CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Wheeling Park fans expected good things this season because of the talent they had coming back from last year's squad, a 7-4 team that wound up as the No. 9 seed in the Class AAA playoffs.
But on the evening of Oct. 25, Patriots followers started to believe they were capable of great things.
That's the night Park steamrolled Steubenville 42-22, ending years of misery against the longtime Ohio football power.
The Patriots haven't slowed down since, and bring a mountain of momentum into Friday's first-round playoff game against No. 12 seed South Charleston at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Wheeling Park (9-1), the fifth seed, brings a four-game win streak into Friday's 7:30 p.m. kickoff, but none of those games were more important than the landmark win against Big Red.
Steubenville, a three-time Ohio playoff champion located just across the Ohio River from Weirton, had won all 12 of its previous meetings with Park, and the Patriots had managed to score just 30 total points in those 12 games. Big Red had also conquered West Virginia teams 39 straight times, mostly teams in the Northern Panhandle.
But not on that night three weeks ago. That's when the Patriots started to look like true state championship contenders.
"If you grow up in the Ohio Valley, your measuring stick is Steubenville High School,'' said Park coach Chris Daugherty.
"So to say we were able to win that game in the fashion we did this year, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a huge confidence booster. Especially to see them go on to the Ohio playoffs and knock off the No. 1 seed in their region two weeks later. When you're a little kid in West Virginia and you start playing pee-wee football, you figure out real fast that Steubenville plays a different brand of football than everybody else.''
Steubenville last week took a 6-4 record into the Ohio Division IV playoffs and boarded a 21-14 victory against Licking Valley, the top seed in Region 13.
So Big Red hasn't slowed down since that fateful night at Island Stadium last month, and Park certainly hasn't, either.
In their two games since, the Patriots have roughed up Parkersburg South 62-0 and neighboring rival John Marshall 54-21. Those are the two highest point totals for Park all year, as well as the most points allowed in a game by either South or JM.