Pirates play for redemption


WHEELERSBURG — Simply put, the Wheelersburg Pirates play football for each other as a brotherhood —past, present and future.

Given the tragic nature of some events of the past week, and with on-the-field outcomes from a year ago and longer, these Pirates play — quite frankly — for redemption on Friday night.

That’s because — with heavy hearts with the untimely loss of a recent proud Pirate past — 9-3 and sixth-seeded Wheelersburg will indeed go for a measure of revenge, when the Pirates play undefeated and second-seeded Harvest Prep (12-0) in the Division V Region 19 semifinals.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. —inside what could be a rainsoaked, yet still historic, Boston Field at Nelsonville-York High School.

This semifinal is a rematch from last season’s Region 19 championship bout at Waverly, in which the talented and highly-touted Warriors erased deficits of 14-0 and 17-7 —and captured a come-from-behind 20-17 triumph.

Wheelersburg is making its 34th all-time state playoff appearance, and is in quest of a ninth regional championship, although playing playoff games in Athens County has been unkind on the scoreboard— given the Pirates’ 0-5 all-time record there.

In fact, bookended by losses at Athens High School’s Rutter Field (Shenandoah in 2003 and Coshocton 2016), the Pirates haven’t won in Nelsonville either —which includes twice facing Fredericktown (2009 and 2010) and once meeting Columbus Hartley (2013).

So again, it’s all about redemption for Friday night —in making this a November to remember.

Wheelersburg head coach Rob Woodward, the 15-year Pirate mentor who captured his 150th career coaching victory in the team’s opening-round playoff win over Heath, said as much on Tuesday —during an in-person interview with The Portsmouth Daily Times.

“We’ve talked about that (redemption). Redemption is not being malice toward your opponent. It’s recognizing that there are things that the last time we faced one another, we left unanswered or we left undone. It’s time to go out and work to redeem those seniors that played last year and as hard as they played throughout their season. It’s to redeem ourselves as the current team, to redeem the team from last year,” said Woodward. “We’re always working to uphold the tradition of Wheelersburg football and just playing at a high level and keeping that torch lit.”

In last season’s meeting, the Pirates burned the Warriors with two touchdowns in the opening 13 minutes and 10 seconds —a 29-yard Eli Jones pass and a 52-yard Ethan Glover run.

From there, though, the only other Pirate points were a Braxton Sammons late first-half field goal —as Aidan Rogers with a 30-yarder and Jaylen Jennings with a 40-yarder scored on scampers just eight minutes and eight seconds apart in the second half.

Wheelersburg was guilty of three turnovers, and —despite a dozen penalties for 90 yards —the Warriors overcame those mistakes with Jennings rushing for two touchdowns and 189 yards on 31 carries.

“I thought we executed extremely well in the first half, but they came back in the second half with a couple of big plays,” recalled Woodward.

Jennings graduated, but the six-foot two-inch and 205-pound senior quarterback Rogers — who rushed for 37 yards on eight carries and completed 4-of-14 passes for 69 yards —returns, as he was one of seven Warriors to earn all-Central District Division V first-team honors.

The others were wide receiver Chris Brown (6-1, 165, jr.), offensive linemen Rashad Debose (5-9, 220, sr.) and Preston Ross (6-0, 230, sr.), defensive linemen Xavier Cain (6-3, 315, sr.) and Ernest Pierce (6-0, 190, jr.), and linebacker Marchello Cox (5-11, 190, jr.).

The Central District selects — sometimes — second-team units to its all-district teams, as linebacker J.J. DeCarlo (5-11, 220, jr.) made that list.

The Warriors’ two Special Mention selections were Justin Batista and Elijah Brown, as head coach Milan Smith was named the Division V Central District Coach of the Year.

Woodward agreed it is obvious once again that Harvest Prep presents plenty of talent, athleticism and speed.

“They showcase a lot of different players and they are talented. They have a lot of size, a lot of speed and athleticism all over the field, especially in their special teams units. They have the ability to break big and explosive plays at any point in time. It’s going to be important for our guys to hunker down and be ready for a four-quarter battle, ” said the coach. “It’s going to be important that we control only the things that we can control, and that we keep ourselves in the fight. Our guys recognize they are facing a team that is going to play all four quarters themselves.”

But plenty of Pirates played in last year’s meeting —including the quarterback Jones, offensive lineman Caleb Miller, and two-way performers Glover (running back/linebacker), Derrick Lattimore (running back/defensive end), Eric Lattimore (wide receiver/defensive back), Creed Warren (wide receiver/defensive back), Jake Darling (running back/linebacker) and Luke Swords (tight end/defensive end).

Glover carried 18 times and Jones 15 in last season’s game, as Derrick Lattimore looks to maintain his recent running success —as he blitzkrieged Barnesville for three touchdowns of 20 yards or more, piling up 236 yards on 19 attempts.

The Pirates rocked the host Shamrocks 34-7 in the second half —en route to running away with a 55-31 win.

Lattimore, with that performance, pushed himself to the Pirates’ team lead in both carries (123) and rushing yards (882).

With weather, specifically rainfall and winds from the remnants of Hurricane Nicole, moving in and possibly impacting the game —perhaps that plays directly into the Pirates’ favor.

“We’ll see what kind of weather we have, but it’s looking like rain, and you never know what you’re going to get in November,” said Woodward. “It’s all going to factor in and be something that we have to respond to in the right way. Offensively, we have to sustain drives with our line leading the way, keep the football and finish drives. Turnover margins this time of year are huge. We’re at plus-15.”

Woodward went on to say that the most important defensive aspect against the Warriors’ spread-the-field offensive attack is “alignment”.

“They run a bit of spread, a bit of unbalanced things to try and gain an advantage. Numbers one and two things for us — are we lined up properly and are we reading our keys. Those things are two-thirds of the way there. The third component is making the play,” he said. “Bringing your feet, wrapping up, and making sure you get there with a nasty attitude. Getting there and tackling the football. We have to get 11 hats to the football all the time to take care of that. We have to fly around and look to make plays.”

Indeed, it all comes down to execution, but it plays directly into the Pirates’ plans for redemption.

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

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