WHEELING - Whether it's the season or an individual game, it's not about how you start, but moreso about how you finish.
The St. Clairsville Red Devils kicked off what they hope could be one of the most memorable seasons in school history, using an impressive and suffocating second half en route to a convincing 47-27 victory against Wheeling Park Thursday night in the third-annual McDonald's OVAC Kickoff Night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
"I think we came down here a little tight, but I don't know how you can keep 16 and 17 year old kids from being that way with what's on their shoulders," said St. Clairsville head coach Brett McLean.
The Red Devils (1-0) went into the dressing room at halftime staring at a 13-12 deficit after the Patriots (0-1) pushed them all over the field with a solid ground game and, more specifically, junior tailback Bryce Ingram and junior Geremy Paige, who combined for 167 rushing yards. Ingram scored on a 10-yard scamper and junior quarterback Zach Phillips found classmate Eric Banks from 9 yards out.
However, the momentum switched sides at halftime.
"Give Park credit early because we knew they had power and backs who run hard," McLean said. "We really relaxed in the second half, the kids listened to us at halftime and I thought our coaching staff did a wonderful job of adjusting. We made some minor adjustments in the middle, which made a world of difference, and we tackled better."
After deferring to the second half, the Red Devils got the ball to begin the third quarter and started utilizing all of their weapons.
Senior quarterback Matt Kinnick completed four consecutive passes during the opening drive of the second half, spliting them between Boston College verbal commit Dan Monteroso and senior Jerrid Marhefka for 35 and 27 yards, respectively.
"Our maturity showed on that first drive of the second half," McLean said. "We had a second-and-long and we could have gone in the tank, but we converted and turned it into a march. We told the kids that no matter how you win or what the score is, let's just win and go after it."
In the red zone, however, it was all Jaylon Brown. The junior, who is known for his blazing speed, capped the eight-play march with an 8-yard run. He then caught the pass for the two-point conversion, making it 20-13. Brown scored from 7 yards out in the first quarter.
St. Clairsville's defense forced its first three-and-out and because of "miscommunication" the Patriots made a futile attempt at a fake punt from their own 27.
"That was a case of having young kids on the field," said Wheeling Park head coach Chris Daugherty. "I thought we hung in well in the first half, but St. Clairsville has an offense that will make you pay for mistakes. This is a tough opener and a tough team to choose for the first fight of the year. I think we're a good team, and we'll be just fine."
The Red Devils extended the margin to two scores four plays later when Brown waltzed into the end zone from 2 yards out. Zach Musilli was perfect on the PAT kick.
Another three-and-out by the Patriots led to another Red Devils' touchdown. A 12-play drive was capped when talented junior Michael Ferns scored for the second time on the night. He tallied from 2-yards out. He scored the first touchdown of the season on a 17-yard pass from Kinnick. Ferns carried two defenders into the end zone from the final 4 yards.
Facing desperation time, the Patriots went to the air and Brown stepped in front of a Phillips' pass and proceeded to race 38 yards untouched for his fourth score of the game. He added a 38-yard scampered on the next Red Devils' possession to cap their scoring.
St. Clairsville 47, Wheeling Park 27
St. Clairsville 12 0 15 20 - 47
Wheeling Park 0 13 0 14 - 27
St. C: Ferns 17 pass from Kinnick (kick failed)
St. C: Brown 7 run (pass failed)
WP: Ingram 10 run (Casey kick)
WP: Banks 9 pass from Phillips (run failed)
St. C: Brown 8 run (Brown pass from Kinnick)
St. C: Brown 2 run (Musilli kick)
St. C: Ferns 2 run (kick failed)
St. C: Brown 45 interception return (Musilli kick)
WP: Banks 82 kickoff return (Casey kick)
St. C: Brown 38 run (Musilli kick)
WP: Steinman 7 run (Casey kick)
RUSHING: St. Clairsville, 46-187-4td (Kinnick, 10-0; Brown, 25-149-4td; Ferns 7-29-td; Gummer, 3-4; Coleman, 1-5). Wheeling Park, 35-159-2td (Ingram, 14-113-td; Paige, 7-54; Phillips, 4-(-13); Banks, 3-(-13); Blackstone, 2-1; Myers, 4-10; Steinman, 1-7-td).
PASSING: St. Clairsville, 10-15-112-1td (All by Kinnick). Wheeling Park, 7-11-87-2td (All by Phillips).
RECEIVING: St. Clairsville, 10-112-td (Monteroso, 4-37; Marhefka, 3-42; Ferns, 2-32-td; Lepic, 1-1). Wheeling Park, 7-87-2td (Ingram, 1-39; Banks, 3-23-td; Pugh, 2-17; Figaretti, 1-8).
FIRST DOWNS: St. Clairsville, 20; Wheeling Park, 13.
FUMBLES: St. Clairsville, 7-2; Wheeling Park, 3-3.
PENALTIES: St. Clairsville, 6-35; Wheeling Park, 4-20.