MORGANTOWN - After a scoreless first half, Morgantown opened the third quarter with a 17-play, 83-yard touchdown drive, then took advantage of three Wheeling Park turnovers on the way to defeating the Patriots 28-7 on Friday night before a large crowd at Pony Lewis Field.
The victory in what was considered a critical game to both teams' hopes of securing a West Virginia Class AAA playoff berth, improved the Mohigans record to 4-2 while Park stands at 3-3 and possibly needing to sweep its remaining games to stay in the hunt for a postseason berth.
However, Morgantown coach John Bowers sees things differently, at least where Park is concerned.
Wheeling Park’s Eric Banks (30) carries the ball during the first quarter of Friday night’s game.
Photo by Bob Gay/The Dominion Post
''I fully expect both these teams to be practicing on Thanksgiving Day and looking forward to a playoff game that weekend,'' he said. ''This was a tough, hard-hitting game. Give the kids on both sides a lot of credit.
''These are two excellent football teams.''
The Mohigans' success at controlling the football all night long had a lot to do with wearing down an undersized Patriots defensive line. Park had the ball for five snaps in the third quarter, managing one first down.
Wheeling Park Coach Chris Daugherty agreed that Morgantown's opening second-half drive that consumed 8 minutes and 29 seconds took a lot out of the visitors.
''They are so huge and we are very small,'' Daugherty said. ''We were outweighed 50 to 60 pounds a man. It was just so tough trying to stop them all night.
''I couldn't be prouder of the way our offensive and defensive lines battled the whole game. You can't put this loss on our defense. We made too many mistakes on offense.
''I still think we have a playoff team. But if we are going to do anything the rest of the season, we have to learn to take care of the football.''
The Patriots thought they were in good shape leaving the field at halftime in a scoreless deadlock after the Mohigans had possibly cost themselves two touchdowns with major penalties. A 37-yard touchdown pass was wiped off the board by a holding infraction in the second quarter and later in the half, Morgantown blew another scoring opportunity inside the Park 10 with a dead-ball personal foul penalty. This drive ended on a missed 24-yard field goal attempt by Kevin Minehart.
''I think they went off the field thinking they were winning the game and we felt like we were losing,'' Bowers said. ''In the second half we kind of regrouped and started running the ball down the boundaries. We found some running room to the left and we were able to take advantage of what they were giving us.''
During their initial touchdown drive, the Mohigans converted three times on third down and once on fourth down. The fourth-and-6 play from the Park 32 saw quarterback Mark Johnson connect on the right sideline for a 7-yard pickup with wide receiver Blaine Stewart, son of former West Virginia University football coach Bill Stewart.
It was one of two catches on the night for Stewart, who snagged the only completions by Johnson in the game. Stewart also had a big play in the opening half when he downed a punt after diving for the ball at the Patriots 1.
Jalen Thomas, the eighth Morgantown running back to carry the football during the evening, rambled for 104 yards on 13 carries. Most of his rushing attempts came during the second half. He had three rushes of more than 10 yards in the go-ahead drive, including a 13-yard burst to the 1, which was followed by Johnson's QB sneak for the touchdown. A high snap resulted in a pass attempt for the conversion but the ball fell incomplete in the end zone, leaving the Morgantown lead at 6-0 with 3:31 left in quarter No. 3.
Early in the final quarter, Lee Peluchette's pass over the middle wound up in the arms of Morgantown's Alex Weidman at the Park 24, and his 6-yard return to the 18 put the Mohigans back in the red zone. On the next snap, Tim Prince took a quick pitch and broke it all the way to the end zone. Johnson then passed to Minehart for the 2-point conversion and a 14-0 lead with10:43 to play.
The Patriots bounced back with their only score, driving 57 yards and also converting one fourth-down attempt with Peluchette hitting the speedy Bryce Ingram on a crossing pattern for 13 yards to the Morgantown 4. Ingram than ran a counter to the right side for the touchdown, getting the Patriots to within 14-7.