WHEELERSBURG — The Wheelersburg Pirates, perhaps better than anybody in Southeastern Ohio football, play the computer points pickup games.
With wins over equal-quality Division V clubs, or even Ohio’s higher divisions of IV or III, the Pirates are almost always at —or certainly near — the top of the regular Region 19 (or Region 20 in certain seasons) computer ratings.
So far for 2022, the 3-1 Pirates have played those computer points games quite well —coming off a successful three-game road show in which Wheelersburg won at Cincinnati McNicholas (42-35 in overtime), before crossing the Ohio River in the past two weeks with wins at Russell (28-21) and Ashland (49-7).
Now, Wheelersburg will be back inside the friendly confines of its Ed Miller Stadium —and this time plays its largest computer points pickup matchup to date.
That would be the like tradition-rich Jackson Ironmen of Division III, as the 2-2 Ironmen invade Ed Miller Stadium for the first time in four years —and under the direction of the program’s winningest head coach and former Wheelersburg player Andy Hall.
Hall’s father, Larry Hall, is the Ironmen’s defensive coordinator —and was Wheelersburg’s head coach in the 1990s following the retirement of Ed Miller.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., as with the victory goes certainly some spoils — but in the Pirates’ case, they are aiming to collect a boatload of Ohio High School Athletic Association computer points.
Speaking of which, the first weekly release of the OHSAA’s ratings were released on Tuesday —the same day in which Wheelersburg head coach Rob Woodward interviewed with The Portsmouth Daily Times to discuss the upcoming Ironmen match.
First off, Woodward and the Pirates are elated to be home —and are definitely aware of what’s at stake against Jackson.
The Pirates lead the all-time series 15-9, as it resumed in 2012 — but did not take place two years ago because of the coronavirus threat.
“Just excited to be back in Ed Miller Stadium in front of our electric home crowd. Playing three road games in a row is always tough and often tiring, and especially against our opponents this year. But our schedule this year, no matter what week, is extremely challenging,” said Woodward. “The Jackson game is another big game, and we’re looking forward to the challenge they present, but we look at it as another opportunity for guys to ‘step up’, as per our motto this year. Big players make big plays in big-time games and that’s what we’re looking for again this week.”
The Pirates have certainly made big-time plays the past three weeks —winning three road bouts and answering critics’ questions, even suppressing doubters and downers, following their 12-3 loss against undefeated Ironton in the opener.
They’ve ran the football well with a mix-and-match of capable ballcarriers (Derrick Lattimore, Eric Lattimore, Ethan Glover and quarterback Eli Jones), made defensive stops when push came to shove, placekicker Connor Estep is a perfect 17-of-17 on extra-point kicks, and Creed Warren returned an ensuing kickoff (90 yards) and an interception (52 yards) for touchdowns just last week (at Ashland).
“Our first five weeks, we want to test ourselves and figure out exactly what we are and where we’re at. We have several pieces back from last year’s team, but we wanted to see what THIS team could be and see if these guys would recognize their roles and could step up like last year’s team did at this time. Our guys played well overall in the last three games, and showed that growth and improvement we are always looking for, ” said Woodward. “We’ve been on the road, played in the heat and humidity and faced adversity at times with too many penalties and things like that, but we’ve responded well in all three games, and came out with three wins.”
Indeed, the Pirate penalties are down from the opener, while the rushing totals and touchdowns are way up.
As a result, Wheelersburg (5.6000 computer points average) jumped to fourth in the Region 19 computer ratings —as the triumphs over the two Kentucky schools equate to Division III victories, while 2-2 McNicholas is a Division IV squad.
The Ironmen (9th in Region 11) enter at 2-2, but with wins over Division II Logan AND last week over fellow Division III Western Brown —which was 3-0.
In fact, Jackson had Ironton down 26-14 in the third quarter, before the Division V Fighting Tigers rallied for a 29-26 win.
The following week, the Red and White went to fellow Division III Tri-Valley —and the 14-13 difference was a missed extra point.
Turnovers have been the Ironmen’s bugaboo so far, or otherwise they COULD be undefeated entering Ed Miller Stadium on Friday night.
But against Wheelersburg, the Ironmen have won the past two meetings —both at Alumni Stadium, including 21-20 in overtime last season.
The Pirates, 2-2 at that time, pulled off ALMOST the upset —as Jackson took advantage of four Pirate turnovers, combined with Wheelersburg clanging a 51-yard game-winning field goal off the crossbar as regulation expired, and before going for a game-winning two-point conversion try in overtime which failed.
However, every cloud has seemingly a silver lining —as the Pirates’ season turned from that game, as they went on to capture another outright Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship and Region 19 runner-up.
Wheelersburg won eight consecutive contests following that loss, including its 17-14 upset of Ironton in the Region 19 semifinals.
“We had our chances to win at Jackson last year, but four turnovers, a missed field goal off the goalpost, some missed tackles on key plays, not getting the two-point conversion in overtime, it just didn’t work out for us. But we recognized in that loss all what we could do and how to grow and develop,” said Woodward. “We learned a lot from that game about adverse situations, and we only grew from that game and got better and that carried over into the rest of the season and so far this year.”
As for this season’s game, the physical Ironmen present a 1-2 offensive punch —with senior quarterback Jacob Winters and junior running back Cade Wolford.
Perhaps the primary key for a Wheelersburg win this week —matching Jackson’s up-front and renown physicality.
“That’s going to be huge for us,” agreed Woodward. “Jackson’s fronts on both sides are always physical, and we work to be just as physical, hopefully more so. They are going to be physical with us, and we have to work and rise to that challenge.”
Of course, there is always the run-of-the-mill mistakes which must be limited or altogether avoided —as Woodward emphasized field position playing a significant role.
Thus, the games within the game itself —all part of the computer points pick-me-up matchups the Pirate play pretty much every single solitary week.
It’s just that some, such as against Jackson, are worth more in the jackpot than others.
“There’s a lot of points out there, we know that, but for us it just comes down to doing our jobs and executing offensively and being aggressive and making plays defensively,” said Woodward. “We do those things, we settle in and limit our mistakes and handle adversity, we will be alright.”