PDT Sports Writer
Normally Rob Woodward is not in favor of playing football games on days in which his Wheelersburg football team does not have classes.
This year may be the exception as the Pirates are 2-0 on days in which school was not in session. Wheelersburg, which is the No. 3 seed in the Division V, Region 17 playoffs, will look to make it 3-for-3 Saturday night when No. 6 Fairland makes its second appearance to Ed Miller Stadium in 2013, this time for a regional quarterfinal game.
“We played Jackson on a Friday this year, we didn’t have school (because) we had waiver day and we played Minford and we didn’t have school (because) of a waiver day,” Woodward said. “Our preparation for both of those games on that day of not having school were probably the best that we’ve had. Our kids have really just responded really well on days that they didn’t have school.”
The Pirates secured their seeding after last week’s 44-23 regular season finale win over West in the Halloween Bowl. Thanks to 254 yards of total offense from Eddie Miller and a 24-0 halftime lead, Wheelersburg revealed the appropriate signs to Woodward that a hangover from the 10-7 loss to Valley the previous week were not lingering. Woodward said he started noticing his team’s turnaround days before the game against the Senators.
“I’ve said it all year, we don’t win the game on Friday night, we win the game on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” Woodward said. “Our seniors did another tremendous performance. As a matter of fact, they had a jump start and had our team back together on Sunday and individually, they brought them in and discussed things without the coaches.”
The Dragons entered their Week 6 matchup with South Point in the midst of a three-game losing streak and were sitting in a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the region. Not only did a 74-43 road win over the Pointers help end Fairland’s skid, it was the start to a five-game winning streak to end the regular season and capture the OVC title.
With the 49-32 Pirate decision in recent memory, both teams want to prove to each other that a lot has changed since their Sept. 20 encounter. Woodward’s squad led 21-0 before the Dragons made the game more competitive.
“One of the biggest things that I think that we’ve improved in is our defensive game,” Woodward said. “We’ve got some people in the right places and they are really gelling together, recognizing every player in their individual positions is supposed to do and recognizing that.”
The 32 points allowed by the Wheelersburg defense in the Week 4 game was a season high. Since then, the Pirates pitched back-to-back shutouts to start SOC II play and has not given up more than 24 points in any of their last six contests.
That being said, Wheelersburg will have to slow down a Fairland offense that has been held to under 30 points once all season. Leading the Dragon attack is quarterback Chance Short, who is 195-of-286 passing (68 percent) for 2,891 yards with 27 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
Kyle Sowards is Short’s favorite target with 52 receptions for 1,155 yards and 12 touchdowns. Short also looks to Nathan Campbell, Evan Maddox and Dylan Murphy. Maddox is the team’s leading rusher with 1,346 yards on 175 carries and 17 rushing touchdowns.
“They’re some of the best backs that we’ve seen all year, if not the best,” Woodward said. “They drove the ball down on us but our defense stepped up when we needed to inside the red zone and we held them off.”
The winner will move on to next Saturday’s regional semifinal against the winner of the No. 7 Westfall-No. 2 Martins Ferry contest at a yet-to-be determined location.
Information from the Ironton Tribune contributed to the report.
Cody Leist can be reached at 353-3101, ext. 294, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking sports news, follow Cody on Twitter @CodyLeist.