Gallery by Heather Belcher
Wheeling – The first play of scrimmage served as an omen for the James Monroe Mavericks.
It wasn’t a good one.
Fumbling on the first play of the game, the Mavericks yielded a touchdown to Williamstown in the first minute and proved unable to slow the Yellowjackets all night in a 52-20 loss in the Class A state championship game Saturday night at Wheeling Island Stadium.
The top-seeded Mavericks saw a steady dose of Yellowjackets all-stater Maxwell Molessa who carried the ball 19 times for 272 yards and five touchdowns with 181 of them coming in the opening half.
The performance earned Molessa Most Outstanding Player honors.
“We felt like we had some different things formation wise we could exploit and take advantage of,” Williamstown head coach Chris Beck said. “It’s always easier when the guys up front do their job and you’ve got three (Rickie Allen) and seven (Molessa), they deserve all the credit. Three and seven make me look like a hell of a coach sometimes.”
The 52 points given up by the Mavericks were a season high for their defense and more than they gave up in the regular season (41) combined or the postseason (33) combined.
“I thought about throwing that challenge flag a couple times just because I didn’t think (Molessa) should have the ball,” James Monroe head coach John Mustain joked. “The kid’s tough and all their runners, they’re just hard runners and their point of contact and how they get off the ball, they were just more than we could handle tonight.”
The Mavericks discovered what they were in for off the bat.
After Chazz Boggs fumbled on the opening play from scrimmage, Rickie Allen found the end zone four plays later to help establish an 8-0 Williamstown following a successful conversion run by Molessa. Boggs accounted for his mistake on the next drive, bolting 25 yards around the right end for a touchdown with a pass from Layton Dowdy to Eli Allen accounting for the tying points.
It took Williamstown all of five plays to march 79 yards for the tiebreaker with the final 64 coming on a Molessa rush through the teeth of the James Monroe defense.
That same defense held strong on the conversion attempt and forced and recovered a Williamstown fumble on the following Yellowjacket drive. The turnover ultimately didn’t matter as the Williamstown defense held on third-and-1 and fourth-and-2 at its own 26 to get the ball back.
Afterwards it was Molessa again as he scored on a 55-yard run to help push the lead to 22-8. Stumbling, the Mavericks found life and dug out of their own hole. Facing second-and-27 at their own 25, the coaching staff called Eli Allen’s number on a middle screen and he delivered with a 39-yard catch and run, following later with an 18-yard catch that set the Mavericks up at the Yellowjacket 1.
Two plays later Cooper Ridgeway brought life back into the James Monroe crowd when he powered in from two yards out to make it 22-14.
Molessa promptly took it away.
A nine-play, 84-yard drive ended with Molessa’s third rushing score of the half, this one from nine yards out to establish a 30-14 Williamstown lead at the break.
The senior’s fourth rushing score on the opening drive of the half effectively put the game to bed at 38-14
The Mavericks scratched out a seven-play drive the charted 32 yards in retaliation but a pass bobbled by Allen fell into the hands of Colt Hesson.
Despite the outcome of the drive, James Monroe found success playing Dowdy out of the shotgun, a switch from the under-center attack of the first half. Dowdy threw for 58 of his 114 yards in the second half and picked up 29 of his 40 yards rushing.
“We found some (success),” Mustain said. “We were running the ball pretty well too but ultimately I think it just came down to the trenches up front on both sides of the ball and they ultimately just dominated us.”
Molessa and Rickie Allen added another rushing score each while Dowdy connected with Boggs for the Mavericks’ final score of the evening.
Everybody back home always kind of complains, and I understand because it’s a long trip up here but I told them you just wait until you get up there. These people up here treat you great … No matter what the outcome is it’s a big thrill to get here.”
The Mavericks, who finished with their best record in program history, graduate 11 seniors including several all-staters but will return a core of players highlighted by Dowdy and running back Cooper Ridgeway.
“We’ve had seven other times we’ve gotten to the final four and didn’t get up here,” Mustain said. “It’d be nice we’d have gotten up here more than we have but any time you get up here it’s great. Unfortunately our program still has the moniker of one of the best programs in the state that’s never won the whole thing. Hopefully that will change at some point and I’m hoping we can build on this. We’re losing a lot of good seniors, very good seniors. We’ve got some good kids coming back and a pretty good ninth grade group coming in and I hope we can build on it and encourage some kids to come out … It’s definitely a big plus for us.”
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