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Wheeling CC set for lengthy trip and stiff test in semis

With a berth in next weekend’s Super Six on the line, Wheeling Central will look to travel full circle Friday afternoon when Coach Mike Young takes his Maroon Knights (10-1) on a five-hour journey to the bottom of the state for a West Virginia Class A semifinal contest against unbeaten, No. 1 James Monroe (12-0) at 4 p.m. at the R.E. Comer Sports Complex.

Central, which is coming off an over three-hour trip to Point Pleasant in the quarterfinals, will be looking for its first trip back to Wheeling Island Stadium for the championship game since 2019. The Maroon Knights were crowned champions three consecutive seasons from 2017-19 last beating Doddridge County, 38-21 for the title.

James Monroe, on the other hand, has only advanced to the Super Six one time where the Mavericks dropped a 20-12 decision to Bluefield in the 2007 Class AA state title tilt.

“There are high expectations at Wheeling Central with the tradition we have had,” Young admitted. “We have been on the road again this year, and we have had success and failure in the past, but once again we are in the hunt.”

Wheeling Central dispatched an unbeaten, high-scoring Wahama team last week, racing to a big lead and never looking back in a 48-14 rout. Meanwhile, coach John Mustain’s Mavericks were busy picking up a repeat victory over Greenbrier West, 48-13.

“We got out of the gates quick with everything going our way right off the bat last week,” Young said. “Hopefully we can see that same thing happen this week.”

For that to happen the Maroon Knights will have to jump on a James Monroe team that has earned its way to the top-seed. While Wheeling Central has one of the most explosive offenses, and running games, in the state the Mavericks will bring a defense that is allowing an average of just six points a contest. While the Knights are averaging 45 points a game, having scored 495 for the season, while James Monroe has given up just 74 points in 12 games.

Like Central, the Mavericks are a run-first team, out of the wing-T, with a quarterback who has more than enough capabilities of throwing the football. Sophomore Layton Dowdy directs the offense and is coming off a seven of eight performance for 184 yards and three scores a week ago. Junior Cooper Ridgeway ran for 155 yards and three scores last week while Braydie Carr is a dual threat and ran for 101 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 62 yards and another score.

James Monroe also had a pair of receivers reach the end zone in Eli Allen (4-68-td) and Nicklas Pitzer (1-38-td).

“They are very big and aggressive, and they are the No. 1 seed for a reason,” Young added. “You are going to have to play good football to beat them. They have a good scheme on offense running the wing-T and an aggressive 4-5 defense.

“It’s going to be a battle to put up points because they really have the ability to stuff people.”

It was more of the same for Wheeling Central last week with senior do-it-all Lorenzo Ferrera leading the way. All Ferrera did was rush for 270 yards and five touchdowns with fellow running back Riley Watkins adding 86 yards and a score.

While Ferrera leads the way, he has combined with Watkins and Isaac Martin to average 276 rushing yards a game while hitting the end zone 44 times. Ferrera himself averages 136 yards on the ground, scoring 26 touchdowns, and 43 yards through the air, scoring eight more. The Maroon Knights racked up 389 yards on the ground a week ago while the defense allowed just 222.

When the Knights want to throw the football they lean on quarterback Payton Hildebrand, who has thrown 16 touchdown passes on the year, with his favorite wide receiver target being Braden Mcwreath, who has 21 receptions and three touchdowns. With Wheeling Central’s rushing attack leading the way against Wahama, Hildebrand was an efficient two of three for 43 yards a score.

“It will have been a long way to get there, but we are looking to get back to the Island,” Young said. “We have great support from our parents, administration and community. Wheeling Central is a family, and it always has been with all the love and support we receive.

“I also can’t say enough about our coaching staff. These guys spend a lot of time preparing for the other team and breaking everything down. These men have done a great job taking away what other teams want to do and getting us ready for what we need to be doing. This is all a real tribute to this staff and all the hours they put in. It really is a lot of hard work.”

The winner of Friday’s semifinal will take on the survivor of the other Friday night semifinal between Doddridge County and Williamstown next Saturday night at Wheeling Island Stadium for the Class A state championship.

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