Wheeling Central will celebrate its first WVSSAC title
WHEELING – The year was 1979.
Jimmy Carter was in the White House. The Pittsburgh Steelers were Super Bowl champions and the Pittsburgh Pirates were World Series kingpins. The price of gasoline was 88 cents a gallon.
It also was the year that Wheeling Central won its first WVSSAC state football championship. The Maroon Knights turned the trick by defeating Buffalo-Wayne, 39-21, at Charleston’s Laidley Field in the Class AA finale.
It capped a 12-1 season for Coach Jim Thomas’s Maroon charges. Central defeated Big Creek, 31-0, in the semifinals after ousting Poca, 28-25, in the opening round.
The lone blemish that season for the OVAC 3A champion Knights was a tough 16-12 road setback to Brooke.
The 40th anniversary of that historic grid season has spawned a special celebration this coming fall. The 1979 state champions will be feted when the Maroon Knights play host to Washington, D.C.-based Paul Prep on Oct. 26.
A tent tailgate will be staged prior to the 6 p.m. kickoff. Team members and coaches will be introduced at halftime while a post-game social will conclude the festivities.
“This is a great opportunity to recognize and honor a great achievement by a special team,” current Wheeling Central head coach Mike Young said. “This team made history 40 years ago and help lay the foundation for all the football success we have achieved since, winning 10 more state football championships since 2000.
“That 1979 team had many great players who went on to be pillars in the community and a tremendous coaching staff,” added Young, who has guided Central to seven state crowns, including the last two seasons. “It promises to be a truly special celebration on Oct. 26.”
Tommy Thomas was the quarterback of the 1979 title team. He also had a unique relationship with the head coach, that being his brother.
“Going into the season we knew we had a veteran group but didn’t know how special a season it would be. We had a schedule with seven 4A teams on it. So we knew it would be challenging but we knew we could compete,” Thomas said. “Once we got rolling the momentum just kept building and we began to realize we could do something special. We didn’t have a lot of blowouts but we found ways to win and our brotherhood kept growing.
“The Poca playoff game could have been the state title game. We had to drive the length of the field in the final five minutes to win it. We converted a third-and-31 and a fourth-and 10 on that drive. It was very nerve-wracking,” said the Wheeling Central Hall of Famer. “When we won the state championship game it was just a great moment, doing something we never experienced before. Forty years later it is still special and seems like yesterday. It was unique playing for my brother. We had a special relationship. He didn’t treat me any different than the other players and I had the same respect for him as my teammates did.”
John Triveri is currently the Shadyside High athletic director. He was also a starting two-way 210-pound tackle on that 1979 Maroon Knight title team. He remembers that season like it was yesterday.
“We were a senior-dominated team. Most of our starters were seniors. We worked out and lifted weights in the summer when summer workouts were very disorganized,” Triveri said. “We were a very committed group, working for the common goal. We had a lot of pride in ourselves and our school. Coach Thomas was a great motivator and a great coach. He pushed us hard and we responded.
“Poca was really good. We knew they would be a big test. In the state title game with Buffalo Wayne it was tied 21-21 at halftime. We just took over in the second half. They and us went back and forth No. 1 and No. 2 all year, so we felt it would come down to us two,” he added. “Central has won a lot of state titles since but we always felt that the 1979 one was the most special since it is the first in the WVSSAC. We (team members) still all communicate together even though many have moved away. It will be great to have us all back together after 40 years.”
The Maroon Knights’ 1979 season played out as follows: beat Wheeling Park, 10-0; beat Oak Glen, 24-6; beat North Marion, 14-7; beat Weir, 9-6; lost to Brooke, 16-12; beat Magnolia, 30-14; beat St. Clairsville, 35-6; beat John Marshall, 21-20; beat Linsly, 14-7; beat Wellsville, 17-7; Playoffs: beat Poca, 28-25; beat Big Creek, 31-0; beat Buffalo Wayne, 39-21.
Central’s 1979 roster was this: Jim Wodusky, Pat Weidman, Tom Thomas, Doug Wojcik, Craig Gruber, Mark Schuetz, Matt Hamm, Kirk Collins, Tim Young, Alan Sonnefeld, Dave McDaniel, Sam Swann, Pat Leinweber, Greg Kloeppner, Casey McCallsiter, Lee Bischof, Eric Osterman, Ron Bence, Roger High, Rich Kelly, Brian Beaver, Jeff Contraguerro, Brian Sorge, Mark West, Bruce Kirby, Pat Fiorilli, Tony Fiorilli, Mike Becker, Bob Schneid, Barry Killeen, Duane Mayles, Rich Payne, Tom Rigas, Scott Watkins, Roy Bauer, Jeff Stanton, Greg Hamm, Paul Pomaranski, John Triveri, Dennis Seamon, Mike Kelly, Rick Peluchette, Mike Rose, Chris Naum, Dave Evans, Kip Miller and Karl Schneider.
A host of Maroon Knights deservedly pocketed post-season honors.
Matt Hamm, Triveri, Osterman, Thomas, Kloeppner were all first-team all-state selections. Triveri, Kloeppner, Osterman and Thomas, meanwhile, were first-team All-Valley Big School honorees.
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