WHEELING - Whether it's the season or an individual game, it's not about how you start, but moreso about how you finish.
The St. Clairsville Red Devils kicked off what they hope could be one of the most memorable seasons in school history, using an impressive and suffocating second half en route to a convincing 47-27 victory against Wheeling Park Thursday night in the third annual McDonald's OVAC Kickoff Night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
"I think we came down here a little tight, but I don't know how you can keep 16 and 17 year old kids from being that way with what's on their shoulders," said St. C. head coach Brett McLean.
ST. CLAIRSVILLE’S Jaylon Brown wraps up the ball as Wheeling Park’s Josh Dent jumps on his back for a tackle. Brown ran for 149 yards and scored five touchdowns as the Red Devils posted a 47-27 victory Thursday in the McDonald’s OVAC Kickoff Night.
ST. CLAIRSVILLE’S Michael Ferns goes into the end zone for his second touchdown of the night during Thursday’s game against Wheeling Park at Wheeling Island Stadium.
The Red Devils (1-0) went into the dressing room at halftime staring at a 13-12 deficit after the Patriots (0-1) pushed them all over the field with a solid ground game and more specifically junior tailback Bryce Ingram and junior Geremy Paige, who combined for 167 rushing yards. Ingram scored on a 10-yard scamper and junior quarterback Zach Phillips found classmate Eric Banks from 9 yards out.
However, the momentum switched sides at halftime.
"Give Park credit early because we knew they had power and backs who run hard," McLean said. "We really relaxed in the second half, the kids listened to us at halftime and I thought our coaching staff did a wonderful job of adjusting. We made some minor adjustments in the middle, which made a world of difference, and we tackled better."
After defering to the second half, the Red Devils got the ball to begin the third quarter and started utilizing all of their weapons.
Senior quarterback Matt Kinnick completed four consecutive passes during the opening drive of the second half, spliting them between Boston College verbal Dan Monteroso and senior Jerrid Marhefka for 35 and 27 yards, respectively.
"Our maturity showed on that first drive of the second half," McLean said. "We had a second-and-long and we could have gone in the tank, but we converted and turned it into a march. We told the kids that no matter how you win or what the score is, let's just win and go after it."
In the red zone, however, it was all Jaylon Brown. The junior, who is known for his blazing speed, capped the 8-play march with an 8-yard run. He then caught the pass for the two-point conversion, making it 20-13. Brown scored from 7 yards out in the first quarter.
St. Clairsville's defense forced its first three-and-out and because of "miscommunication" the Patriots made a futile attempt at a fake punt from their own 27.
"That was a case of having young kids on the field," said Wheeling Park head coach Chris Daugherty. "I thought we hung in well in the first half, but St. Clairsville has an offense that will make you pay for mistakes. This is a tough opener and a tough team to choose for the first fight of the year. I think we're a good team, and we'll be just fine."
The Red Devils extended the margin to two scores four plays later when Brown waltzed into the end zone from 2 yards out. Zach Musilli was perfect on the PAT kick.
Another three-and-out by the Patriots led to another Red Devils' touchdown. A 12-play drive was capped when talented junior Michael Ferns scored for the second time on the night.
He tallied from 2 yards out. He scored the first touchdown of the season on a 17-yard pass from Kinnick. The future Michigan Wolverine carried two defenders into the end zone from the final 4 yards.
Facing desperation time, the Patriots went to the air and Brown stepped in front of a Phillips' pass and proceeded to race 38 yards untouched for his fourth score of the game. He added a 38-yard scampered on the next Red Devils' possession to cap their scoring.
"We've been working for this game all winter, so it feels great to get the first one," Brown said. "I couldn't have done anything without my line because it blocked great. They really drove off the ball. We were a little nervous early, but we got a good talking to at halftime and we just went out and played our game."
Brown scored the five touchdowns and also had 149 yards on 25 totes.
"We ran the ball hard and down hill, and I think we can build off of that," McLean said. "We've known Jaylon is capable of that, but it's been about him growing and maturing to the point where he can carry the ball that many times. He wants the role to get as many carries as he can. If he's healthy, we're going to feed him the ball. If I could put stilts in his shoes, there's going to be (college coaches) all over the country beating down our door to talk to him."
The Red Devils' offensive line of Cole Stephen, Corey Ernest, Joel Giffin, Tom Parker, Nick VanVoltenburg, Derek Shunk and Colby Lindsay drew high praise from McLean.
"When we can get the kind of play from our front people that we did tonight, we can build a lot of off that," McLean said. "It looks similar to our 2007 team in the kind of nastiness that we showed in the second half."
Kinnick finished 10-of-14 for 112 yards and a touchdown. Monteroso caught four balls for 37 yards. Marhefka made three receptions for 42 and Ferns had 32 receiving yards and 29 rushing.
St. Clairsville's defense was led by Ferns, Luke Smith, Jay Gossett, Stephen, Lindsey and Brown.
The Patriots were limited to just 37 yards of offense in the second half and Ingram gained nary a yard after his impressive first half.
"We faced some pressure coming down here, but we face pressure every year," McLean said. "We expect to win and win every year. I thought we handled it well for the most part."
St. Clairsville is on the road again next week when it treks to Wellsburg to take on Brooke one week from today. Wheeling Park, meanwhile, will look to rebound against Bridgeport, W.Va.
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