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O’Connor’s return keys West Virginia

Oak Glen’s Kyler O’Connor returns a fumble for a touchdown during the first quarter of the OVAC Rudy Mumley All-Star Football Game on Saturday at Wheeling Island Stadium. (Photo by Kristin Mazgaj)

WHEELING — Defense certainly wins championships but apparently it wins all-star games, too.

It did just that on Saturday night in the 75th OVAC Rudy Mumley All-Star Football Game as West Virginia scored both of its touchdowns on defense and defeated Ohio 17-6 inside Wheeling Island Stadium.

The W.Va. win snaps a two-game winning streak by Ohio and in his third attempt coaching the Mountaineer all-stars, coach B.J. Depew earned his first victory in the event.

“It feels really good,” Depew said. “We challenged them in the locker room because we knew Ohio’s size, strength and scheme suited to really attack us but we said ‘the only thing they don’t know about us is how tough we are’ and that’s what showed up. Their toughness is what made a difference. We forced them to break their game plan and throw it a little bit and we made them pay.”

Wheeling Park’s Beau Heller quarterbacked the entire game for West Virginia and threw for 252 yards. He orchestrated a solid opening drive to the game of 62 yards but it stalled, allowing Linsly kicker Joao Lima to showcase his skills with a 40-yard boot for an early 3-0 lead.

Along with the kick, Lima also pinned Ohio inside the 5-yard line with a solid punt. Wheeling Central’s Jordan Waterhouse played coffin corner, as well, with two punts inside the 5, allowing the defense to go to work.

“We made some huge plays on special teams,” Depew said. “Specifically punting the ball. It was a field possession game that we ended up winning. Both of those guys pinned them deep a couple of times, which is neat having something like that make a difference in an all-star game with all of this talent.”

The West Virginia defense held Ohio without a first down in the first quarter and Oak Glen all-state defensive end Kyler O’Connor recorded the first touchdown of the game in the second with a 32-yard scoop-and-score to give the Mountaineers a 10-0 cushion.

“That was awesome,” O’Connor said. “This is also the second all-star game that I’ve won so this is just a pretty amazing night.”

Defense continued to be the theme as River’s Carter Dennis collected an interception to set the Ohio offense up at the W.Va. 40-yard line. Moments later, Indian Creek running back Matt Schaefer found paydirt from 4 yards out to cut the deficit to 10-6 with 8:14 left in the half.

The score remained that way going into the half as West Virginia outgained Ohio 132-98 in total first half yards.

Then, on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, defense struck again. This time, on his home field one last time, Wheeling Park’s Shaheed Jackson showed off his ball hawk and speed skills as he stepped in front of a pass and raced 20 yards for a pick six and the final score of the game.

“I knew I was there, I just had to go get the ball,” Jackson said. “I told my coach that the next time I get the ball I’m going to score and that’s what I did.

“I was supposed to be in the flat but I saw the kid go over top and I just rotated my hips and ran toward him and saw the ball coming and jumped for it.”

In the second half, Ohio tallied just 115 total yards with drives ending in four turnovers on downs, two interceptions (Oak Glen’s Gage Patterson added the other) and one punt.

“The fumble and the pick six — those kinds of mistakes in a game like this are hard to come back from,” Fort Frye and Ohio coach Eric Huck said. “I thought our defense played really well. Offensively, they really just put up three points but we just couldn’t stay consistent offensively.”

West Virginia ran for only three yards in the second half but was helped out by Heller’s 159 second-half passing yards. The Mountaineers’ drives over the final two frames included five punts.

“We were trying like heck to operate on offense but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” Depew said. “They put some pressure on us but it was just one of those nights where turnovers won the game for us.”

Linsly’s Kobe Hill who caught five passes for 70 yards, while Stevie Mitchell hauled in six throws for 39 yards.

Ohio’s top offensive play-maker wrapping up a stellar career was Schaefer who finished with nine carries for 72 yards and the lone Buckeye score of the game.

“This is a great group of guys,” Huck said. “I wish we could have played differently because we definitely have a group of guys that could have won that game.”

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