POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — One last time … with feeling.
The Point Pleasant football team will be hosting its final Class AAA game for at least the next four years, not to mention the school’s most important Class AAA playoff contest in program history this Friday night when third-seeded Wheeling Park comes to town for a state semifinal matchup at Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field in Mason County.
The second-seeded Big Blacks (12-0) are one win away from the program’s first-ever Super Six appearance in the big-school division, and a somewhat familiar foe is the only thing standing between PPHS and a possible date with Class AAA history.
The visiting Patriots (10-1-1) also happen to be the last program to travel into OVB Field and leave victorious, which occurred during a 28-7 decision in a Class AAA quarterfinal during the 2013 playoffs.
Point Pleasant, which is 40-4 all-time and 7-2 in playoff contests at OVB Field, has also won a dozen straight decisions at home since the end of the 2013 campaign.
In some ways, the Big Blacks — who made the Class AA state final in 2011 — have a little bit of a revenge factor headed into this weekend. But, as ninth-year PPHS coach Dave Darst noted, there’s a lot more at stake than just healing an old wound. It’s also about having a chance to leave a legacy that every football player dreams about.
“It’s basically one of the biggest games in the history of our school. We’ve only been in the state semifinals one other time in triple-A, and that was way back in 1979. We had the double-A run there a few years ago, but this obviously a bigger challenge for us,” Darst said. “You only get this kind of opportunity maybe once or twice in your lifetime if you’re lucky, so hopefully the kids can stayed focused on what we need to do as far as our game plan and execute it.”
Point Pleasant’s game plan has been pretty flawless thus far, with a major emphasis on establishing the run, playing solid defense and executing in special teams.
And in covering all three phases of the game so well, the Big Blacks have been simply dominant through a dozen contests after outscoring opponents by a sizable 716-118 overall margin — which averages out to 59.7 points offensively and 9.8 points defensively.
In fact, PPHS has scored 128 total points between its kicking game and its defense — which is 10 more points than the Big Blacks have surrendered this fall. Point Pleasant is also outscoring opponents by a whopping 460-68 margin in the first half and owns a 154-15 advantage in the third quarter as well.
Point Pleasant — which has forced 29 turnovers this year and is plus-15 in turnover differential — is averaging 465 yards of total offense, including an impressive 402 yards on the ground per game. Defensively, the Big Blacks are allowing only 202 yards of total offense and 77 rushing yards each night out.
Those numbers are all quite impressive, but they also won’t matter once the ball is kicked off Friday night against Wheeling Park.
The Patriots are appearing in their second state semifinal in three years and have made the playoffs the last five consecutive seasons. WPHS is also aiming for the program’s first state final appearance since falling in the 1991 Class AAA championship game to Capital by a 15-14 margin in overtime.
The Blue and Red have outscored opponents by a 447-108 overall margin this fall, which averages out to 37.3 points offensively and 9.0 points defensively per game. Like Point Pleasant, the Patriots have also posted two shutout victories through 12 games this season.
In fact, the only blemish on Wheeling Park’s 2015 schedule came during a 21-18 setback to Brooke in Week 4. Bridgeport and WPHS also earned a Week 1 tie due to inclement weather. Both the Patriots and PPHS also posted wins over common opponents of Parkersburg South and Princeton this fall.
Darst acknowledged that Friday night will be the toughest test to date for his troops and that it will take a full 48 minutes of football to move on to Wheeling Island. He also believes that his players are ready to take on such a formidable task, much like they have over the years at the Class AAA level.
“They’ve got some real playmakers over there. They have some athletic wide receivers and running backs, and we know that we’ll have to keep an eye on them all night,” Darst said. “Another thing about them is that they are very well-coached. They’ve been in this situation before and they know what’s going on at this level, so we know it’s going to be a battle.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to win a few games against teams that people have been talking about at this level for four years now, so now is our time to gauge ourselves against another great team on an even bigger stage. If our defense can show up like it did against Huntington, I think we’ll have a chance to do something Friday night.”
The Patriots have a balanced offensive attack, with senior running back Savion Johnson (5-11, 217, SR) leading the ground attack with 1,584 yards and 26 touchdowns on 223 carries — an average of 7.1 yards per attempt. Chase Adams (5-7, 165, SR) also has 233 yards and four TDs on 53 rushing tries.
Quarterback Cross Wilkinson (6-2, 190, SO) has completed 94-of-152 passes for 1,883 yards, which includes 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. Elijah Bell (6-3, 205, SR) leads the wideouts with 1,016 yards and 14 scores on 42 receptions, while Issac Turner (6-2, 215, SR) has 342 yards and two TDs on 22 grabs.
Chase Gheen (6-0, 160, SO) has also scored 58 points on special teams, which includes seven field goals and 37 successful PAT kicks.
If some of those names sound familiar, it’s because they are. Johnson had a 79-yard TD run in the 2013 playoff contest at Point Pleasant, while Bell had both a 58-yard TD catch and a 32-yard interception return for a score in the previous postseason game between these two teams.
Over the last four years, Point Pleasant has amassed a 41-5 overall record — which is one win away from tying the school mark of 42-6 set by last season’s squad. And of those six setbacks since the 2012 campaign, only two have occurred at OVB Field.
No team has ever beaten Point Pleasant twice at OVB Field since it opened in the fall of 2009, and Darst is hoping that trend will continue on through the weekend. After all, a 12th man is supposed to provide an advantage on the gridiron.
“Honestly, it is great to once again be home for the playoffs. We’re not hopping on a bus to go anywhere and we’re walking out to 3,000-plus of our fans who want us to win a playoff game. It’s just a really special feeling, and these kids feed off of it,” Darst said. “Our routine for getting the kids ready for games has been simple, and it has worked pretty well for us so far. There is an advantage to having home-field advantage, for sure. It does make some things easier.
“Then again, I think these seniors and the team want to win their final Class AAA home game. More importantly, I think they just want to win their final home game. I’m sure our fans will try to help us make that happen.”
Kickoff for Friday night’s state semifinal contest between Point Pleasant and Wheeling Park is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.