PDT Sports Writer
Unbeaten and the crown within sights, this is a position Valley has been accustomed to recently.
For the fourth-straight season, the Indians — ranked sixth in the latest Associated Press Division VI poll — will go into their game with Wheelersburg at 8-0 with at least a share of the SOC II on the line. The Pirates, who share a similar 8-0 mark and are ranked first in the latest Division V poll, have lost the last two meetings with Valley and are looking for their first conference crown since 2010.
While both teams have secured playoff berths in their respective regions, the title of conference champion and fast track to a first round home playoff berth add to the storylines of this intense rivalry.
“We’ve worked our tails off since January of last year to be in this position,” Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward said. “Our kids are always focused on the gold ball (signifying a perfect season) and working towards that.”
The Pirates won their final road regular season game last week, 42-13, at Minford. Thanks to a couple of second quarter Falcon turnovers, Wheelersburg scored 21 of its 42 points in the 12 minutes before the half.
With the defending SOC II champions coming to town, Woodward knows his team needs to get back to having their foot on the accelerator offensively and continue to buckle down defensively. Last week, the Pirates sacked Minford quarterback Cody Stapleton three times.
“Establishing the line of scrimmage is going to be key, both offensively and defensively,” Woodward said. “Last week, I thought we did a great job of that, (it) was a key part of the game for us.”
The Indians upped their regular season winning streak to 28 games thanks to a 52-12 triumph over Northwest in the final regular season home game in Lucasville this season. Nate Arnett ran for 112 yards on 11 carries and scored three times while Brice Jordan and Alex Loop combined for 110 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.
Valley coach Darren Crabtree felt the keys to his team’s success against the Mohawks included a penalty-free game offensively and six consecutive scoring drives to start the game.
“We were able to get things done in a manner that was very good and we showed that we weren’t really looking ahead too much to the game with Wheelersburg,” Crabtree said. “Defensively, I thought we came out and really played well from start to finish. To be able to do that in a game that you pretty much knew going in you were going to have not an easy time with but could have, it’s nice to see our kids come out and play that well in that type of game.”
As 16 seniors stepped off the field last week for one of the final times, if not the last, at home, Crabtree feels this group has matured. Since entering high school, the Indians are 20-2 at home and he hopes to get one more.
“They understood that we’ve been looking at this thing as the season goes on one week at a time and trying to go out and play our best,” Crabtree said. “We’ve had a couple of weeks in the season where we didn’t play real well. We were able to get wins but we didn’t accomplish all that we wanted to and that was the biggest thing about last week, we played well against West the week before and we backed it up with a nice performance against Northwest.”
In conference games, the kids in the trenches shine just as brightly as the skilled players. Woodward believes Valley’s twin linemen Caleb and Kyle Miller along with tight end/defensive end Hayden Dunn could present a number of problems if his team cannot account for them.
“They gained the upper hand on us last year for sure in the game so we need to make sure that’s something we improve on,” Woodward said.
On the opposite sidelines, Crabtree is impressed with wide receiver Dylan Miller, who has been one of Eddie Miller’s favorite targets throughout the season. Eddie was 23-of-31 passing for 259 yards with two touchdowns and an interception while Dylan caught 11 passes for 101 yards and a score.
“He probably is the best receiver at coming back to the football and making catches,” Crabtree said.
In the previous six encounters between the two teams, the margin of victory has shrunk steadily from 40 points in 2007 to two in 2012’s 9-7 outcome. The difference in last year’s game was a Bryce Romanello 19-yard field goal with 40 seconds remaining.
Cody Leist can be reached at 353-3101, ext. 294, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking sports news, follow Cody on Twitter @CodyLeist.