WHEELING - It's a call that will talked about for several weeks - if not years - in Harrison County.
Locked in a defensive struggle all night long, but trailing 7-0, the Harrison Central Huskies scored their first touchdown of the 2013 season, and game, with 53 seconds remaining in regulation against Wheeling Central at muggy Wheeling Island Stadium during the fifth annual McDonald's OVAC Kickoff Night.
Without a second thought, Huskies' head coach Justin Kropka decided that his youthful squad had played too well to settle for some sort of moral victory.
T-L Photos/MIKE PALMER
HARRISON CENTRAL running back Travis Stenson runs through the middle of the Wheeling Central defense during the first half of Thursday’s McDonald’s OVAC Kickoff Night game at Wheeling Island Stadium. The Huskies dropped a 7-6 decision.?Additional images may be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
HARRISON’S Nate Olmstead appears to break the plane of the end zone for the two-point conversion, which would have given Harrison?Central an 8-7 lead, but the officials ruled him down, denying the try for two.
"I never even thought about not going for the win," Kropka confessed. "Despite what people thought, we didn't come down here looking to just play them tough or get a moral victory. We weren't going to let Wheeling Central just roll out the red carpet."
After watching senior quarterback David Miser hook up with classmate Nate Olmstead on a brilliantly executed slant route from 11 yards out to pull within a point, the wheels began turning on both sidelines as to what the next step might be.
Again, there was never a doubt from Kropka what he was going to do in terms of his play call.
He lined Miser up on the outside at receiver and put Olmstead in the shotgun at quarterback.
"That's our go-to-play and we wanted the ball in our best player's hands with three yards to go with him having an option," Kropka said.
Olmstead took the snap and raced toward the right pylon and as he approached the goal line, two Maroon Knight defenders closed quickly, but the shifty Olmstead was still able to get almost to the plane, but the official ruled he'd been stopped short of the line.
"In the heat of the moment, I am not going to pass judgment on anyone, but (the play) looked awful good to me," Kropka admitted. "The official has the better angle, but I'll let the film tell the tale."
The Huskies' attempt at an onside kick nearly worked, but freshman Isaac Rine, who is the son of Knights' offensive coordinator Jason Rine, pounced on the loose ball. Without a timeout, the Knights (1-0) were able to kneel twice and escape with the 7-6 victory.
"There were no losers tonight," Kropka said. "There were the victors and the vanquish, and I am not so sure which team was the winner and the loser. Again, the film will tell the tale."
Wheeling Central head coach Mike Young didn't pull any punches about his team following the game.
"We were fortunate, but resilient," Young said. "Our kids could have died and quit. We had our backs to the wall and it says a lot about the character of these kids. Harrison Central has a very fine football team and Coach Kropka had those kids ready to play tonight."
Harrison Central (0-1) had completely stymied the Wheeling Central offense because of its physicality at the line of scrimmage. Senior quarterback Parker Henry, who was playing his first live game since his sophomore season, was harassed and bothered seemingly every play by the Huskies.
It wasn't until there was 6:13 to play in the contest that the Knights were able to find paydirt.
After Central senior Joey John picked off a Miser pass with just under 10 minutes showing, the Knights went to work on their own 42.
It looked as if the Huskies had forced a three-and-out, but Young rolled the dice himself and went for it on fourth down.
"You have to some guts sometimes," Young said. "We were thinking it about it earlier. That was my call, I made it and that's why I get paid the big bucks. It was something we felt we could do and it was just a huge play."
Henry, who hadn't completed a pass all evening, found senior C.J. Burch all alone in the middle of the field for 22 yards and a first down.
"We made a mental error on the fourth down play," Kropka said. "We let (Burch) slip behind us or we would have shut them out. Kudos to Central for making the play when they had to. When you're in close games, with young kids playing, they're going to make some mental mistakes, but, for the most part, I thought we were sound all night."
Burch wasn't going to be denied from there. On another fourth-and-short, Burch went 12 more yards and then capped the drive on the next play from 9 yards out.
"C.J. wasn't going to be denied that end zone," Young said.
The all-important extra-point barely slipped over the cross bar and inside the upright off the foot of sophomore Alex Calvert.
The Huskies outgained the Knights, 210-194. Travis Stenson showed some flashes as a tailback with 73 yards on 11 carries. Miser, who hadn't started a game at quarterback since his sophomore season, finished 9-of-22 for 86 yards. Olmstead caught three balls for 41 yards.
Harrison Central's defense posted six sacks in the game. Sophomore Bryson Porter had 2.5 of those and 10 tackles. Stenson had 1.5 sacks. Cole Howes and Casey Runevitch also had one sack each.
The Huskies will remain on the road next week when they trek to Weir High Friday night, trying to rebound.
"You're not a real good coach or you're in the wrong profession if you don't take defeats and take something from each of them, especially the ones that hurt," Kropka said. "The ones that hurt are the ones that stick. We'll see. We're going to be up and down."
Wheeling Central will try to make it two straight when it hosts Westinghouse, Pa. a week from tonight.