CLAYSVILLE -- It’s a sign of a good football team when it can overcome mistakes and still earn a key victory.
That was the case Friday night as McGuffey lost the turnover battle and was held to three first downs in the second half, but its defense held firm, the offense found its footing and the Highlanders hung on for a 28-14 victory over Charleroi to stay atop the Class 2-A Century Conference by a half game over Washington, setting up a potential title clash in two weeks against the Prexies.
“Who else can control their destiny like we can?” asked Highlanders coach Ed Dalton. “But we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The final score suggests it was a comfortable victory, but things got dicey at one point.
Charleroi (4-2, 5-2), which fell behind 21-0, battled back to within 21-14, making it a one-possession game when Legend Davis hauled in an 8-yard fade from Alex Conrad with 7:18 left in the fourth quarter.
McGuffey (6-0, 8-0) proceeded to fumble the ensuing kickoff, giving the Cougars the ball at the Highlanders’ 34. Dalton called timeout to make a schematic change, as Charleroi had been picking apart the McGuffey defense with a variety of short passes.
After a solid gain on first down, Charleroi coach Lance Getsy called for a deep ball to the end zone that could’ve either been caught or intercepted but fell incomplete. Third down was nearly another interception, and then a fourth-down run was stopped.
The Highlanders, with momentum back on their side, then drove 72 yards to put the game away on a Marshall Whipkey touchdown run with 3:12 remaining.
“I’ll take the blame and say, hey, it was me,” said Getsy. “We saw some things we had open in the flat. McGuffey made adjustments as well.”
Highlighting McGuffey’s final possession was a 43-yard run by Marshall Whipkey, who juked and sidestepped and dodged past seemingly the entire Charleroi defense before finally being knocked out of bounds at the Cougars’ 3-yard line. Two plays later, he scored to seal the win.
“The play he made was ridiculous,” said Dalton. “He just decided to make a play himself.”
Each of McGuffey’s first two drives ended with lost fumbles, but Charleroi went three-and-out each time. Then the Highlanders started to flex their muscle on offense behind McKinley Whipkey, who ran for 109 yards on 20 carries. His one-yard scoring plunge midway through the second quarter gave the Highlanders a 14-0 lead. Marshall Whipkey gained 81 yards on nine carries and Nate Yagle ran for 92 yards on 10 attempts with one touchdown.
“McKinley can set the tone,” said Dalton.
The other highlight-reel play of the game came just before halftime. With McGuffey looking at a second-and-2 from its 32 and just over 2 minutes remaining in the half, Marshall Whipkey lofted a deep pass down the left sideline for C.J. Cole, who out-leaped defender Legend Davis to come down with the catch. Cole kept his balance and had no one between him and the end zone for a 68-yard score and a 21-0 Highlanders lead.
Brayden Mihalcin rushed for 95 yards on 22 carries and Conrad completed 17 of 29 passes for 178 yards and a rushing touchdown in the losing effort.
“We made a lot of mental mistakes, and when you play a good team, you’re not going to get away with that,” Getsy said. “We talk about overcoming adversity all the time. Our kids buckled down and they were able to overcome adversity in the long run. I’m proud of the way they battled. It’s just putting 48 minutes together instead of 24.”
Charleroi 0-0-7-7 -- 14
McGuffey 7-14-0-7 -- 28
McG: Nathan Yagle 7 run (Nate Witkowski kick)
McG: McKinley Whipkey 1 run (Nate Witkowski kick)
McG: CJ Cole 68 pass from Marshall Whipkey (Nate Witkowski kick)
Char: Alex Conrad 1 run (Joey Caruso kick)
Char: Legend Davis 8 pass from Alex Conrad (Joey Caruso kick)
Char: Marshall Whipkey 2 run (Nate Witkowski kick)
Records: Charleroi (4-2, 5-2), McGuffey (6-0, 8-0).