East Hardy hardest test for St. Marys yet

WHEELING — A battle of unbeaten teams will be the final championship game on the card for the Super Six when No. 1 East Hardy (13-0) clashes with No. 2 St. Marys (13-0) at 7 p.m. tonight at Wheeling Island Stadium for the Class A title.

There will be a first-time champion in Class A this season.

“It’s been a great year for us. We set the goal to be here when we walked off the field last year after that 62-0 loss. The kids have responded to every challenge that’s been set out there for them,” East Hardy head coach Chad Williams said. “We’re thrilled to be back here.”

It will be the second straight year the Cougars and Blue Devils meet in the playoffs. East Hardy eliminated St. Marys head man Jodi Mote and company in the semifinals last season.

“We have tremendous respect for Chad and his staff. It’s remarkable what they’ve done over there,” Mote said. “You take two 13-0 teams. We lost two years ago (in the state championship game) in triple overtime. They lost last year by a significant spread. Unfortunately, one of us as a team is not going to be able to pull it off.”

For St. Marys to make its second trip in three years to The Island, the Blue Devils had to go through three teams with superb offenses. However, No. 15 Buffalo (49-7), No. 7 Gilmer County (47-0), and No. 3 Fayetteville (47-0) could only muster one touchdown against a dominant St. Marys 11.

East Hardy had a harder road on its way back to Wheeling. The top seed had a few challenges along the way to The Island. Williams and company vanquished in order: No. 16 Tyler Consolidated (54-22), No. 8 Williamstown (20-14), and then No. 12 Pendleton County in the semifinals, 48-20.

Both the Yellowjackets and Wildcats stayed close with Williamstown even having a shot to win at the end of the game.

Leading the way for East Hardy is a powerful passing attack led by dual-threat quarterback Corey McDonald. For the season, the senior has completed 144 of 262 passes for 2,803 yards with 38 touchdowns and just eight picks. He is averaging nearly 300 yards and nearly four touchdowns per game.

McDonald was instrumental in last week’s win over Pendleton County and threw for 226 yards and three scores. He also added two scores on the ground.

“This will easily be the best quarterback we face all year,” said SMHS defensive coordinator Jay Powell. “He can do everything and we are definitely going to have our hands full with him and his receivers.”

McDonald’s receiving corps is led by wide receiver/kick returner Brett Tharp. On the year, Tharp has hauled in 51 catches for 1,102 yards and 16 touchdowns. The junior also had three punt returns for scores and one passing touchdown all while missing two games due to injury. Aden Funkhouser also has been a reliable second option for McDonald.

Not only do the Cougars signal-caller have a great arm, but he can get the job done with his legs as well. So far 2016 has seen him run 144 times for 1,027 yards and 17 scores on the ground.

Defensively, Tharp has been an outstanding shutdown defensive back. He was named Pioneer Valley Conference co-defensive player of the year after he snared six interceptions and had 137 total tackles, six sacks, 20 tackles for a loss and forced five fumbles.

Ricky Robinson at defensive end has caused plenty of problems all year long for opposing offenses. For the year, the senior has 14 sacks, 92 tackles, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. Mote and his offensive line will have Robinson marked from the start of the game and don’t be surprised to see a double-team maybe once in a while to neutralize him.

“There is no doubt this is going to be a very good game between two great teams,” said Williams. “I think if you look at maybe since the start of the playoffs, people have been looking at us and St. Marys to be playing for it all come Wheeling time.”