Ritchie takes down Central
Rebels secure trip to state championship
In Saturday’s Class A state semifinal playoff game at Chuck Schofield Memorial Stadium, Wheeling Central Catholic’s passing game was stuck in neutral on a playing field riddled with mud and allowed the fourth-seeded Rebels to snap the Maroon Knights’ 14-game postseason win streak with their 20-16 victory.
Ritchie County advances to next Saturday’s state championship game against No. 6 Williamstown. Game time is set for 7 p.m. at Wheeling Island Stadium. No. 8 Wheeling Central Catholic ends the season at 9-4.
“I told the kids all week, playing on this field was to our advantage — we practiced on it and it would even-up some of the advantages (Wheeling Central) had,” Ritchie County coach Rick Haught said.
Ritchie County senior quarterback Ethan Haught threw for touchdown passes of 56 and 60 yards in the second half, and the Rebels’ defense stood up the task while limiting WCC to 48 yards of total in a scoreless first half and 182 yards overall.
The Rebels set the tone from the outset in terms of clock management. In order to keep the ball away from the WCC offense, the Rebels converted a pair of fourth-and-ones on the game’s opening drive.
“I thought we did a great job managing the game,” Haught said. “We ran clock. They are such an explosive team. It was a gamble on fourth and short to dial up and let Ethan get a yard because they were sending the house. I thought he managed the game really well today.”
Wheeling Central’s only lead of the game occurred on its opening drive of the third quarter when Michael Toepfer, one member of the Maroon Knights’ three-quarterback system, connected with Lorenzo Ferrara for a 26-yard scoring strike.
Ritchie County did not allow another score until late in the fourth quarter.
In the meantime, the offense executed three unanswered scoring drives to put the Rebels on top 18-8 with less than six minutes remaining in regulation.
Wheeling Central created a few anxious moments for Ritchie County when Ferrara scored on a 35-yard carry — capping a 55-yard drive which required only four plays and 70 seconds.
Trailing 18-16, the Maroon Knights were forced to use all three of their timeouts as Ritchie County put together a sustained drive that resulted in only one first down but left the clock showing 40.1 seconds and Wheeling Central needing 99 yards for a touchdown following a 41-yard punt from Gus Morrison.
Any comeback hopes became moot two plays into the drive when Garrett Cunningham sacked Wheeling Central quarterback Payton Hildebrand in the end zone for a safety.
On the ensuing free kick, Ritchie County’s Kolton DePinho gathered in the football and the Rebels ran off the final 10 seconds to secure the win.
The Wheeling Central quarterback trio of Toepfer, Hildebrand and Ferrera combined for 8-of-17 passing for 80 yards and one interception.
Seth Hardy led Ritchie County’s ground game with 66 yards on 18 carries. Morrison at running back was held in check to a tune of 10 yards on seven carries, but the senior turned in a nifty 60-yard catch-and-run that left him in the end zone for the Rebels’ second TD and put his ballclub in the lead to stay at 12-8.
On the touchdown reception, Morrison appeared to be in jail along the sidelines, but made a cut to his left then sprinted the width of the field and found a crease upfield.
“I caught the ball, looked up and saw I was blocked off — I couldn’t do anything,” Morrison said. “As soon as I cut back, I saw that I had an open lane. I think their cornebackback fell, and I was wide open to the house from there.”
For a sense of irony, Haught’s 56-yard bomb to receiver Marlon Moore to open the Rebels’ scoring was reminiscent of Ritchie County’s playoff game two years ago on this very same field when Haught overthrew the receiver. However, this time Haught got it right. After eluding a Wheeling Central defender and a possible sack, Haught’s throw landed perfectly into Moore’s arms. Moore had run past the last remaining Maroon Knight defensive back and caught the ball in stride.
“I had that lineman that almost sacked me then I look up and I see Marlon all by himself — hopefully he would make the catch,” Ethan Haught said. “I do remember what happened in that game two years ago, so it’s nice to get redemption.”