OV Top 10 Games: 1996 — John Marshall puts finishing touches on dream season
GLEN DALE — John Marshall High School came to life in 1968, the consolidation of Sherrard, Benwood Union and Moundsville.
In the 51 years since, the pinnacle of the countless Monarchs athletics successes is still arguably JM’s 1996 state football championship, the lone such title in school annals.
Coach Mike Linsky’s squad defeated Capital, 29-22, at Wheeling Island Stadium on Dec. 7. The Cougars were the defending state champions.
The Monarchs’ championship season came on the heels of an 8-2 campaign a year prior. JM was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Cabell-Midland that season.
The Monarchs proceeded to roll to a 9-1 season, falling to rival Wheeling Park, 14-6, in their regular-season finale.
Mark Hinerman was Linsky’s QB/DB coach and trusted confidant. He also assumed the JM head coaching post after Linsky’s untimely death in the spring of 2006.
“We had a great feeling going into the season. We thought we could have a great year,” Hinerman said. “Wheeling Park was really good. They shut us down in the regular season.”
The postseason proved a far different story. JM did not have to leave Moundsville until the state finals.
The Monarchs opened the playoffs with a convincing 36-0 blasting of University. That set the stage for a rematch with Park. Linsky had his charges primed for the task, prevailing by a 24-10 count.
That propelled JM into the state semifinals and a rematch with North Marion. The second go-round went much like the first with the Monarchs punching their ticket to the Super Six via solid 27-18 triumph.
Capital’s path to Wheeling Island Stadium was an impressive one. The Cougars blasted all three foes: Nitro (56-20), Herbert Hoover, (50-20) and Morgantown (56-7).
“Mike was a great motivator and was great at adjusting to his personnel,” Hinerman said. “Mike ran the show. We had no offensive or defensive coordinators. But he let us coach our positions and he would listen to us.
“Bill Hinegardner was one of our assistants. He was a great man. Bill came up with the idea to go no-huddle against Capital. It was totally his idea. We used it on the first series, giving Capital no time to make defensive adjustments. We drove all the way down the field but missed a field goal. We never went back to it.”
Hinerman credits Linsky with two key strategic moves that help to bag the Cougars.
“Mike noticed on film that when teams kicked extra points that Capital would sell out and rush everyone. So he decided we would fake the kick and go for two. It worked perfectly on our first touchdown when our holder (and starting quarterback) Josh Rine passed to Scott (all-state tight end Pettit) for the two-point conversion.
“Then offensively we let Josh audible at the line. We read what the defense was giving us and Josh would call the play.”
Despite the new-look attack, JM found itself trailing 14-8 at halftime.
Capital used two TDs from star Ricky Sherrod to forge its edge at intermission. One came on a 33-yard run and the other a 59-yard punt return
“We didn’t make many adjustments at halftime. We basically stayed with our game plan,” Hinerman said. “It was a back-and-forth affair during the second half.”
JM moved on top in the third quarter on an 18-yard pass from Rine to Chris Butler. Jerry Drake’s PAT made it a 15-14 Monarchs advantage. The scoring drive was fueled by Butler’s spectacular leaping grab over the middle.
JM stretched the lead to 22-14 early in the fourth quarter on Josh Lohri’s 1-yard burst, followed by another Drake PAT. Lohri led all rushers with 92 yards on 21 carries and two TDs.
State champions don’t go away easily. Such was the case with Capital.
The Cougars knotted the affair at 22-22 on a 1-yard run by Kenny Brooks. Sherrod teamed with Brooks for the crucial two-point pass conversion.
With the outcome and state championship hanging in the balance, the Monarchs again exhibited their resolve and character when needed the most.
Kevin Snyder capped his brilliant senior campaign by breaking loose on a brilliant 52-yard game-winning TD run. The star tailback was hit in the backfield, broke free and outraced the Cougars secondary down a sideline to paydirt. Drake’s PAT made it a 29-22 issue and dropped the curtain on the game’s scoring.
“The players were not overly wild after the game. It was a business-like group of kids,” Hinerman said. “The parade was pretty neat. We weaved our way through the streets of Benwood and McMechen.”
Pettit, meanwhile, was not only a star on the prep level, he went on to a stellar grid career at Marshall. His football talent was matched by his character and leadership skills. So much so, Pettit delivered the eulogy at Linsky’s funeral.
Pettit was groomed for grid greatness. When Linsky took the JM job after leading DuVaul to two state titles, his new residence was only a few homes away from the Pettit household. Moreover, he became Linsky’s ball boy at an early age.
Pettit remembers that state championship game like it was yesterday.
“We always wait until 40 minutes before kickoff to take the field for warmups. Coach Hinerman held us at the door for an extra minute that day,” the former all-stater recalled. “We when took the field we heard this massive roar. We looked up and saw that the stadium was packed. It was amazing.
“We had so much support. We had people from all over the valley there rooting us on. I felt like I could fly. It was an intense setting.”
Pettit credits Linsky and Hinerman for changing the offense going into the game.
“We audibled about 90 percent at the line against Capital. We knew we could run against them. Lohri had a real good game and scored two TDs. I caught a screen pass early to get my blood flowing,” he said. “Capital was able to score on big plays. It was a back-and-forth affair.
“It was an incredible team effort. Chris Butler had a big catch, Chris Ward had a key interception, Eric Tucker made the interception to seal the game and Kevin made a great run for the winning touchdown. Defensively, we tackled as a team.”
While the game will be forever etched in Pettit’s memory, the post-game celebration will be forever locked in his heart.
“I can remember when time ran out Coach Linksy getting emotional and screaming. He and I were hugging. It was an emotional embrace,” Pettit said. “Coach Linsky said he loved me. Nothing in my life can compare with that game.”