FEATURED IMAGE BY ALEX KOZLOWSKI (THE INTELLIGENCER – WHEELING NEWS REGISTER)
Over the last several weeks, we have conducted a popular vote on each classification’s top eight champions and progressed them in a tournament-style system. Undoubtedly, they are all great and it is truly impossible to claim one better the over. From the comeback titan 2014 Williamstown led by Dakota Watson to 2013 Madonna with the phenom Ross Comis at quarterback to both Wahama’s and St. Marys’ title runs headed with dynamite runningbacks Kane Roush and Jaiden Smith, respectively.
Ultimately, it came down to 2018 Wheeling Central and 2015 Magnolia. There is no denial that this matchup would have been amazing. One of 2015 Magnolia’s closest games was to Wheeling Central and 2018 Wheeling Central actually lost their regular season finale (without their quarterback) to Magnolia. Those who are upset about 2015 Magnolia not being chosen have a great point: they went undefeated and set the record for the biggest win in state championship history (62-0 over East Hardy). However, the population and us at C&C felt the 2018 Maroon Knights hold an edge. Here’s a recap of their story:
2018 Wheeling Central
In 2017, the Maroon Knights were not spoken of honestly as a title contender. There were other teams poised for a championship run. East Hardy’s accomplished seniors were looking to finally win on the Island; South Harrison had the fastest Class A back in state history; St. Marys was the returning champs with the title game MVP back as well. Their tough schedule beat the young roster down and they squeaked into the playoffs at 6-4 and a #11 seed thanks to a three-game win streak. Led by breakout sophomores, they would defeat Cameron, South Harrison, Summers County, and St. Marys to claim the state title.
The Maroon Knight projection for 2018 was much different. They were the clear-cut favorites. Curtis McGhee III was a two-way star as quarterback and defensive back, and shared the 2018 C&C Class “A” Breakout Player of the Year Award with teammate and linebacker Adam Murray. This squad also had two dynamite receivers in Anthony Robbins and Braden Price. Their line had top notch talent led by Vinny Mangino and Luke Duplaga.
Wheeling Central’s hype train got tested quickly with the always formidable Williamstown Yellowjackets. Despite a great team, Wheeling Central would defeat them 30-0. In their first four games against Class A stalwarts Fayetteville, Madonna, and East Hardy- they would outscore their opponents 168-7.
Their biggest early tests came from Linsly (WV) and Steubenville Catholic (OH) which they both won by several scores. Linsly that year lost in overtime to Class AAA Morgantown. Around the midseason mark, McGhee III went down with a crippling injury. This led to a stint of too-close-for-comfort games with out-of-state powers Portsmouth West (OH) and Shadyside (OH). Notoriously, they would lose without McGhee III to a rising Magnolia team 21-12 in their regular season finale.
9-1 pitted them against Tyler Consolidated in the first round where their quarterback made his return. They would score 61 points and draw a rematch with Magnolia in the quarterfinals. The result was much different this time around as the Maroon Knights would win by three touchdowns. Two games away, they were forced to tangle with an undefeated wrecking machine by name of Doddridge County led by Hunter America who had run for over 2800 yards and 40 touchdowns.
The Maroon Knights great defense led by Robbins, Murray, and Mangino showed up wholeheartedly. They defeated the perfect Bulldogs 47-7. Now, 12-1 with one game left for a repeat- they had a rematch of their opening game with Williamstown. Despite a great effort by the red hot Yellowjackets- the talent, experience, and drive of the Maroon Knights was too much and they would repeat as champions 44-15.
Wheeling Central finished their season averaging 37.4 points per game and allowing 12.6 points per game with about as a hard of a schedule you could have. Accolades were plenty for them as well. Curtis McGhee III won C&C’s Class “A” Offensive Player of the Year while Vinny Mangino won Class “A” Lineman of the Year. Adam Murray won the sportswriters’ Huff Award. First team all-state honorees including McGhee, Duplaga, Price, Mangino, Murray, and Robbins. Second team included Payton Marling. Honorable mentions included Hayden Manns, Nick Sherman, and Jordan Waterhouse.
The following year despite losing Duplaga, Price, Mangino, and Robbins as well as McGhee to a season-ending injury, Wheeling Central three-peated as champions. This marked coach Mike Young’s eighth state championship. As for the stars of the team: McGhee would sign with Brown University, Price with Illinois State, Robbins with West Liberty, and Murray with Baldwin-Wallace. Many teams can be argued as the best Class A team in West Virginia for the 2010s but the 2018 Maroon Knights look to be the best choice.