Wheeling Central Earns Class A Title
Knights Beat Yellowjackets, Win 2nd Straight Championship
WHEELING–As time ticked away in the Class A state championship on Saturday night, Wheeling Central’s Luke Duplaga and Adam Murray surprised Coach Mike Young with yet another celebratory Gatorade bath on the Wheeling Central sideline.
The Maroon Knights claimed their second state title in a row, 10th since 2000 and 11th in school history with a 44-15 triumph over Williamstown at Wheeling Island Stadium.
The victory is Young’s seventh state championship in his time at Central and he couldn’t be more thankful for his opportunity.
“It’s a great honor,” Young said. “There aren’t many people who are able to be in the position that I’m in. I’ve been in seven (championships) and we’ve won all seven. Kudos to my players, coaches, administration and great people in support of Central Catholic High School.”
The Knights did it their way–as a team. Five different players scored offensive touchdowns and Luke Duplaga added a blocked punt for a safety.
Vinny Mangino delivered an interception, while Jalen Creighton turned in a pair of picks.
“They all stepped up (Saturday),” Young said. “They did a tremendous job.
“It was a great game and give credit to Williamstown. They played their hearts out but we had tremendous athletes and our guys did a tremendous job of stepping up when they needed to make big plays.”
This is the fifth time since 2005 that the Knights have beaten the Yellowjackets for the state championship.
“We had some mistakes,” Williamstown coach Terry Smith said. “To beat Wheeling Central, you have to play mistake-free and that is hard for high school kids to do.
“They are good at everything. They are good at running the ball and they are good at throwing the ball.”
Central took the ball first and used a 10-play drive to go 52 yards and Adam Murray lunged in from 1 yard out on fourth-and-goal for an early 7-0 lead.
The Central defense then forced a three-and-out and a punt, a situation that Duplaga learned from and used to get the team’s next two points as he blocked a punt that rolled through the end zone for a safety.
“I knew that he punted it really low the first time,” Duplaga said. “So, he did it again on the second punt and it just hit me in the chest and I got lucky.”
The Knights’ gameplan of using the power running game inside the red zone continued to work as Vinny Mangino rumbled in from 1 yard out on the next drive to soften the cushion to 16-0 with 10:29 left in the half.
“We really worked on our short-yardage situations this week,” offensive coordinator Jason Rine said. “Our last two playoff games, we moved the ball on our first drives lightning fast down to the 5-yard line and they stalled. So, we really re-committed ourselves to being able to line up in the I-formation and getting 3 or 4 tough yards when we needed to down around the goal line.”
After Williamstown got on the board with a Donathan Taylor 2-yard touchdown run, the Knights answered with an eight-play, 69-yard drive that culminated with a 14-yard run by McGhee for the score. The key play of the drive was a 34-yard run on a fake punt by Murray, where he quickly made the decision to take off.
“He saw that he could get something and he has that option,” Young said. “He did a tremendous job of reading it and that was a huge momentum play.”
The Yellowjackets were down by two scores and were receiving to start the second half but a Creighton interception just before the break set up a 31-yard touchdown strike from McGhee to Robbins, who went up to snag the ball near the end zone and dove in for the score as time expired in the half.
“Creighton gave us momentum with the interception,” Robbins said. “That was a great play by him and I think that is what set the tone for us. It just gave us more momentum to do what we do.”
Williamstown didn’t let the back-breaking touchdown crush its hopes as it opened the second half with an 11-play, 64-yard touchdown drive to cut the deficit to 30-15 but special teams continued to go in favor of the Knights.
Central return man Jordan Waterhouse took the kickoff 33 yards into enemy territory and eight plays later, Murray busted through the line for another short yardage score.
Bray Price left his mark and removed all doubt as he needed two plays to rush 74 yards, which included a 58-yard run for the final score of the contest.
“We knew that we could exploit inside,” Young said.
“We knew we could throw the ball but the weather conditions limited us throwing the ball somewhat. So, we were able to run the ball.
“Bray breaking that last one is just characteristic of him all season. It was just a great job from our kids to step up at different times.”
McGhee was named MVP for Central with 154 yards passing and a score, while rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown. Price went for 160 all-purpose yards and Robbins tallied nine tackles.
“This is a great feeling for our new guys like Nick Sherman and Payton Marling to win their first (state championship),” Robbins said.
“It’s a great feeling for me, too, to win my last game as a Knight. It’s a special thing.”
Taylor ran for 198 yards to earn MVP for Williamstown.