MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – University looked like they had No. 8 Wheeling Park on their heels Friday night on Bakers Ridge, and to a point they did. Yet, while the stat lines will show both team’s quarterbacks had three touchdowns and nearly 200 yards apiece, don’t be fooled – the true battle was fought on the ground.
Enter UHS running back Eliki Barner who picked up 181 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Over the last three weeks, the senior has consistently built upon the week prior and coach John Kelley sees a lot of room for Barner to grow, even if the season is shorter than they both wanted.
“We didn’t get a real good running game in the first game of the year and then it got a little better [against Jefferson] but tonight he was phenomenal and a major factor,” Kelley said. “We read what they were doing: If they put a bunch of people out on our receivers we were going to run the ball. It was big, real big.”
Kelley was also high on his offensive line, a group that’s improved leagues from last season. He credited them in the solid running game, too.
But Wheeling Park had a running threat of their own – Steven Mitchell. After dominating Morgantown High across town last Friday, Mitchell chipped away at the Hawks’ defense en route to a 41-28 win. In 31 carries, he topped his Week 6 performance with 210 yards and two scores.
And he made his presence known early, starting Park’s first drive with a 40-yard dash up the middle of the field. That would set up quarterback Beau Heller three plays later to hit Torrence Walker in stride for a 33-yard touchdown.
That drive was a stark contrast to the Hawks’ (1-2) first drive who had a quick three-and-out, and their second drive would end worse – with an interception by Nathan Shelek, his fifth of the season. While Shelek put the Patriots (6-1) in easy scoring distance, they were unable to convert the turnover into a touchdown and instead opted for a field goal. A good kick by Andrew Glass put the Patriots up 10-0.
That’s when things began clicking for UHS, sparked by a major kick return by Daminn Cunningham, shedding tackles and getting tackled at Park’s 26-yard line. On the first play of the drive, it looked as if quarterback Chase Edwards connected with a receiver for a quick score, but the back judge thought otherwise – a call that would set a tone for the rest of the game for the officiating crew. But, ultimately, that didn’t matter because four plays later Edwards hit TT Brooks with a quick bullet for the Hawks’ first points. Shortly after that, Barner picked up his lone score, a 28-yard run up the gut in the opening seconds of the second quarter. And after forcing a fumble on the ensuing kick return, the Hawks recovered the ball and Edwards hit Brooks a few minutes later for another touchdown, a 23 yarder on a late pass down the right sideline.
A few minutes later, Park worked its way down the field and Heller handed the ball off to Mitchell who, after shedding a tackle hurdled two players for a score. This was another officiating tone-setter, as, according to Kelley, hurdling is not allowed in West Virginia football games. Still, a flag was not thrown and Mitchell was credited for the score. Kelley and his staff plan to review the play to see if it meets the criteria to not be considered a penalty.
Three turnovers later, Mitchell picked up his second score – a 12-yard run to help Park retake the lead, 24-21.
The second half was a much different ball game. According to Park coach Chris Daugherty, the Patriots “got out of their own way” and shut out UHS through nearly the remaining two quarters except for a score under the 2-minute mark.
“I see a team that’s got to get better. There are spurts where we look fantastic and moments where we look terrible,” Daugherty said. “We have not played a complete game. We have time to get that done, but we’ve got to start playing a complete game.
The Patriots tacked on 17 more points – a field goal by Glass and two connections from Heller to Shaheed Jackson – to seal the game away and remain perfect through six games. Daugherty, too, was excited about his running back.
“The way he runs is so balanced,” Daugherty said. “He’s patient and the next run, he puts his head down and runs hard. His vision is really good, he’s a lot stronger and tougher than people know, he’s just got so many weapons. Last year he was our slot and was good for 600-700 yards. He’s just a very balanced football player and is having a wonderful season.”
But with a loss to a top-10 team behind him, Kelley is looking toward the rest of the year. He knows the last two weeks aren’ indicative of what his team is and is excited to host Preston in a week.
He also didn’t mince his words about the Knights, who just lost on the road to Washington, their triple-option offense and quick-footed QB Frankie Amore, 35-8.
“I’ve looked forward to this game for the entire year since what happened to us when we went up there last year, and they better come in here prepared because we’re going to have every gun and every bit of everything we do ready for this. We were robbed up there, and we’re looking to prepare well and maybe some payback.”
Joey McBee possibly out for the season
Senior Joey McBee was injured in the second quarter after planting his foot wrong on a punt fake.
McBee was immediately put on crutches, and Kelley noted that he could be out for the year.
“It puts a split down my heart,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. It’s devastating.”
Wheeling Park — 10 14 10 7 – 41
University — 7 14 0 7 – 28
WP — Heller to Walker 33 pass (Glass kick)
WP — Glass 31 field goal
UHS — Edwards to Brooks 3 pass (Coleman kick)
UHS — Barner 27 run (Coleman kick)
UHS — Edwards to Brooks 23 pass (Coleman kick)
WP — Mitchell 8 run (Glass kick)
WP — Mitchell 12 run (Glass kick)
WP — Glass 24 field goal
WP — Heller to Jackson 52 pass (Glass kick)
WP — Heller to Jackson 15 pass (Glass kick)
UHS — Edwards to Clawges 55 pass (Coleman kick)
WP — Mitchell 31-210 2TD; Heller 4-1; Jackson 2-12; Mundy 2-2; Phillips 2-6. Totals: 41-231 2TD.
UHS — Barner 28-181 TD; Edwards 3-(-3); C. McBee 1-2; J. McBee 1-(-4); Brooks 1-0. Totals: 34-176 TD.
WP — Heller 14-22 194 3TD.
UHS — Edwards 16-33-2 185 3TD.
WP — Walker 3-47 TD; Mitchell 1-5; Nomack 3-31; Diehl 1-7; Sinclair 2-18; Jackson 4-86 2TD.
UHS — Brooks 6-59 2TD; Burton 2-10; Clawges 2-57 TD; Hammack 6-51; J. McBee 1-11.