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Photo by Kristin Mazgaj
Wheeling Park running back Zac Lydick runs against St. Clairsville.

GATES MILLS, Oh. — Wheeling Park will be looking to start the 2022 football season 3-0 Friday night when coach Chris Daugherty’s Patriots travel to Gilmour Academy for a battle with a tough Villa Angela-St. Joseph squad, which is sitting at 2-1 on the season but hasn’t allowed a point since a season-opening loss.

Daugherty’s Red, White and Blue opened the season with a victory over St. Clairsville before dropping Pittsburgh city school Brashear, 42-12, last week at Wheeling Island Stadium. Meanwhile, coach Jeff Rotsky’s Vikings opened with a 34-3 defeat at the hands of 2021 Division III state finalist Badin before outscoring their last two opponents by a combined 99-0 margin. Last week was a 49-0 triumph over Youngstown East.

VASJ has moved up to Division III this season as well and entered the campaign with a younger squad consisting of only eight seniors, but a whopping 40 sophomores on the roster.

The Vikings have a pair of high-quality running backs including sophomore Lamar “Bo” Jackson, who already has offers from Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh and Kentucky. He is joined in the backfield by junior Amani Powell. Rotsky has a pair of quarterbacks that could see action in senior Kayin Cooper or sophomore Kylan Steuball with junior Andre Spinks the top receiving threat.

Defensive lineman Domnic Kinks is also considered a Division I prospect for VASJ.

“They are a good, well-coached football team that made the Ohio playoffs a season ago and expect to be back there again this year,” Daugherty said. “I think it is going to be very interesting to see how we match-up against them. They have a great running back and love to run the football. He is a Division I recruit, and he really looks the part, even though he is only a sophomore.

“We know they will run a lot of power with outside zones and we are going to have to be physical with them, not just a little, but for a long time, to be successful.”

The Patriots were actually out-gained by the Bulls a week ago but a big-play offense and a defensive effort that included a pair of interceptions and two safeties made the difference. Park also had a kickoff return for a touchdown on the night.

Quarterback Brett Phillips leads the offensive attack and has hit an impressive 24 of 37 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns through two games and added 41 yards and a score on the ground last week. Sophomore speedster Jerrae Hawkins has nine catches for 170 yards and three scores, two of those coming last week from 15 and 37 yards away.

Will James is another receiving threat with five grabs for 43 yards and a score. Zac Lydick leads the ground attack with 22 totes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots were actually forced to punt on their initial two possessions last week before rattling off touchdowns the following five times they touched the football.

“We have big-play capabilities from so many different kids,” Daugherty mentioned. “It is just a matter of figuring out how teams are going to play us week-in and week-out. It might take us a while to figure things out some weeks, but we feel like there are so many different kids we can turn to when we need to make a big play.”

Through two games Wheeling Park has outscored its opponents by an 84-26 margin.

“I really can’t say enough about our defense right now,” Daugherty added. “We knew we were losing some good linebackers and a safety, and I honestly wasn’t positive what we were going to look like on that side of the ball coming in. But I am so happy about where we are right now, especially our ability to stop the run the first two weeks.

“But there is no question we will be tested more this week than we were the first two. It is the first time we have had to travel this year, and this is going to be the best team we have played to date. They are fast and physical, and they should be able to match our speed. We will just have to see how it plays out, it could be something that makes us a much better football team depending on how things play out.”

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