picture from: Nick Henthorne
WHEELING – The playoffs dawn in West Virginia this weekend, and for the No. 11 Class-AAA-ranked Wheeling Park Patriots, that means a four-hour trip to the Eastern Panhandle to tangle with No. 6 Jefferson.
When watching the Cougars (8-2), Wheeling Park (7-2) head coach Chris Daugherty was struck by the similarities between the Patriots’ Friday opponent and his own collection of talent.
“They’re a lot like us,” Doherty said. “They’re athletic, they’ve got some kids that can run, they can throw the ball, but they can also run it, and both of their tailbacks are very good. I think it will be a mirror image of each other offensively and to be honest defensively we will be very similar as well. A lot of guys get to their feet in a 3-4 scheme. We look alike, we’re built the same way, we try to do a lot of the same things with opposing defenses and offenses, so it’s going to be an interesting matchup.”
Rodrigo Delgado and Ty’Sean Roper form a talented running back duo for Jefferson, while Keyshaun Robinson will be able to make a big play at any time as a receiver or punt returner, recording a 63-yard punt return and a 65-yard touchdown reception last week against Clarksburg ( Maryland) in the penultimate game of the regular season.
Running all of those weapons will be junior quarterback Dylan Harich, a threat with his feet as well.
“This team is explosive, and for our defense to win, we’re going to have to limit the explosive plays, get them to run the field and play consistent football,” Dougherty said of Jefferson.
Park’s defense, powered by linebackers Jameson Maynard (74 tackles) and Zach Lyddick (48 tackles, five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), safety Jared Marsh (52 tackles, five interceptions), defensive tackle Derek Croghan (46 tackles, four tackles for loss) and more, have been rock solid this season, giving up more than 17 points just once this year. They will need to continue to perform in the postseason for the Patriots.
“That’s always tough for high school teams, and I think our defense has done a really good job all year eliminating explosive plays and getting people to run 13, 14, 15 solid plays to keep the drive going and score,” said Doherty. “Hopefully they’ll keep it up, but Jefferson has kids that can hit in three seconds. We will have to limit that as much as possible.”
As for Park’s own offense, junior quarterback Aidan Davis has thrown for 2,238 yards, 28 and just one interception, while Mikel Davis (761 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns) and Keon Stevens Jr. (732 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns) have the same. good receiving combination as any duo. Sophomore running back Amare Johnson finished the regular season with 902 yards and 12 touchdowns to go with 214 receiving yards and a touchdown catch.
Wheeling Park was tested throughout the regular season with games against Steubenville, St. Clairsville and Morgantown. The playoffs will bring a new test each week, starting with the long trek to the home of the Panthers.
“It’s a business trip,” Dougherty said. “This is not a fun ride. We have to be business from start to finish when we wake up that day. We’ve done a really good job all year playing on the road in a hostile environment. What we haven’t done is have to travel four hours to go do that. So we’ll see how we do this Friday, but I think that’s an important part.
“Last year we played Musselman, we beat Musselman in the regular season, then we had to go back there in the playoffs and we lost the game. I think our kids remember that obviously and realize that nothing is given in the playoffs. The journey matters and we will have to do well with it.”