photo: Nick Henthorn
WHEELING – The playoffs begin this weekend in West Virginia, and for the Class AAA 11th-ranked Wheeling Park Patriots, that means a four-hour drive to the Eastern Panhandle to take on No. 6 Jefferson.
While watching the Cougars (8-2), Wheeling Park (7-2) 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,” Daugherty said. “They’re athletic, they’ve got some kids who can run, they can throw the ball, but they can also run, both backs are very good. I think it’s going to be a mirror image of each other offensively and we’re going to be very similar defensively very honestly. A lot of guys get up in the 3-4 scheme. We are similar to each other, we are built in the same way, we try to do the same things in opposing defenses and attacks, so it will be an interesting match.”
Rodrigo Delgado and Tay’Shaun Roper form a talented linebacking duo for Jefferson, while Keyshawn Robinson could have a big game at any time as a receiver or punt returner, recording a 63-yard punt return and a 65-yard punt return. last week against Clarksburg (Md.) in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
Driving all those weapons will be junior quarterback Dylan Harich, who is also a threat with his feet.
“This team is explosive, and to win against our defense, they’re going to have to limit explosive plays, run them down the field and play consistent football,” Daugherty said of Jefferson.
Park linebackers Jameson Maynard (74 tackles) and Zac Lydick (48 tackles, five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), safety Jared Marsh (52 tackles, five interceptions), defensive lineman Derek Croghan (46 tackles, four tackles) Park’s defense in a loss) and many others have only surrendered more than 17 points once this season. They will have to continue to perform in the postseason for the Patriots.
“It’s always tough for high school teams, and I think our defense has done a really good job of that all year, taking away explosive plays and forcing people to make 13, 14, 15 solid plays to drive and score,” Daugherty said. “Hopefully they’ll keep it going, but Jefferson has kids who can shoot threes. We’re going to have to limit that as much as possible.”
As for Park’s own offense, junior quarterback Aiden Davis has 2,238 yards, 28 and just one interception, while Mykel Davis (761 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns) and Keohn Stephens Jr. (732 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns) as good a receiving combination as any duo. Sophomore running back Amare Johnson finished the regular season with 902 yards and 12 touchdowns, 214 receiving yards and one touchdown catch.
During the regular season, Wheeling Park played against Steubenville, St. Tested against teams like Clairsville and Morgantown. The playoffs will bring a new challenge every week, starting with the Panthers’ long trek home.
“It’s a business trip,” Daugherty said. “This is not a fun trip. When we wake up that day, we must be businesslike from start to finish. All year we’ve done a really good job of playing on the road in hostile environments. What we don’t do is drive four hours to do it. So we’ll figure out how to handle that Friday, but I think that’s an important piece.
“We played Musselman last year, beat Musselman in the regular season, then had to come back in the playoffs and lost the game. I think our kids clearly remember that and they understand that nothing is taken for granted in the playoffs. “The journey is important and we have to manage it well.”