St. Marys unable to overcome Wheeling Central
WHEELING –Two comebacks in one game proved too much to ask of defending state champion St. Marys Saturday night in the Class A state title game.
The Blue Devils trailed by 14 early and 12 late in a 40-21 loss to Wheeling Central. Two fumbled snaps inside the 5-yard line on two drives that led to no points also hurt the comeback effort.
“This team, they have just been fighting all year long,” said St. Marys’ head coach Jodi Mote of falling behind twice. “That is a great thing about them, they always fought. But it just proved too much to overcome when we got behind. We just couldn’t get it down.”
“Especially when you have two great teams and you have an opportunity to put points on the board you have to score.”
Mote’s team was able to recover after falling behind 21-7 on Bray Price’s 72-yard run with 7:41 left in the second, however Price’s 58-yard interception return for a score two-and-a-half minutes into the second half proved the breaking point with the score at 33-21.
Dylan Gray pulled in a 62-yard pass from Eric Illar not one minute after Price’s big run to bring St. Marys within 21-14 after a Robbie Gonzalez extra-point attempt.
Gray’s scoring grab was one of his five catches for 103 yards, while Illar’s completion was one of 7 for a career-high 206 stripes through the air.
Then Dalton Houser picked off a Curtis McGhee III pass on 3rd-and-16 to set up the Blue Devils at the Maroon Knights’ 42. Jaiden Smith gained two yards on first down, before he busted out for 40 stripes the next play for a trip into the end zone to knot things up with 3:03 left in the half.
“We just had to settle in and stay the course,” said Young, when asked what he told his team at halftime after St. Marys evened the scoreboard. “We had to put more points on the board then they did and play better defense. Smith is a heck of a back and we were able to curtail him somewhat. Hats off to him and his heart and soul in the game and the other kids played tough for St. Marys.”
Overall, Smith finished his career with 130 yards on 20 carries.
Outside of two big runs, Wheeling Central did a commendable job of slowing down the St. Marys’ All-West Virginia running back. Smith got St. Marys on the board first when he hit a hole in the middle of the game from 41-yards out with just 22 ticks gone from the clock.
Central linebacker Adam Murray was particularly effective against Smith. The sophomore finished with 14 tackles and 1.5 for a loss and often met Smith one-on-one at a hole.
“They do a tremendous job at St. Marys,” said Mike Young. “They were the defending state champs for a reason and we were fortunate enough to have two goal line stands and stop them from getting in, which could have been huge momentum builders.”
The loss marked the final game for twelve Blue Devil seniors, who made three trips to the state title game in four years.