WHEELING — For much of the season, Capital has been done in by its own mistakes — penalties, missed assignments, turnovers. As a result, the Cougars were relegated to a .500 record and their first opening-round road playoff game in 10 years.
But their postseason run began Friday much the same way it has gone this decade — with a resounding victory.
Chance Knox and Tay Calloway each ran for three touchdowns and more than 100 yards as the Cougars piled up 550 total yards to highlight a 45-21 win against mistake-prone Wheeling Park at Wheeling Island Stadium.
The Cougars meet the winner between No. 3 Spring Valley (9-1) and No. 14 Hurricane (4-6) in next weekend’s quarterfinals. The Timberwolves host the Redskins at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Capital is trying to reach the semifinals for a seventh straight season, the longest streak of any team in Class AAA.
Capital picked off three passes from Park quarterback Alex Dunlevy — two by Kerion Martin — and held the Patriots to 36 rushing yards. Dunlevy threw for 250 yards and three TDs, and his three scoring connections accounted for 127 of Park’s 286 total yards.
“Beautiful,’’ said Capital coach Jon Carpenter. “Our kids played hard. We didn’t let them play 7 on 7 with us. We tried to blitz them, and the three [scores] we gave them were busted calls.’’
Knox, the team’s most experienced receiver who was moved into the backfield three games ago to diversify Capital’s offense, carried 10 times for 152 yards, darting into small creases in the defense and scoring on plays of 11, 3 and 85 yards. He also caught eight passes for 90 yards.
“I like it,’’ Knox said of the move to the backfield. “I’m just doing whatever I can to help our team.
“I think we got our confidence back. We’ve been down a couple weeks this season, but we came out on both sides of the ball and played great tonight. Everybody was getting it rolling.’’
Calloway carried 18 times for 137 yards, hitting the end zone on runs of 18, 21 and 7 yards, often dragging tacklers with him. Capital wound up with 303 yards on 36 rushing plays.
“We weren’t trying to control the ball,’’ Carpenter said of the revitalized ground game. “We were trying to score. They backed off us and we just took what they gave us.’’
Sophomore quarterback Evan Landers also shined in his first postseason start for the Cougars, completing 16 of 25 passes for 243 yards. He was not sacked and threw one interception.
The Patriots, who trailed 24-14 at halftime, were saddled with 15 penalties for 102 yards, 11 of those flags coming in the first half. They also had five dropped passes and the three turnovers.
“We’ve been Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde all year long,’’ said Park coach Chris Daugherty. “When we’re up, we’re a pretty good team. When we play like this … it was one of those nights. It just wasn’t our night from the get-go.
“That first half, we played as poorly as we’ve played all year long. I was happy we were down 10. For whatever reason, it just didn’t click and we never got it going. Credit to them.’’
Dunlevy threw TD passes of 49 and 41 yards to Stevie Mitchell and 37 yards to Xavier Morris. The scoring toss to Morris made it 24-21 in the first 90 seconds of the third quarter, but Capital answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive to go back up two scores and the defense clamped down.
The Cougars didn’t punt until the final minute of the game.
In the first half, the Patriots had a multitude of mistakes — three dropped passes, an interception and 11 penalties. Three times, Park jumped offside on the defensive line and twice on consecutive plays it was cited for an illegal snap. One time, two offensive players were in motion at the snap.
Capital had seven possessions in the first half — three resulted in touchdowns, one a 23-yard field goal by Logan Spurlock, a missed field goal by Spurlock, an interception and the final drive was halted by the clock expiring at halftime.
At the break, Landers was 10 of 16 for 123 yards and Knox had 68 yards on six catches and 52 yards on six carries. Capital had outgained the Patriots 270-146 in total yards, with 90 of Park’s yards coming on two long touchdown passes to Mitchell.
Spurlock also caught two key passes for 66 yards, one converting a third-and-26 call from Capital’s own 1 in the fourth quarter to help whittle down the clock. He also led the Cougars on defense with eight tackles. K.J. Taylor caught four passes for 52 yards.
Capital had several penalties late and finished 16 for 145 yards.