Yellowjackets embrace underdog role
WILLIAMSTOWN — After Wheeling Central won last year’s Class A state title game against St. Marys, 40-21, the Maroon Knights already were pegged as mortal locks for a repeat crown.
Following a 9-1 regular season, which earned head coach Mike Young’s club the No. 1 seed, the Maroon Knights rolled through their first three playoff opponents and advanced to the 7 p.m. state title game set for Saturday at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Williamstown and veteran head man Terry Smith were blanked 33-0 by Central in this year’s season opener, but the Yellowjackets continued to improve on a weekly basis. By the time the regular season concluded, WHS had an 8-2 record and earned the No. 6 seed.
After an opening round 27-12 home triumph versus Summers County, the ‘Jackets went on the road and ended Mount View’s season, 23-12, before dismantling previously unbeaten Midland Trail, 56-8, in the state semifinals.
Coach Young’s club not only had four first team all-staters returning for this year’s campaign, but the Maroon Knights also had second team selections in dual-threat quarterback Curtis McGhee III and the always dangerous Bray Price.
All McGhee has done this year as a junior is compile 2,853 total yards with 711 coming on the ground with 10 rushing scores. Through the air, he’s 122 of 184 for 2,142 yards with 31 touchdowns and four interceptions. Price, who has eight rushing scores, is second on the team in ground yards with 596. Price (50-866-12) and teammate Anthony Robbins (40-871-12) are also lethal receivers with nearly identical stat lines.
“We didn’t communicate real well in general and we made some mistakes,” Smith said of the season-opening setback. “If we kind of correct those mistakes I’m not sure we’d win anyway, but I think we could’ve played a bit better if we had. We are going to have to play mistake-free football and hopefully they make a few and help us out. You’ve got to play and we got to tackle. The old cliche is make them take one more snap and that’s so true in high school.
“The main thing is we don’t want to give up, and I’ve said it before, give them easy plays. A one play drive for a touchdown or have some guy go for 50, 60, 70 yards. A lot of teams, even for a team as gifted as Wheeling Central — it’s hard for a high school team; believe me I know this isn’t a typical high school team — it’s hard for anybody really, and again you are applying it to the state champions, but it’s difficult for a high school team to put a drive together.”
With rain in the forecast for Saturday, turnovers could play a factor in the outcome.
Obviously, the Yellowjacket defense is going to be tested early and often and must defend the entire field. Eric Brown leads WHS with 134 total stops.
Offensively for coach Smith’s squad, fans can expect a new wrinkle or two most likely, but for the most part Williamstown is going to stick with what’s worked this year.
The offensive line will need to open holes for Donathan Taylor, who has 23 total touchdowns. On the ground, the junior has scored 19 times and averages 6.8 yards per carry having rushed 210 times for 1,445 stripes.
Quarterback Carter Haynes is second on the team with 901 rushing yards. He averages 6.3 ypc and has eight rushing scores. Fullback Ty Moore also must be accounted for by Central as he’s found paydirt a dozen times and has rushed for 703 yards with a 6.2 ypc average.
Brown (40-650-8), Mason Deem (17-281-3), Taylor (14-266-3) and tight end Nick Bondi (17-204-5) have been Haynes’ top targets in the passing game.
“We just try to look more so at the little details and where their guys line up in certain situations and where they are at on the field and the quarterback motions and what he’s doing,” Haynes said of preparing for round two versus Central.
“Price and McGhee are both superior athletes. You always have to know where they are on the field, especially Price because he can be down the field in a matter of seconds.”
Despite carrying the underdog tag and having few around the Mountain State believing anyone but Central is going to be crowned state champs, Williamstown has continued to practice hard this week and is excited for the chance.
“I don’t know if we can control the ball, but if we can get a few first downs and keep them from scoring maybe we can slow them down. That could really help,” coach Smith added. “They (the team) need to enjoy everything. They don’t need to get all worried about the different things, just go play. Go play as hard as you can and let the chips fall where they may.
“Enjoy being at a state championship and that atmosphere. You’re one of the best and competing against one of the best. We’re just trying to say let’s be in the game for as long as we can and if it gets to the fourth quarter hopefully we’ll be there and see what we can do. It’s not any secret, just try to stay in the game. Everybody is well aware of that.”