OVAC All-Star Game Returns to the Island Tonight
By SETH STASKEY
For the News-Register
It’s the fourth Saturday in July, so that can mean only one thing.
King Football is back!
After missing out on the 2020 version, the OVAC Rudy Mumley All-Star Football Game returns this evening at Wheeling Island Stadium.
While the prep football fans of the Ohio Valley are definitely ready to see the pigskin return, the players, who have been at Bethany College since Sunday preparing, are itching to get on the field.
“Our kids have been ready (to play) since about Tuesday,” West Virginia head coach B.J. Depew said. “There aren’t many football players who love practice. They play for the games and big opportunities and these kids know what they have in front of them.”
What lies in front of Depew’s team is a chance to snap a two-game losing skid to its Ohio rivals. All told, the Buckeye State leads the overall series, 45-28-1. Ohio, meanwhile, is looking to keep the bragging right on its side of the river for at least another year.
“We did a little bit of live practicing on offense and defense, for about 10 minutes, on Wednesday and these kids were really excited during those 10 minutes, so I know they’re going to be even more excited (tonight).”
Regardless of the outcome of the game, both head coaches praised the players, their staffs, the OVAC and Bethany College for what they called an “awesome week.”
“Other than having come to watch it, I’d never really been around this game that much, but being a part of it has definitely been special,” Huck said. “Actually, more than I ever though it would be.
“It’s so well ran and organized. The players have been great, really fun and very respectful.”
Depew is much more of a veteran of the game, having been a part of it as a player, assistant and head coach. So, he understood that portion, but had it re-affirmed this week.
“You always hear the relationships are the best part of this game and that’s totally a fact,” Depew said. “These kids have been great and it’s nice seeing them come together. When we first met in the gym at Bethany (last Sunday) and how they’re divided into their small groups and now you see five and six guys from different schools hanging out. It’s what this is about.”
On the field, both head coaches feel good about their preparation and lineups.
Ohio had a three-man quarterback derby before Huck and his staff settled on St. Clairsville’s Tyler Tonkovich as the starter. Steubenville Catholic’s Ryan Gorman and Barnesville’s Ayden Hannahs will also get playing time.
Huck believed the former Red Devil’s ability to be a threat with his arms and legs is what separated him during the week.
“All of our quarterbacks are very good, but we just felt like we should go with Tyler first,” Huck said. “You’re definitely going to see the other quarterbacks, too.”
Joining Tonkovich in the backfield will be Martins Ferry’s Evan Carpenter at running back. The wing backs are expected to be Matt Schaefer (Indian Creek) and Garrett Dozier (Toronto).
Beaver Local’s Dylan Moore will get the call at wide receiver. St. Clairsville’s Reese Skaggs will line up at tight end.
Across the front, Steubenville’s Eli Burgey is expected to start at center. He’s flanked by Bellaire’s Vince Patrone and Monroe Central’s Garet Cramer at guards. Justin Rimer (New Philadelphia) and Brock Valentine (Cambridge) are ticketed for tackle.
“Our kids have grasped and handled the offense pretty well,” Huck said. “I could see it really starting to come together on Tuesday and Wednesday. These guys have also been great about continuing to ask questions (of the coaches) when we’re in the dorm. They really want to learn and perform well.”
That offensive unit will have to contend with a defense that Depew called “really good.”
“I think we have great players on that side of the ball,” Depew said.
Up front, Kyler O’Connor (Oak Glen) and Marco Aprea (Linsly) will open at the end spots. At defensive tackle, Dimitrius DeShield (University) and Deondre Crudup (Morgantown) are ticketed for tackle.
The two inside linebackers are Linsly’s Steve Felton and South’s Devin Gaines. The two outside linebackers are Anthony DiMatteis (Weir) and John Marshall’s Dalton Flowers.
In the secondary, Oak Glen’s Gage Patterson will roam at safety, while Wheeling Park’s duo of Sincere Sinclair and Shaheed Jackson will start at corner.
Offensively, the Mountain State plans to use its speed and skill.
“Our offensive skill players are very talented,” Depew said. “All of these kids have great athleticism and run great routes.”
West Virginia will open the game with Wheeling Park product Beau Heller taking the snaps. The future West Liberty Hilltopper had a brilliant season for the Patriots and has carried that momentum into camp.
Wheeling Central’s Jordan Waterhouse will open at running back. The four wide receivers to begin the game will be Wheeling Park’s Stevie Mitchell, Linsly’s Kobe Hill, Wheeling Central’s Payton Marling and South’s Levi Rice.
Up front, the West Virginia line will be anchored by center Daniel Bealles (Oak Glen). Brooke’s Sam Casto and Wheeling Central’s Spencer Helms will start at guard. The tackled are expected to be Jordan Brueck (Weir) and O’Conner, who is the lone West Virginia player to be starting on both sides.
Defensively, Ohio has watched its fair share of Linsly tape to get an idea of what might be coming this evening.
“We hope (adjustments) aren’t made totally on the fly,” Huck said. “We’ve worked to prepare the guys the best we can and keep things as simple as possible, while covering as much as possible. Hopefully, whatever (West Virginia) throws at us, we’re covered in terms of either having practiced it talked about it.”
The Ohio defensive line includes New Philadelphia’s Mitchell Stokey and Fort Frye’s Braden Medley at the ends. Fort Frye’s Brady Kutscherenko and Caldwell’s Tim Wehr will be the tackles.
The linebacking corps will be led by St. Clairsville’s Will Balgo and Fort Frye’s Dylan Hart at the inside spot. River’s Carter Dennis and Indian Creeks’ Jeremy Brown will be at the outside linebacker.
In the secondary, River’s Jake Rose and Shadyside’s Jordan Joseph are the starting corners, while Hannahs will open at free safety.
Both coaches made sure to spend some time on special teams this week, too. Warren’s Joel Chevalier will punt and kick for Ohio, while Linsly’s Joao Lima will handle both duties for West Virginia.