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Patriots out to play spoiler vs. Wheeling Park

PARKERSBURG — There’s always fun in a bit of competition, and that’s what Parkersburg South is embracing heading into week 10. South (1-6) welcomes the No. 5 ranked Wheeling Park Patriots (6-1) to the Erickson All-Sports Facility in an attempt to play spoiler at 7 p.m., and that starts with seeing which players are going to step up in practice.

The team had a de facto bye week due to the coronavirus, so they’ve had an additional week to evaluate talent. Coach Nate Tanner turned regular practices into competitions to see how his team responds, and he likes the attitude of his Patriots heading into this matchup with Park.

“I thought this last week of practice went really well,” Tanner said. “We tried to keep things upbeat with upbeat energy, and we had a lot of competitions set up. I thought our kids responded to it well, and I thought last week was really positive for us. We’ve got a lot of JV kids who have been getting time to play on varsity, so we mixed them in this week and had them compete with the older kids to see if somebody would take a spot. The different sessions throughout practice, we tried to make a competition.”

When asked if all competitions were being used as a means to determine who starts and who sits, Tanner said they were a combination of both that and motivating the team through competition. Parkersburg South used its depth to its advantage in 2019, but now the Pats have needed to rely on that depth due to injuries. While that has been a recurring theme of the year Tanner still says the key to victory starts upfront in regard to run blocking and run defense.

South has struggled to stop the run all year, and with Wheeling Park, you get a two-pronged offensive attack. Running back Stevie Mitchell continues to cement himself as one of the best RBs in the state, as his 214 yards two weeks ago against University is a new high for the bruising back, who has almost 1100 yards on this abbreviated season. Mitchell is averaging 7.2 yards per carry and has broken the 100-yard mark in each of the team’s seven games.

Quarterback Beau Heller’s season has also been one to remember with 18 touchdowns thrown to just three interceptions. By completing 72% of his passes, the senior gives opportunities for his big-play receivers (namely Shaheed Jackson) to shine. Offensive efficiency is something South wanted to accomplish at the beginning of the year, but a lack of continuity on the offensive line made that hard to accomplish. Injuries to a majority of the unit means South hasn’t had the original starting line since a couple weeks into the season.

That hampers Devin Gaines, as the running back is trying to make the best of this situation. On the opposite side of the ball, he’s been a ballhawk with more than 15 tackles per contest in his last few games. That need to fill multiple roles and go above and beyond for the team is setting Gaines apart, as Tanner’s offense looks to put it all together in an attempt to end this losing streak.

“We haven’t had the same offensive line two weeks in a row since week 2 or week 3. This year with Sam (Schuler), we’ve had to operate differently (from last year),” Tanner remarked about the offense. “I think it’s made it tougher for us to get the tailback running game going.”

A particular bright spot on the line is sophomore lineman Dalton Veon. Originally slated to be a backup, Veon was pressed into duty early in the year and has been earning praise from the coaching staff since he first stepped in. Senior left tackle Zach Welch has been the only starter not affected by the injury bug, as Welch and Veon look to hold down this makeshift line heading down the backstretch of the 2020 season.

“I think as the year has gone on, the chemistry has gotten better,” Tanner said of the locker room as a whole. “I think our kids are getting to know each other more than maybe they did at the beginning of the year. This week, we’ll probably heathier than we have been since the second or third game, so that’ll definitely be a plus.”

Contact Josh Hughes at jhughes@newsandsentinel.com

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