Throughout the first six games of the 2017 season, the Wheelersburg Pirates and the Waverly Tigers have been nothing less than dominant from an offensive standpoint.
In just 12 games combined, both units have already tallied up 453 points altogether — which would make anybody’s head spin. Wheelersburg has scored no less than 37 points en route to an astonishing 42.7 points per game average through the first six weeks of the regular season. As for Waverly, you ask? They’re not too far behind — coming in at a modest, to put it lightly, 32.8 points per affair in 2017.
The offensive firepower that both teams bring to the table, however, is only one reason why Friday’s matchup is a must-watch. With two brilliant coaching minds in Chris Crabtree and Rob Woodward involved in a contest that brings two teams with an 11-1 combined mark together, Friday’s SOC II contest at Ed Miller Stadium will, indeed, be a neat affair to take in.
For Woodward, however, the veteran head coach believes that his Pirates, as per usual, are prepared to handle the challenge.
“We’ve really gotten better week-to-week as we’ve gone through these first five, six games of the year,” Woodward said. “We keep challenging our kids with new things every week, and Waverly brings a new challenge to the table for us to prepare for. The kids have been preparing well. Waverly’s a beast to prepare for. They have showcased a much-improved football team over the last few years. They do a great job and they’re well-coached, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Offensively, Waverly, with a quintuple-headed monster that includes Clayton Howell, Drew Kritzwiser, Easton Wolf, Phoenix Wolf, and Cobe Marquez, has proven to be hard to stop for the majority of opponents.
In five of Waverly’s six affairs, the Tigers have put up at least 28 or more points, including 75 points combined against Scioto Valley Conference strongholds Unioto and Zane Trace, 46 more against Fairland, who has proven to be among the most improved teams in all of Southeastern Ohio, and another 35 last week in a three-touchdown victory over Valley.
“Waverly has a very balanced offense, which is much like what we try to present,” Woodward said. “They like to give teams challenges and do things that their kids are able to do best. Clayton Howell can really get the football out of there quick. He’s not really mobile in the pocket, but he doesn’t have to be because he can stand in there and really rifle the ball to where it needs to go. He’s got a lot of excellent receivers and a running back that really keeps you honest in Drew Kritzwiser, who can bounce it outside and is very quick.”
So, how does Woodward plan to counteract that? Making sure that his players understand the importance of playing with the right technique.
“There’s a lot of things offensively that they present to us that we’ve got to make sure that we recognize what they’re doing from an offensive standpoint as far as our defensive alignment is concerned,” Woodward said. “Our goal is to be right there making tackles and not letting them have yards after the catch or allowing them to develop any kind of rhythm offensively, because once Waverly gets things rolling, they really move down the field well.”
As far as Wheelersburg’s offense is concerned, the Pirates have showed no signs of slowing down from an offensive standpoint.
In addition to Trent Salyers’ 1,513 passing yards and 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions — a four-to-one touchdown to interception ratio — and Tanner Holden’s 788 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns on 45 catches, the Pirates’ rushing attack has accumulated 1,038 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on 186 carries for a 5.6 yards-per-carry average to fuel a balanced and explosive offensive attack.
“Teams are starting to do different things to our receivers in order to take away parts of our game, and as a result, that enhances other areas,” Woodward said. “It’s part of our job, as a coaching staff, to recognize that and dictate the plays that will counteract what teams are trying to do to us. Tom Kaskey’s done a great job of that, but Trent Salyers has done a great job of that, as well. There’s a lot of plays where the weight falls on his shoulders to make a good decision or read based on what the defense is doing.”
The skill position players, however, have been aided by Wheelersburg’s attention to detail in the trenches on both sides of the football.
On the offensive side of the coin, Salyers has only been sacked three times in six games and 16 of the Pirates’ ball carriers in 2017 have gained positive yardage. Defensively, the front six has been critical for Wheelersburg as the Pirates have garnered 10 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries, and six forced fumbles (including five recovered) in 2017. The secondary has added six interceptions to give Wheelersburg a plus-two takeaway margin.
“I’ve really been pleased with what we’ve been able to do up front at the line of scrimmage with our guys on the offensive and defensive lines,” Woodward said. “That’s been a key to our success. We have a lot of weapons, but Trent’s got to have time to get the ball to them, and on the other side of the football, the defense has to get to the quarterback or apply pressure in order to force turnovers and put our offense in favorable positions. The guys have done a great job. We’ve just got to continue to improve.”
From a special teams standpoint, Wheelersburg has hardly missed a beat despite the lost exploits of Daylor Lewis, a four-year starter at kicker. That’s because Jalen Miller, a junior hand, has not only garnered nine touchbacks, but has made five of his six field goal attempts with a long of 43 yards in 2017.
“When Jalen makes connection with the football, as seen with the multiple touchbacks and the 29-yard field goal, it just adds to what we can bring as a football team,” Woodward said. “Jalen’s done a great job, and our entire special teams has been really impressive. Our kickoff coverage, as a whole, has been better over the last two weeks, and our kickoff return team has been a definite weapon when we’ve been able to bring returns back.”
With talent all over the field for the Pirates and the Tigers on Friday evening, however, the numbers, once again, can be thrown out the window — because it will end up being the most disciplined team who will emerge victorious. Wheelersburg made excellent strides in that area last Friday in a 44-0 victory over Oak Hill as the offense committed just one penalty all game — a holding call on the outside edge of the field that Woodward said “can be thrown out the window.”
“I’m looking for a disciplined game out of our players,” Woodward said. “I talked with our players about playing effectively on the offensive and defensive sides of the football, because discipline is going to be the key here. We’ve got to make sure that we’re disciplined on both sides of the ball in terms of our alignment, recognition, and who it is that we’re blocking or where we’re putting ourselves in order to be in the best position to make the tackle.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7