St. Marys, Wheeling Central battle for state title

JOE ALBRIGHT The Marietta Times St. Marys’ Dylan Gray carries the ball during a high school football game against South Harrison earlier this season at Bill Hanlin Stadium in St. Marys, W.Va.

WHEELING, W.Va. — Since the year 2000, Wheeling Central and St. Marys have participated in the West Virginia Class A State Championship a combined 10 times, just not against each other.

That will change at 7 on Saturday night at Wheeling Island Stadium as the two collide in the Super Six for the right to be called state champions.

St. Marys currently holds the title after taking down East Hardy last year by a 23-8 count. East Hardy was the top-seeded team in Class A this year but the Blue Devils bested them once again in the semifinals by a 27-21 mark, to set up a date with the Maroon Knights.

St. Marys (11-1) is on a five-game winning streak and is making its third trip to Wheeling Island in the last four years.

“Anytime you can make it to the Super Six, it is a blessing in itself,” St. Marys coach Jodi Mote said. “You have to have great kids, a great coaching staff and you have to stay healthy in order to make that run.

“A lot of stuff has to go right to get this opportunity, and I’m thankful that it has. We’re really appreciative of being here.”

As for Wheeling Central (9-4), it is making its first state championship appearance since winning back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011. The Knights are riding into Wheeling Island Stadium on a six-game winning streak after starting the season 0-2, which included a 10-7 setback to East Hardy.

Central is playing the underdog role as the 10th seed in the tournament, while St. Marys is the fifth seed.

Leading the Blue Devils into battle are a pair of senior rushers in Jaiden Smith and Matt Eichhorn. Smith has rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season, while Eichhorn has produced nearly 800.

The combination of junior quarterback Eric Illar and Dylan Gray has also been dynamic this season, as they have connected on 23 occasions for 582 yards and seven touchdowns.

Illar has amassed 859 yards and 11 touchdowns during the season.

“We have to go out and play four quarters if we want to finish the way we want to finish,” Central coach Mike Young said. “They have great balance. Their quarterback, running back and fullback are all really good players who we have to tackle.

“We have to get off the ball because they are good up front. I really believe that it’s going to come down to the team that makes the least mistakes, because both teams are disciplined and fundamentally sound. Fundamentals are going to be the difference, not the big play. It’s going to be blocking and tackling for four quarters.”

Sophomore quarterback Curtis McGhee III has taken off late in the season as he comes into this weekend with 1,320 yards through the air and 19 touchdowns. His top targets include Bray Price, who has collected 552 yards and eight scores, along with Anthony Robbins’ 481 yards and eight touchdowns.

Dawson Wear reached 1,000 yards on the ground during a 42-14 semifinal rout of Summers County to spearhead the rushing attack.

“We just have a job to do,” Young said. “I’m awful proud and pleased that these kids have this opportunity to be rewarded for all their hard work.

“Playing the defending champions is a challenge in itself. They are the top dog right now and we’re the underdog. I understand that. They had another great season and that says a lot about their coaches, their program and their kids.”

Wheeling Central is 9-1 all-time in the state championship game, and Young is searching for his sixth state title since taking over the reigns in 2005.

“It is a remarkable run that they have had,” Mote said. “I have tremendous respect for Coach Mike Young and his program. It will be a very big challenge for us.”