Streaks snapped as Park hands Big Red a loss

WHEELING – Several Big Red streaks came to an end Friday on the Island.

Wheeling Park turned its first three touches into scores as the Patriots whipped Big Red for the first time in 13 tries 42-22.

The loss puts Big Red’s stretch of reaching the Ohio playoffs 12 consecutive years in serious jeopardy. In addition, the defeat, Big Red’s first to a West Virginia team since 1963, gives Steubenville a three game losing streak for the initial time since the late 1970s.

Park, which began the week ranked sixth in the West Virginia Class AAA computer standings, improves to 7-1. Big Red falls to 5-4 and will finish its season next week at home against Renaissance Christian Academy.

“Our kids and our staff deserve all the credit,” a jubilant Chris Daugherty, Park’s fourth-year coach, said. “This started four years ago with us working hard to become a better football team. I’m so proud of these kids.

“That’s a great football team we just beat with great tradition and great pride. I’m really, really happy to be a Wheeling Park Patriot tonight.”

Park struck first, taking the opening kickoff and covering 60 yards in just three plays. Savion Johnson burst through a huge hole on third and short, streaking 51 stripes for the TD. Liam Casey added the extra point.

The quick-strike Patriots crossed the goal again after forcing a punt on Big Red’s first possession. The scoring march covered 57 yards (needing just six snaps). A key play was Zach Phillips’ 35-yard pass to Michael Grove. Johnson went in from six stripes away. Casey again nailed his kick.

Touchdown three came on a 56-yard run by Phillips. The senior quarterback escaped the Big Red pressure, rolled to his right and was off the races. Casey again was perfect on the conversion. In the first quarter, Park needed just 11 first quarter plays to compile 185 yards and the three scores.

The final Patriot score of the half came on a 36 yard screen pass from Phillips to Johnson. The scoring toss came a snap after Phillips was chased out of the pocket by the Big Red defense and drew a flag for illegal grounding. Casey’s kick again was good.

Johnson’s third six-pointer capped a 47-yard march set up when Big Red’s quick kick bounced off the back on a lineman, giving the Patriots great field possession.

During the opening half, Park, which had scored just 30 points in its first 12 meetings with Big Red, outgained the visitors 270-84. The Patriots ran 24 plays compared to 32 for the Red. Phillips completed seven of nine for 118 stripes and added 65 more rushing.

“Park’s a very good football team,” Big Red’s Reno Saccoccia stated. “They’ve always had skills and talent. I think the most improved part of their team is the offensive and defensive lines. They have a team that is well-balanced, very disciplined and well-coached.”

The score moved to 35-0 early in the third quarter after Grove picked off a Dimitri Collaros pass. On second and six from the Red 11, Phillips was chased out of the pocket, moved to his left and extended the play before throwing back to Johnson who scampered to the house.

Big Red, which hadn’t lost to a Wheeling school since 1910, finally got on the board late in the quarter thanks to a bad snap on Park’s first punting attempt of the evening. The ball sailed over the punter’s head and was kicked through the end zone. Saccoccia’s crew followed the safety with a 66 yard march.

Mandela Lawrence-Burke capped the drive with a 13-yards scoring toss to Devin Ferguson. John Paul Duff’s kick made it 35-9.

Big Red, which again was minus numerous starters due to injuries, then was successful with an onside kick attempt, Niko Petrides recovering. Johnnie Blue plowed forward for 32 yards but was stripped of the ball and Park pounced on it at the 13.

Geremy Paige, who had an outstanding night on the defensive side of the ball, turned his initial offensive touch into a score, scooting in from nine yards away.

Big Red logged a fourth quarter score via a one yard run by Blue. Duff added the point from placement. This Big Red march covered 56 yards and was highlighted by a 46-stripe Lawrence-Burke to Bryan Pierro completion.

Matt Sherrell closed the Big Red score on a 17-yard burst.

Johnson, Park’s 5-10, 205 pound sophomore running back, finished with 153 yards on 20 trips and two touchdowns. He grabbed two passes from Phillips for 48 stripes and two more scores. Phillips threw for 147, completing 10 of 14 passes.

“Their quarterback was on,” Saccoccia noted. “He had guys catching the ball and had great protection. He made an outstanding play when I thought we had him sacked. He showed great effort and was able to threw for a touchdown. He does a very good job.”

Blue paced Big Red with 111 stripes.

“Sub-par,” Saccoccia responded when asked about his team’s performance. “I think our kids will be the first ones to say that. We were a step behind. Of course, our opponent tonight had a lot to do with our performance.”