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OHIO VALLEY’S TOP 10 FOOTBALL GAMES: Wheeling Park’s win over Capital for 2015 state crown won’t be forgotten

WHEELING — Athletic success and Wheeling Park are synonymous.

Park — the consolidation of Wheeling, Triadelphia and Warwood high schools — has been a major player on the local and state stage since its inception in 1976.

But the zenith of all that Patriot success may have come to fruition on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015 at Wheeling Island Stadium. That is the day Wheeling Park captured the WVSSAC Class AAA state football championship.

Coach Chris Daugherty’s well-drilled charges bested defending state champion Capital, 23-15, before an overflow crowd. That monumental victory capped a 12-1-1 season and remains the lone state football crown in the glorious Wheeling Park athletic annals.

Wheeling Park drew first blood as sophomore quarterback Cross Wilkinson connected with senior standout Elijah Bell on a 35-yard pass play with 7:34 left in the first quarter to grab a 7-0 lead.

Capital tied the game at 7-7 early in the second quarter when quarterback Tyrhee Pratt connected with Silas Nazario from 10 yards out.

The Patriots, however, regained the lead via a Chase Gheen 28-yard field to give them a 10-7 edge. The Patriots took a 17-7 advantage into halftime as Wilkinson teamed with speedy Jamez Coles on a 19-yard aerial connection.

Park used a big play by its special teams to stretch its lead to 23-7. On Capital’s opening second-half drive, the Patriots’ Chase Adams returned a blocked punt to the Capital six. Adams then scored from two yards out.

The Cougars, however, did not go quietly.

Pratt scored on an 8-yard run, cutting the deficit to 23-13, with 57 seconds left in the third quarter. The conversion run came up short.

With under two minutes remaining in the game, Capital blocked a Park punt out of the end zone for a safety, making it a 23-15 Patriots’ edge.

The Cougars took possession of the ensuing kickoff near midfield.

However, Park’s Tre Saunders sealed the deal for Daugherty’s crew by intercepting a pass in the end zone. It was his third pick of the day.

“To put it simply, it is a day I will never forget. It was an event that brought our entire school, community, city and Ohio Valley together, and for that I am forever grateful,” Wilkinson said. “It will humble me the rest of my life. It was the last time that a specific group of men, the purest of brotherhood I have been a part of, was ever together sharing lockers and a sideline. We knew such, and with the tremendous outside support, we played for each other and did not let measurables stand in our way.

“To this day, I still get chills recollecting and thinking on what a special group of men we had. We will forever be connected, and that is something I will always cherish. That December morning was the conclusion of a unique, long journey, where we all held the rope through tragedies and triumphs.”

Wilkinson completed 8 of 12 passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Despite his youth, he displayed with the poise and savvy of a battle-tested veteran.

Bell, meanwhile, hauled in four passes for 72 yards despite facing double coverage most of the afternoon. He was later named the Randy Moss Award recipient, going to the top prep receiver in the state.

“Growing up, my teammates and I always talked about being a state champ every year. I think we were the best team in the state my sophomore and junior years but we were plagued by some unfortunate injuries,” Bell said. “But going into my senior year, we were confident, and made it happen with a great group of seniors to lead and great coaches.

“The game felt like the Super Bowl, being able to play for the school’s first football championship at home and in front of 10,000 fans. It felt like destiny, and we made sure to take advantage of the moment that was presented to us at the time.

“It was the best feeling in my life to make an entire city and teammates and players before us proud,” added the current North Carolina A&T star. “If I could, I would go back and do it over again 100 times. TWBAI for life.”

Daugherty, meanwhile, accomplished what no other Wheeling Park football coach could do in the 38 previous years of Patriot football. It was a monumental achievement, one that will forever cast the affable coach in historic status.

“The day was just perfect. I remember it being a beautiful, sunny day. But for me, the whole year was amazing. I’ve never had a group of kids care for each other and care about a season the way they did. They were the tightest group of kids I’ve ever coached,” Daugherty said. “There were a lot of battles for many of those players and off-the-field adversities that our team dealt with, but, as a Christian man, it was amazing to watch something bigger than football working amongst us. Each situation brought us all a little bit closer. I’m not sure we had the best coaches and players in the state, but, in 2015, we had the best team.

“We used 47 kids in the state championship game, and this is something I’m proud of. Each one of them cared about their role. There are a million memories that I have about the season, but the one that will stand out will always be how our past, present, and future Wheeling Park family and our city came together for that special day. Personally, I was overwhelmed by the amount of past players who came and stayed to reflect and talk about the game. That win was not about any single coach or player but more about all of the coaches and all of the players that have ever played at Wheeling Park.”

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