POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — This Black Friday ended up quite blue.
The Point Pleasant football team had its historical 2015 season come to a grinding halt Friday night as third-seeded Wheeling Park proved to be too much following a 35-14 setback in a Class AAA state semifinal matchup at Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field in Mason County.
The second-seeded Big Blacks (12-1) fell victim to bad field position in the first half, as the hosts mustered only four first downs on six offensive drives before halftime — with the average start of each drive beginning at their own 17.
The Patriots (11-1-1), conversely, had an average starting position at their own 45-yard line — which led to seven first downs and a 21-0 halftime advantage.
PPHS outgained the the Red and Blue on the ground in the first half by a slim 77-68 overall margin, but the Patriots’ big difference-maker proved to be the passing attack — which accounted for all 155 yards and three scores before the intermission.
From there, both teams traded 14 points throughout the remainder of the final two frames — allowing WPHS to advance to next Saturday’s Class AAA state championship game at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Wheeling Park — the first road team to ever win at OVB Field twice — outgained the hosts by a sizable 405-222 overall margin in total offense, which included a 235-50 advantage through the air. Both teams also committed a turnover apiece in the contest.
It wasn’t the ending that ninth-year PPHS football coach Dave Darst had hoped for, but the venerable mentor also noted that Wheeling Park was a much different beast than any other team that his troops had faced this fall. He was also quick to give credit where credit was due.
“That’s just a really good football team and they outplayed us tonight. They are just a phenomenal team defensively, and obviously they have some truly talented skilled players on offense as we saw tonight,” Darst said. “We knew coming in that they could do some things to us that could give us trouble. They took advantage of it and did a great job … and we didn’t.
“I was proud of the way our kids played in the second half because I thought we sucked it up and played pretty hard, but they have some real playmakers … and they made plays. The best team won this game and I wish them nothing but the best of luck next weekend.”
Point Pleasant finished the night with a slight rushing advantage after claiming a 172-170 edge in yards, but the outside threats from Wheeling Park accounted for four of the five touchdowns in the triumph. James Coles — who finished the night with two receiving scores and three total touchdowns — also had three different first half TDs called back due to penalties.
Elijah Bell gave the Patriots a permanent lead after hauling in a 49-yard TD pass from Cross Wilkinson with 51 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Bell’s first score capped a 2-play, 49-yard drive that led to an early 7-0 lead.
Bell’s second score came on a screen pass from Wilkinson with 4:57 remaining in the half, as the senior broke away from two would-be tacklers and raced 18 yards to paydirt for a 14-0 cushion.
Coles wrapped up the first half scoring with a 28-yard TD reception from Wilkinson with 1:19 remaining, allowing WPHS to secure a 21-0 advantage at the break.
The guests claimed the first of two 28-point leads late in the third canto after Coles scored on a 7-yard run with 2:14 remaining, but Point Pleasant countered on its next drive to get back to within three possessions.
Cody McDaniel hauled in a 33-yard pass from Cason Payne with 33 seconds left in the third period, allowing the hosts to close to within 28-7 headed into the finale.
Coles capped the WPHS scoring with a 36-yard TD reception from Wilkinson at the 9:26 mark, making it a 35-7 contest. Cody Mitchell completed the scoring following a 5-yard TD run with 10 seconds left in regulation, which wrapped up the 21-point outcome.
The Patriots finished the night with a 22-10 advantage in first downs and were penalized 12 times for 105 yards. PPHS, conversely, was flagged only four times for 35 yards. The hosts also punted seven times for an average of 36 yards, while WPHS punted only three times for an average of 41 yards.
It was the final football contest for seniors Cody Mitchell, Nathan Bowman, Trey Tucker, Garrett Litchfield, Cody McDaniel, Dakota Swann, Alec Stanley, James Patterson, Kyle Nibert, Tannor Hill, John Sommer, Jordan Cunningham and Jocelynn Wilson in the Red, Black and White.
Those 13 players have left quite a collective legacy at PPHS, including a 41-6 overall record during their four years of varsity football — second only to last year’s senior class at 42-6. These 13 are also the only seniors to ever go 12-0 at the Class AAA level and end their careers with four of the program’s eight playoff victories.
Needless to say, Darst was nothing but respectful in discussing his leaders one final time on the gridiron.
“I think that our kids have had a great year and a great run over the last four years. We couldn’t ask for any more than we’ve gotten out of them,” Darst said. “None of us knew what we were getting into with triple-A four years ago, but I think that we’ve held our own in there. I know we’ve made Point Pleasant proud of us over the last four years and we’ve had a couple of significant accomplishments along the way.
“We almost made it to December as the smallest school in triple-A. We would have liked to have won, but I don’t think we have anything to hang our heads about. I’m proud of all of them.”
Cody Mitchell — a verbal commit to Marshall University — finished his stellar career with 125 rushing yards and a score on 19 carries, followed by Grant Safford with 33 yards on seven totes. Nathan Bowman also had two carries for 24 yards.
Cason Payne finished the night 4-of-8 passing for 50 yards and a score. Mitchell led the receivers with two catches for 12 yards, while McDaniel had a TD grab of 33 yards and Cunningham hauled in one pass for five yards.
Jason Schultz was a perfect 2-of-2 on PAT kicks. Sophomore Tucker Mayes also recovered a fumble in the second half for PPHS.
Savion Johnson led the WPHS ground attack with 166 yards on 29 carries, while Wilkinson went 9-of-13 passing for 235 yards and four scores. Coles hauled in four passes for 109 yards and two scores, while Bell had three grabs for 114 yards and two TDs.
The Big Blacks — who head back to Class AA next fall — will enter 2016 with the longest regular season winning streak in all of West Virginia at 33 games.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.