Marquee Matchup On the Island
Undefeated University visits Wheeling Park Saturday
WHEELING — Even though it is only week four of the West Virginia high school season, there will be a lot on the line Saturday evening in Wheeling Island Stadium when Wheeling Park hosts University in a clash of football powers.
The Patriots (1-1) will be looking to show that they are still the team to beat in the OVAC after dropping a game to Steubenville two weeks ago and canceling their game last week due to COVID. Meanwhile the Hawks (3-0) are looking to build on their impressive start to the season and prove that they can be a real contender in 2021.
“We knew this game against Park and next week against Fairmont Senior are going to prove whether we’re a contender or a pretender,” said University coach John Kelley. “That’s what’s going to happen. We know we need to win marquee games like these to show that we belong.”
University has rolled through its schedule thus far this season, beating John Marshall 55-0, Parkersburg South 62-33 and Brooke 52-20.
“We’ve scored over 50 points in all three games, that’s not going to happen against Park, we know that,” Kelley said. “Park’s a tough draw because you’ve got to go up there and it’s a very tough place to play. You have to win those types of games if you’re going to be good. We think we’re a good football team, but I’m glad we’re going to have a real measuring stick and find out how good we really are.”
Park, on the other hand, has slugged their way through the early part of the season.
This season’s schedule-makers did the Patriots no favors as they played Ohio powerhouses St. Clairsville and Steubenville in their first two games and now face the Hawks on Saturday. Park coach Chris Daugherty said he would have liked to play a few easier games at the start the season, but the Patriots are fighting through regardless.
“I think a good, healthy mix (of difficulty) would be nice, but at the end of the day, you don’t always get to pick and choose that,” Daugherty said. “There’s a lot of benefits to playing two tough games, especially when they’re local because, mentally, your kids are focused for those games. It sharpens you for the rest of the season.”
Daugherty was able to watch University’s game at Brooke last week and was impressed with what he saw from the Hawks.
“Coach Kelley does a great job, their staff does a great job,” he said. “They’ve been playing a bunch of kids since they were sophomores and they’re seniors now, they’re seasoned. They’ve got everything really. They can throw it, they can run it, they make you defend a large area of the field.”
After the game, Brooke coach Mac McLean said University “out-athleted” his Bruins. Daugherty agreed, acknowledging how quick University’s team is this season.
“There were some times when Brooke was in good position and they just got out-played at that spot,” Daugherty said. “You’ve got to eliminate those things and you’ve got to play the ball.”
Against the Bruins, University quarterback Chase Edwards threw for 337 yards and six touchdowns. Receiver Noah Braham hauled in four passes for 163 yards and two scores. Sage Clawges (four catches, 73 yards, two touchdowns) and Elija Jackson (four catches, 71 yards, two touchdowns) also had big games.
Despite the win last week and their impressive start to the season, Kelley is making sure his team is giving the Patriots the respect they deserve this week.
“They’ve very skilled, they probably have as much speed, if not more speed, than we do and we’re a speed team,” Kelley said. “They graduate 20 kids and they roll 20 kids right back in there that’re just as equally good. … We would not be 3-0 if we played their schedule, I can tell you that.”
The story for Park entering this season was that they were replacing all 11 of their offensive starters from 2020. Quarterback Brett Phillips has been excellent thus far, throwing for 442 yards and four touchdowns in two games and speedster Jerrae Hawkins has emerged as the Patriot’s top playmaker, catching 15 passes for 248 yards and two scores.
“Our first two opponents were very, very good and so for us to be as effective as we were at times against Steubenville and to be as effective as we were in the St. Clairsville game, I was happy with 11 new faces,” Daugherty said. “But now that’s going to start to wear off, they’ve played some football and we can’t keep saying ‘young’ forever.”
Daugherty said Park’s keys to winning Saturday are generating big plays on offense while limiting University’s.
“I’m a guy who normally says you need to win the line of scrimmage, and that’s true, but I do think this’ll be a game of big plays and if we can limit their big plays and keep pace, I think that’ll be a key,” Daugherty said.
Kelley, on the other hand, is aiming to keep Park’s offense off the field for as long as possible.
“We have to keep their offense off the field, we have to stretch their defense, neutralize their special teams, which are really, really good, and hope for a break here or there,” Kelley said. “This should be a great game, I don’t see anybody being blown out, that’s for sure.”