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Rally in the Valley is worth price of admission

August 31, 2009

The opportunity to sit and watch football all day in person is rare.

I'm not talking about a Saturday on the couch in front of the 52-inch HD wearing some really scary outfit flipping the remote from one college game to another.

I am talking about this Saturday at Wheeling Island Stadium for the Wheeling Hospital Rally in the Valley.

Last year it was called the Friends of Coal Prep Classic and the cost was $15 for three games.

This year, five games - $20.

That is a great deal, especially when you talk about the games on the schedule.

Wheeling Central vs. Akron Buchtel, 10 a.m.

McKeesport vs. St. Joseph Prep, 12:30 p.m.

Steubenville Big Red vs. Woodland Hills, 3:30 p.m.

Youngstown Ursuline vs. Pittsburgh Central Catholic, 6 p.m.

John Marshall vs. Bellaire, 8:30 p.m.

The Maroon Knights are having a hard time finding anybody in West Virginia to put them on the schedule. They play their first four games in the friendly confines of the home turf, but then hit the road for four games in a row from Oct. 2 to Oct. 23.

For the first time in five years Wheeling Central was not a member of the Class A state title game nine months ago. It had won four in a row, beating Madonna in 2004 and Williamstown the next three seasons.

Buchtel is led by former standout running back Ricky Powers. He has gone 7-13 in the first two years and the team was 0-3 to begin last season and finished 5-2.

The Griffins are coming off a 42-20 loss to Massillon Washington.

Buchtel totaled 378 yards on offense, but turned the ball over six times, four via fumble, including two fumbles on its first three offensive plays. Half of the turnovers have inside its 30-yard line.

Steve Parker takes over for Tahj Dent at quarterback. Fred Richardson (6-foot-4, 310 pounds) leads the offensive line from his tackle position.

The Griffins also had 187 yards in penalties.

McKeesport threw the ball 20 times in 11 games last year.

Coach George Smith has been at the school 31 years, the last 28 as the head coach. He led the Tigers to the 1994 and 2005 Class AAAA Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League and state titles.

The 2005 squad finished the year No. 17 in the nation in the USA Today poll.

St. Joseph's Prep is led by coach Gil Brooks, who is 153-54-2 in his 18 years. The enrollment is just under 1,000 at the school located in Philadelphia.

The 2003 team finished No. 3 in the USA Today poll.

The Big Red-Woodland Hills meeting should be really good.

Reno Saccoccia is in his 27th year at Big Red and George Novak, in his 23rd year, is the only football coach the Wolverines have ever had.

Steubenville comes in 1-0 and it is Woodland Hills' opener.

"This is a first-class operation and we're just glad to be a part of it," said Saccoccia, whose team is riding a 61-game regular-season winning streak.

"It's a great opportunity for us and the kids at Woodland Hills," said Novak.

"I know we'll have a couple thousand people at least come down to this game."

Here that Big Red fans?

Youngstown Ursuline won the Division V state championship a year ago at 15-0. Coach Dan Reardon is in his sixth season. The Fighting Irish allowed four teams last year to reach double figures in points. They beat Liberty Benton 21-0 for the title.

Ursuline beat Columbus St. Charles 46-22 Saturday to begin defense of its crown.

Pittsburgh Central Catholic played last year against Lakeland, Fla., and saw its starting quarterback go down with an injury.

The Vikings made it to the second round of the WPIAL playoffs a year ago, where they lost to McKeesport.

Pittsburgh Central Catholic is playing its opener.

The question for the nightcap is will Dan Wilson or Jose Davis win their first game as a varsity head coach?

Wilson's John Marshall squad went 0-10 last year, but lost a heartbreaker to Cambridge in the final 90 seconds on Thursday.

Davis has been brought in to resurrect his alma mater, Bellaire, and it started the season with a 40-7 loss on Saturday at Nelson Field.

Ohio Valley Athletic Conference passes are allowed only for the final game.

It is my understanding that teams are asked before accepting an invitation if their respective fan bases will shell out the $20 to fill the stands.

I know that $20 for one game is steep for high school football.

But, why not make it a day?

The early forecast is a high of 78 with virtually no chance of rain.

Bring the big hat, the sunscreen and watch some really good football.

There were some really big wins around the Valley on the first weekend of high school football, but I don't think there were two bigger ones than Brooke hitting the road to beat Parkersburg and Buckeye Local traveling south to knock off Martins Ferry for the second year in a row.

The Bruins opened the eyes of a lot of people by taking every punch the Big Reds threw and counterpunched.

Cotey Wallace proved new coach Tom Bruney made a solid selection in putting the athlete behind center. He went 23-for-32 through the air for 325 yards and two scores. He also ran the ball 19 times for 120 yards and three more touchdowns.

The Panthers, who did a lot of good things being led by standout Bobby Spence, are now the hunted instead of the hunters.

Spence is the returning Division III Eastern District defensive co-Player of the Year. He had 11 interceptions a year ago and picked off two more on Friday.

And, after the Purple Riders took the lead at 21-18, Spence took the ensuing kickoff back 85 yards for the eventual win.

Kudos also go to Wheeling Park, which visited Morgantown and left with an impressive 14-3 win.

Weir High won its opener under new coach Tom Taylor, shutting out Petersburg.

Harrison Central continued to do good things under coach Justin Kropka. The Huskies, who host the Red Riders on Friday night, blanked Claymont, 22-0.

Although a tough loss, Catholic Central gave a sneak peek into an offensive that is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. The Crusaders didn't go a Mark Cisar-like five-wide, but they did score on touchdown passes of 68, 66, 25 and 23 yards.

They threw the ball 31 times and ran the ball 17.

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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