On the strength of a prolific rushing performance from senior Marcus Clifford, Wheeling Central returned to the top of Class A with a 28-14 win over top-seeded Wahama on Saturday night.
Clifford ran for 233 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown burst on the first play from scrimmage, as No. 6 Wheeling Central (10-4) claimed its seventh title in 11 years and the first since winning four straight from 2004-2007.
Wheeling Central’s Lee Peluchette, who threw for 130 yards on just six completions, teamed up with his brother McKenzie for two passing touchdowns, the second of which stretched the Maroon Knights’ lead to 21-0 entering the fourth quarter.
Wahama (13-1) was making its first appearance in the championship game, but the White Falcons’ high-powered offense didn’t make its presence felt until scoring twice in the final quarter. Wahama averaged nearly 44 points per game in its undefeated run to Wheeling.
Although it allowed Wahama quarterback Trenton Gibbs to throw a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes, the Wheeling Central defense sacked Gibbs four times and forced four Wahama fumbles. The Maroon Knights surrendered only 43 yards, all rushing, in the first half.
The Wahama defense recorded six shutouts this season, but Wheeling Central erupted in the opening minute. Clifford broke free down the right sideline on the first play from scrimmage, putting the Maroon Knights in the driver’s seat.
Wheeling Central took to the air to build its advantage early in the second quarter. Lee Peluchette completed four passes on an 11-play drive, capped by a 9-yard TD toss to his brother McKenzie after he bobbled the snap. The extra point was blocked.
Wheeling Central appeared to catch a break when Wahama’s Ryan Lee lost a fumble at the Maroon Knights’ 11 late in the second, but Peluchette fumbled it right back to the White Falcons on the next play.
However, Wahama squandered its second chance at the end zone, turning the ball over on downs inside the 10.
The Peluchette brothers hooked up again on Wheeling Central’s second drive of the third quarter, with Lee finding Mackenzie for a 53-yard score down the right sideline. Andrew Keane’s two-point conversion reception stretched the Maroon Knights’ lead to 21-0.
Wahama avoided being shut out for the first time all season when Gibbs found Elijah Honaker in the front of the end zone for a 3-yard score on fourth down with 10:22 remaining.
Clifford broke the 200-yard barrier — and Wahama’s spirit — on a nine-play, 65-yard drive midway through the fourth that ended with Austin Frohnapfel’s 2-yard dive. Clifford also caught two passes for 40 yards in the game.
Wahama’s Lee caught an 8-yard scoring pass from Gibbs in the waning moments to provide the final margin. Lee, the White Falcons’ leading rusher with 1,196 yards, gained 56 of his 72 yards in the fourth quarter.