WHEELERSBURG — Rob Woodward, with his attention to detail, was reviewing some statistics, both defensively and offensively, for his Wheelersburg High School football team —when interviewing on Tuesday with The Portsmouth Daily Times.
“I’ve been pleased with our defense to be able to hold our opponents, so far, under 100 yards on average, and we’re plus-5 in the turnover ratio. Our defense has been solid all year, and the last two weeks with two league games, our offense is making a lot of strides in finishing off drives, capitalizing more on what our defense is doing. We’re giving ourselves more opportunities to control things offensively. We’ve scored on a lot of big explosive plays this year also,” explained Woodward, the Pirates’ 15-year head coach. “We do our best to put our guys in the best possible positions to succeed on the field.”
Indeed, numbers never lie —although the 5-2 Pirates have just three letters on their minds for Friday night, when they travel to face the 3-4 Waverly Tigers.
Those being S, O, and C.
That’s because, of all of the Pirates’ lofty goals every campaign, first and foremost is a Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship —of which Wheelersburg owns 35 all-time.
In fact, in the past decade, only Valley from 2011 thru 2013 —and Waverly just two years ago thanks to its 36-35 epic overtime victory over the Orange and Black —has Wheelersburg not won the SOC II.
Already at 2-0 in the division this season, the Pirates take their next step towards defending their crown —when they invade Waverly’s Raidiger Field for another tussle with the up-tempo Tigers.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Tigers, in three of the past four years, have been the runner-up to the Pirates —including last season’s 21-14 Wheelersburg win, which was maybe even a mild upset inside Ed Miller Stadium.
But given the Tigers’ significant graduation losses, and the Pirates returning several standouts at key positions, Wheelersburg will be the favorite for Friday night —as some observers have even declared the improving and reloading Tigers an overwhelming underdog.
History has shown the Pirates’ all-time dominance, as Wheelersburg owns a 48-27 advantage (64-percent winning percentage) in the all-time series —with Waverly being the opponent the Pirates have played more than any other.
This will be the Pirates and Tigers’ 76th all-time meeting, as the regular-season finale between Wheelersburg and West will be those two rivals’ 75th all-time get-together.
While Woodward likes the growth these Pirates have made through the season’s opening seven weeks, as the numbers he provided bear out, it’s still a “one game at a time” approach.
“Our goal every year is to win the SOC II. We prepare every week for that opponent, we do what we need to do to get ready for THAT game,” he said. “Waverly is always a tough place to play, and it’s going to be a playoff type of game too.”
Speaking of playoffs, it’s another potential Pirate pickup in the Ohio High School Athletic Association computer points —as Wheelersburg sits seventh (9.4596 computer points average) in Division V Region 19, but it would prefer to move up into the top four.
The top 16 teams in each region qualify for the state playoffs, with the top eight teams earning opening-round home tilts.
A win over Division IV Waverly would boost their standing, as the Tigers are 15th in Region 15 —and in a precarious position as well, with 3-4 Taylor right behind them.
The Tigers started 2-0, but then lost four consecutive —to 6-1 squads Chillicothe, Unioto and West, around a long non-league trek to 4-2 Johnson Central (Ky.).
Waverly rallied twice but ultimately fell short at West 49-42, as the Tigers’ fast-paced spread-the-field formation attack —which usually runs a play every 10 to 12 seconds —still forces defenses to try and keep pace.
While the Tigers’ talents of quarterback Wade Futhey and wide receivers Will Futhey, Penn Morrison and Mark Stulley all graduated —Jase Hurd has ran the ball extremely effective, for 1,013 yards and 15 touchdowns on 175 carries.
Mason Kelly, the sophomore quarterback, has completed 105 passes on 192 attempts for 1,255 yards and 17 touchdowns with eight interceptions —with four receivers making at least a dozen receptions, paced by Kelly’s older brother Hudson (33 receptions, 550 yards and six TDs).
“They are still the same style of offense, same up-tempo, still balanced, snap it quick, but they have run the ball more much this year along with the pass,” said Woodward, of the Tigers. “Jase Hurd is definitely a ground-gainer and a game-breaker with his feet. Mason Kelly has a lot of quarterback run-pass options. They have a lot of similarities to these teams of the past few years. Their receivers have developed, they still have talent on that side of the ball, it’s just they’ve relied more on the run game.”
Which is what Wheelersburg has done — and will continue to do — with the likes of senior quarterback Eli Jones, running back Ethan Glover, running back Derrick Lattimore, and jet sweep artist Eric Lattimore.
While the Pirates’ passing game has improved, look for them —particularly against the Tigers —to play ball control, consume the clock, and sustain drives.
In its two losses against undefeated Ironton and 5-2 and Division III Jackson, all Wheelersburg did was make five combined field goals by junior Connor Estep —but challenging games like those required scoring touchdowns to realistically win.
The Pirates will need touchdowns against the Tigers, too.
“In big games, we have to finish drives with seven points,” said Woodward. “Our offense relies on our defense to make stops, so our offense needs to repay our defense in the form of touchdowns to work with.”
In the past three meetings, touchdowns and extra-point kicks have indeed been scored —as Wheelersburg won 42-28 three years ago, before the 21-14 tilt last season.
In both instances, and yes numbers tell a story, but the winner was en route to an SOC championship.
That’s three letters which Wheelersburg is only focused on for this Friday night.