Wheeling Miners show home crowd how it’s played

Photo by Gage Vota The Wheeling Miners and the Jersey Bearcats line up opposite from each other during a 42-32 Wheeling Miners victory inside WesBanco Arena on Friday.

WHEELING — The Wheeling Miners introduced themselves to their hometown faithful with a gun-slinging, high-scoring home opener Friday night against the Jersey Bearcats.

Quarterback Grant Russell hucked five touchdowns and the Miners aerial attack proved too much for the Bearcats in a 42-32 victory.

Previously topping the Steel City Stampede 58-0 in week one, the Miners are 2-0 after delivering a win in their inaugural game inside WesBanco Arena.

“I felt it was a decent turnout for our first home game, it was pretty exciting,” Miners head coach Josh Resignalo said. “It was a close game too- people don’t want to see a 100-0 game, so I was excited to be able to go out and play a good football game. There were some moments where it was tight. We just made a couple more plays than they did.”

“It was great support,” Russell said. “That’s all we can ask for every time we’re home. In this league especially, us having fans come out like they did tonight, it’s a real advantage. Their offense struggled at times just due to the noise. It was a lot of fun, coach did a great job, offense and defense did a great job, it was a good night.”

Russell finished with 231 yards, five touchdowns and one interception on a deep shot right before halftime. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound passer also rushed for a touchdown, a four-yard run with 44 seconds left in the game which effectively clinched the contest for Wheeling.

Russell, who played his college ball at Ohio Dominican where he was a conference Player of the Year, combined with Jeremiah Flores (three touchdowns, 115 yards) and Isaiah Robinson (two touchdowns, 56 yards) for a trio of monster outings.

“Receivers made a lot of good plays,” Russell said. “They weren’t always wide open, but they were able to go and make a play in traffic. Whenever you can rely on them to do that, it makes your life so easy as a quarterback.

“Offensive line did a great job- we hit a bit of a lull at one point, but we were able to score on I think the last three possessions of the game and seal it.”

Robinson is a former West Liberty Hilltopper, attending the school from 2017-2021, a period where he accumulated over 2,000 career receiving yards.

Russell played for the Columbus Destroyers of the Arena Football League in 2019, and is one of several players accustomed to arena football on the Miners.

“We have some great vets on the team, and we’ve been trying to lean on that, especially in close games against the previous season’s champion,” Russell said. “I’m proud of the way our team competed and I’m proud of the way we came out in the second half.”

Another who is familiar with arena football is Resignalo, who spent four years coaching with the Carolina Cobras of the National Arena League- and now is off to a great start along with his quarterback, who he’d had his eye on for a good while.

“Grant’s a solid quarterback,” Resignalo said. “I was glad to finally get the chance to coach him. He was supposed to play for me in 2020 and then COVID came and that opportunity went away. I was excited to get him here, it was pretty neat to get him involved and be a part of what we were doing.”

The Bearcats struck first with a 30-yard bomb to Bandon Renford on the game’s opening drive, but the Miners needed two plays to answer, Russell launching a pass on the run 30 yards to Flores, who held onto the ball through a big hit against the wall in the endzone.

Russell found Robinson for an 18-yard score halfway through the quarter, and Tyre Williams returned a blocked extra point attempt for two points to put Wheeling ahead 16-13 after one.

Robinson caught another touchdown from 10 yards out to keep the Miners ahead 23-20 at halftime.

The game remained close through the third quarter, Flores catching a touchdown for Wheeling and Nas Adams rushing into the end zone for Jersey- though the Miners stuffed the ensuing two-point fake. Wheeling led 30-26 going into the fourth quarter.

Flores saved his most impressive of three touchdown catches for last, fully extending for a 24-yard leaping grab with a defender breathing down his neck. Wheeling extended their lead to 10, 36-26, with 10:30 to play.

Renford reeled in another 30-yard touchdown grab to keep Jersey within striking distance, but needing a score to seal it, Russell rushed in a four-yard score on fourth-and-goal to keep the lead at 10, 42-32.

“He’s a solid guy, he can run the ball if need be, and he’s a true quarterback,” Resignalo said of Russell. “He can sling it, and he makes everybody around him better.”

A strip-sack by Isaiah Lewis, a Wheeling University alum, gave the ball back to Wheeling for them to salt away the final seconds.

“We’ve got some things to clean up offensively up-front for sure,” Resignalo said. “A lot of things to dive into the film about, and a lot of things to coach up for next week.”

The Miners next face the Maryland Eagles on April 27 before returning to WesBanco Arena on May 4 for a game against the Maryland Warriors.


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