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Point Pleasant embraces challenge of playing Class AAA

Nov. 20, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Point Pleasant High School is in its second year of playing Class AAA sports.

The bump up from Class AA hasn't stopped the football team from putting up impressive numbers despite having one of the smallest enrollments for its athletic home for two more years.

"The kids don't think about that part," Big Blacks coach Dave Darst said of the move. "I told them to forget what went on in the past."

No. 5 Wheeling Park (10-1) visits No. 4 Point Pleasant (11-0) in the second round of the playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Point Pleasant entered the 2011 playoffs as the No. 1 seed and made it to the title game in Wheeling where they met perennial power Wayne. The Pioneers, who lost to the Big Blacks in the regular season (16-14), made up for that with a 34-7 victory to secure their second state title.

So long Class AA. Darst scrambled to upgrade the schedule for 2012 and beyond.

It's a challenge because the Big Blacks are independent school located in Mason County not far from reigning Class A champion Wahama. Darst got six Class AAA teams on the 2012 schedule and eight for this season.

Will Darst make it to 10 by 2014?

"I have no idea," he said, noting Winfield already is off the schedule for 2014. "We played eight schools (this year) bigger than us. What am I supposed to do?"

Point Pleasant made the Class AAA playoffs in 2012, but lost to Morgantown in the first round.

The Big Blacks posted a 10-0 mark in the regular season in 2013 and secured the No. 4 spot for the playoffs. They beat No. 13 Logan (41-14) at home last Friday for their first playoff win at the Class AAA level since 1979. Now, they're preparing to face Wheeling Park at Ohio Valley Bank Field.

Huntington High, No. 1 seed in the Class AAA playoffs, and Point Pleasant are the only unbeaten teams left in their class.

"I told the kids here's what's in front of you. You have a chance to make history at Point Pleasant High," Darst said.

Only one Point Pleasant team ever won 11 games. That happened in 1979 when the Big Blacks went 11-1, losing to St. Albans in the Class AAA quarterfinals. This is the first time they've had two home playoff games in Class AAA. They did so in Class AA.

"That's big for us," Darst said. "It says a lot for where we are now. We could show up Friday and say let's feel sorry for ourselves now that we're at another level. That won't happen."

Statistically speaking, Point Pleasant tied University for No. 2 in points allowed (121) in Class AAA in the regular season. No. 1 Huntington led with 93. On offense, the Big Blacks racked up 436 points, tops for their class.

Point Pleasant has quite a one-two punch at running back in senior Chase Walton and sophomore Cody Mitchell, whose brother Derek is a linebacker on the Marshall University football team.

Walton became the school's career leader in touchdowns during the season, surpassing the mark of 35 set by Paul Bennett in 1954. Kicker Colin Peal is now the career record holder for extra points.

Mitchell, who's amassed more than 1,300 yards, started as a freshman. "That doesn't happen often," Darst said. "He's a good, hard runner. He works out a lot with his brother. He's come into his own."

Walton, also the school's career leader as a receiver, is well over 1,000 yards as well.

"He's had a tremendous career," Darst said. "He's a true dual threat."

Aden Yates is the first quarterback to go over 1,000 yards passing two straight years. The last to do it was Eric Roberts in 2010-11.

"We try to stay balanced," Darst said. "It depends on the kind of night it is. When you have two 1,000-yard rushers, it's nice to have it (passing) when you have to use it."

Point Pleasant had beaten Logan in the regular season, 37-21. Darst said the Big Blacks were ready for any surprises.

"We kind of knew what to expect, but you never know," he said. "To hold a team to 14 points in a playoff game is pretty good. On offense we were efficient."

When the SSAC classified schools for 2012-13 through 2015-16 (grades 9-12), Wheeling Park was No. 5 in Class AAA with 1,694 students and Point Pleasant came in last with 782. The cutoff was 778.

Wheeling Park beat No. 12 South Charleston, 55-34, in first-round action Friday at Wheeling Island Stadium. Morgantown handed the Patriots their only loss, 41-38, in overtime on Oct. 11 in Morgantown.

Wheeling Park got a signature win at home on Oct. 25 by a 44-24 count over Ohio power Steubenville. The Patriots had lost 12 straight to the Big Red and scored just 30 total points in those meetings. Before that night, Steubenville had not lost to a Wheeling public school since 1910 and a West Virginia school since 1963. The Big Red had won 39 straight against Mountain State opponents. Steubenville (8-4) has reached the regional finals in the Ohio Division IV playoffs.

Wheeling Park quarterback Zach Phillips tossed two TD passes against South Charleston to become the school's career leader in TD passes with 20. Sophomore Savion Johnson piled up 195 yards rushing and scored four times. Geremy Paige added 150. Eric Banks was the top receiver with 38 catches for 699 yards entering the playoffs.

"They're a good football team and they're playing well now," Darst said. "Our goal is to send out a competitive football team every week. When we do, we win a lot of games. The kids are hard nosed, they like to mix it up, they love to play at home. They won't lay down."

Darst is counting on homefield advantage as school officials are preparing for the biggest crowd ever at OVB Field. The Big Blacks are 5-10 all-time in the playoffs, but 4-1 in postseason play at OVB Field. Their overall mark at OVB Field is 28-3.

"We're excited about the next challenge," Darst said. "It's going to take a tremendous effort for us to get it done."