home.

”They’re 0-2 but lost to two good teams,” Young said. ”They’re big and they’re aggressive, but they don’t seem to have that one star receiver like (Brett) Tharp, who they built everything around and rightfully so.

”They don’t have that one star running back, either. It’s by committee.”

Young, though, says it is more about the Knights than vice versa.

”We have to go out and play aggressive defense and execute on offense, no matter what our opponent tries to do,” he said.

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