Down to the wire

WHEELING – Standing at the 50-yard line of Wheeling Island Stadium, late Sunday night, a group of 33 red-clad, boys-turned-men, chanted “O-H-I-O.”

They had just defeated West Virginia in the 69th-annual Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Football Game and had reason to celebrate after the nail-biting, 27-26 victory.

“This is easily one of my favorite high school memories,” said Steubenville graduate Jaylin Williams, a lineman on the Ohio team. “It was a great game. It came down to the last second and we held on.”

Forty seven minutes of play passed to focus on the final 60 seconds, where the Ohio defense stood tall. But the moment that really mattered was when the clock hit zero and the skies opened up.

Amid the celebration was a perfectly timed downpour.

“The rained just topped it off perfectly,” Williams said. “This is amazing.”

Early on, it looked to be a runaway victory for Ohio. The Buckeyes jumped to an early 14-0 lead, then surged to a 27-7 advantage with 1:19 left before halftime.

Then momentum really shifted.

Fist, on the ensuing kickoff, Cambridge’s Clifford Clark recovered a fumble to give the ball back to Ohio on its own 23-yard line. West Virginia’s Will Bowser, a Madonna graduate, picked up a loose ball two plays later and took it 77 yards for a score to make it 27-14.

The Mountaineers got on the board earlier in the quarter on a 31-yard touchdown reception by Jared Yates of Bishop Donahue.

“We got some breaks and we made some breaks,” said West Virginia coach B.J. Depew. “We really fought hard in the second half.”

The Mountaineers rattled off the next 12 points by forcing Ohio to punt three times in the second half and recovering a fumble, which set up a score.

But late in the fourth quarter, West Virginia had three minutes, 28 seconds to win it. Ohio didn’t let that happen.

The Buckeyes bent by allowing 43 yards and three first downs on the final drive. But they didn’t break.

Ohio forced a fumble, recorded three tackles for a loss and, facing a third down and 10 with 54 seconds, West Virginia quarterback Zach Phillips was sacked by Beallsville graduate Dalton Secrest to seal it.

“I was expecting pass and I went for it,” said Secrest, the game’s Most Valuable Player. “I was just hoping for us to get a win for Ohio. I just try to come out and do my best every time out.”

Ohio cruised to its early lead thanks to an explosive offense, led by Steubenville Central grad Brenton Colabella. The Ohio quarterback hit four different receivers in his team’s first two drives. The first was capped by a 37-yard scoring pass to Rich Springer of Edison. The second score was a 7-yard run by Toronto’s Chez Glen, set up by a 15-yard pass from Colabella to former Crusader teammate Ryan Fletcher.

Ohio was up 14-0, seven minutes into the game.

“Coach (Jose) Davis was giving good calls and we were able to attack the defense,” Colabella said. “Our line did a great job of a blocking.

“It was a whole unit working together, that’s what gave us the lead and helped with our offensive flow.”

Colabella threw for 230 yards in the first half, alone, and finished with 245 on 17 of 27 passing.

He closed out the second quarter with two touchdown passes to Bellaire graduates. Colabella hit Kenny Hess for a 22-yard score with 6:35 to play in the first half, then less than five minutes later, he connected with Brendon Ross for a six yard score.

“Those guys played a big benefit for us because they were able to relay the plays that they had,” Davis, the former head coach at Bellaire, said of the players he coached the last four years. “It made things go a lot smoother for us.”

Ross finished with four catches for 30 yards, Hess had three for 48 and Fletcher led Ohio with six catches for 73 yards.

“It was the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” Fletcher said.

West Virginia failed to complete a fourth down attempt on its first possession after halftime. It scored on its next three, though, led by two touchdown runs by Trevor Hardesty, a John Marshall graduate.

After totaling just 68 total yards in the first half, the Mountaineers finished with 269. Hardesty had 22 yards on 10 attempts, while Phillips totaled 39 on 14 attempts. Phillips, who like Colabella played the whole game under center, finished 18 of 31 passing for 178 yards.

“I give the kids a whole lot of credit for the way they rallied,” Depew said. “Ohio definitely had all the momentum in the first half and we could have easily let it slide. We got some breaks and we made some breaks. We really fought hard in the second half.”

Ohio had 11 first downs in the first half and finished with 14. West Virginia had just three first downs in the first half and finished with 15.

Nate Olmstead of Harrison Central had a first half interception for Ohio, while Jacob Bill of Magnolia had a second half fumble recovery for West Virginia.

Ohio and West Virginia both had a pair of off-setting penalties after the Mountaineers’ final score at the 10:20 mark of the fourth quarter. The extra point was missed; a successful attempt would have tied it at 27.

“This is an all-star game and you can’t pull any punches,” Davis said.

After a five-year stint leading Bellaire, the Kent State graduate and former Arena Football player now takes over the St. John Central program that did not win a game last season.

“This is a jumpstart to our season at St. John and I couldn’t be happier for our guys,” Davis said.

Ohio leads the overall series 28-14-1.

In the pre-OVAC era, Ohio led 15-11.