WEIRTON - One of the biggest small school rivals in the Ohio Valley is the annual joust between Madonna and Wheeling Central and the teams renew the rivalry Saturday at 7 p.m. in Wheeling Island Stadium.
The Maroon Knights, who have won the state Class A football championship the past two years, gave a good Harrison Central team all it could handle last week before losing 14-7.
Wheeling Central is without first team all Class A All-State quarterback, Parker Henry, who likely will miss all of his junior season. Henry, who suffered a knee injury in a pre-season scrimmage, rushed for over 1,200 yards last year and scored 11 touchdowns. He passed only 75 times in 14 games, but completed 32 of them for 696 yards and 12 touchdowns.
''I felt we played a good second half once we realized we needed to be a little more physical,'' said Wheeling Central coach Mike Young. ''While I was disappointed in the first half, the kids came around. I thought some of them naturally were hesitant because they were playing in new positions and the others were starting for the first time.''
Junior two-year letterman, C. J. Burch, stepped up to fill in for Henry and last week rushed for 221 yards against a rugged Harrison Central defense.
"Burch was going to be one of their running backs anyway and was the backup quarterback," said second-year Madonna coach, Doug Taylor. "So when Henry went down in the scrimmage, he assumed the quarterback duties and does what Ross Comis does for us - runs the football pretty good. They just do it from the quarterback position instead of running back."
The big concern Taylor has in preparing for Wheeling Central is the spin series offense they use. Burch will sit back in the shotgun position to receive the snap. As wingbacks jet across the field, Burch spins to confuse the defense as to whether he has the ball, the jet back or the running back.
"Wheeling Central will run, run, run and the all of a sudden throw the football," Taylor explained. "They throw when they want to and Burch is more than capable of taking care of the passing."
Taylor said the two teams match up well in relation to size.
"I don't think size is the problem," he said. "The problem is preparing for their offense. We have to make the defensive reads. The spin series is a version of the Wing-T concept. You don't see it very often so it makes preparing more difficult, and Central does it so well that they've mastered the timing on those plays."
Taylor said the Maroon Knights use a standard 4-4 defense most of the time, but once in a while will jump into a 3-4, which creates problems with blocking assignments. The Maroon Knights did a good job of containing the area's leading rusher from a year ago, Maurtice Hython in check, according to Taylor.
"We have to rely on Ross (Comis) to make the reads and check off of plays when he sees a problem with the play that is called," Taylor said. "He's getting good at doing that. He checked off a couple of times last week. Ross studies film and works very hard to become the best quarterback he can be."
Taylor said Madonna's keys to success will be to control the football offensively keeping the Wheeling Central offense off of the field as much as possible. Defensively, he said the Blue Dons have to take care of business. When they have the chance to make a tackle, it has to be made; when they have the chance for an interception, they have to make the pick. Mistakes will be costly.
"We hope we can have one or two more possessions than Wheeling Central does and that could mean the difference," said Taylor. "Every year, Central puts out a class product. My hat is off to them, they're coaching staff and system for being able to do that year in and year out."
Taylor is hopeful that two of his ailing starters can return at least for partial duty Saturday. Starting running back, Elliott Nero, who missed the win over Valley last week, is probable, Taylor said. He noted that the best returning Blue Don tackler on defense, Travis Brown, is questionable, but is beginning to work out this week and may get the okay to play.