NELSONVILLE — Unfortunately, it was a re-run Rob Woodward would rather not watch.
That’s because, for the second consecutive state football playoff game involving Wheelersburg’s Pirates and undefeated Harvest Prep (13-0), Warrior quarterback Aidan Rogers ran roughshod with a second-half scoring scamper.
In last season’s Division V Region 19 championship tilt, in which Harvest Prep rallied for a 20-17 victory after twice trailing by at least 10 points, Rogers ran 30 yards for a second-half touchdown —and the Pirates were shut out in the final two-dozen minutes.
Fast forward to Friday night’s Region 19 rainsoaked rematch, in a semifinal at Nelsonville-York High School’s historic Boston Field, and this time Rogers raced 64 yards to the house —jump-starting yet another second-half HP rally.
And, once again, sixth-seeded Wheelersburg was shut out in the second half —as the second-seeded Warriors won over the Pirates 25-21, and thus ended Wheelersburg’s season for the second straight year.
Last year, Wheelersburg went 10-4 —while this season it ended at 9-4, and in Nelsonville for the fourth time.
In fact, the Pirates are now 0-6 all-time in playoff games inside Athens County.
As for Friday’s unkind outcome for the Pirates, the senior standout and all-Central District Division V first-team quarterback Rogers was primarily responsible.
After dramatically rallying themselves with three second-quarter touchdowns and three Connor Estep extra points, in a matter of an amazing two minutes and eight seconds for a 21-13 advantage, the Pirates played for a 25-yard field goal with 2:26 left in the third frame —but missed.
Four plays later, Rogers ran to the outside and galloped to the end zone —a 64-yard storm-breaker, and tide-turner, during a distinct second-half rainfall.
Woodward, completing his 15th season as the Pirates’ successful head coach, remembered Rogers’ run of a year ago —and obviously this one was fresh in his mind.
“Big play by the quarterback. Same thing he did last year. He definitely has speed. I am sure they communicated that opportunity was going to come, but he saw it and took it upon himself,” said the coach. “He made a great play, outrunning our guys down that sideline. Just a tremendous job by him.”
But Rogers wasn’t quite finished, as that particular play only reduced the deficit to 21-19 —with 68 seconds to play in the third.
Wheelersburg drove from its own 20-yard-line to the Warrior 38 in nine plays, but turned the ball over on downs with 8:56 remaining.
With Rogers at the controls, Harvest Prep produced a five-first down and 10-play and 62-yard scoring march in a matter of four minutes and three seconds —as Rogers did most of the legwork, and even armwork, with a 4-yard TD run resulting in the Warriors regaining the lead (25-21).
Rogers registered gains of nine, six and five for runs, and completed passes to Chris Brown of nine and seven yards in between.
Indeed, Rogers’ individual, and often unbelievable, athleticism and speed separated him from the field Friday night, as he rushed for 107 yards on 13 carries —while completing 11-of-21 passes for 112 yards with one Landon Hutchinson interception midway through the third.
However, as Rogers engineered the Warriors’ completed comeback, Wheelersburg went to work for an answer in the final 4:45 —on the wheels and even rifle-arm of Eli Jones.
The Warriors helped the Pirates out with penalties, getting a roughing-the-passer call on 4th-down and-20 —then lining up outside the neutral zone for a second Pirate first down.
Wheelersburg had a pair of holding penalties itself, but battled back —and Jones completed a “hook-and-ladder” for a first down on 4th-and-12 to the Warrior 35, with a minute and nine seconds to go.
However, after 13 plays and with only 18 seconds remaining, that’s where the drive ended —and thus Wheelersburg’s season on an incomplete pass on 4th-and-11.
Harvest Prep was penalized 10 times for 70 yards, but the Pirates’ seven flags for 60 yards may have been more critical.
That, of course, when they occurred — putting the Pirates behind the chains.
“We had some things not go our way and hurt us there in the second half, but you have to overcome those in a game like this. It’s part of the game, but you can’t make those mistakes,” said Woodward.
While Wheelersburg was shut out in the second half — and didn’t score in the final 33 minutes with four turnovers on downs, an interception and the aforementioned missed field goal — its defense gave up two touchdown runs of at least 42 yards in the opening eight minutes and 33 seconds.
Marchello Cox had both of those for the Warriors —with sprints of 42 and 45 yards that quickly made it 13-0.
In between, the Pirates ran just six plays and punted.
In fact, it appeared as if Cox’s runs followed the same path —as he finished with 134 yards on 11 carries.
“We were in some defensive sets that they capitalized on,” said Woodward. “We switched back to some different things after that. It definitely happened us later.”
The momentum switched as well —with Wheelersburg forcing two second-quarter fumbles, and scoring its 21 points.
First off, to start the second, back-to-back Harvest Prep illegal procedure penalties pushed it back to its own 14.
The Warriors then fumbled for a 13-yard loss and the Pirates recovered right at the goal line —as Ethan Glover scored on the next play, only 54 seconds into the period.
Wheelersburg then recovered an onside kick at the Harvest Prep 40 —as Creed Warren ran for six yards to the 34, Derrick Lattimore ran 22 more to the 12, and Glover covered the final dozen yards.
Three plays later, Eric Lattimore made a recovery of a Rogers fumble —and blitzkrieged the other way with a 74-yard return to suddenly, and stunningly, put the Pirates in the lead.
“Our guys didn’t flinch,” said Woodward. “They took a couple hits right there on the chin, and we came right back at them. We hung in there, waited for a couple of opportunities, capitalized on those and made things happen.”
Estep’s third extra point made it 21-13 with nine minutes before half, and the tidal wave of momentum rode Wheelersburg’s way.
“Our guys just fought. I asked our kids to fight for four quarters and they did. We knew we were going to have to steal some possessions in there, and we did that with a couple of turnovers and an onside kick that we capitalized on, but more importantly they prepared themselves all week to give themselves a chance to fight for four quarters,” said Woodward. “I can’t say enough about how hard these kids fought, worked, prepared, got themselves ready and battled the whole time.”
It’s just that the Pirates couldn’t extend upon their lead —trading a total of five turnovers on downs (three for Harvest Prep and two for Wheelersburg), before back-to-back interceptions on plays and prior to the missed field goal.
Wheelersburg’s leads last year stood at 14-0 in the first 13:10 —and 17-7 at halftime.
“Weather was a factor in the second half, and lot of people may second-guess, but we took a chance on that field goal to give us a two-score lead. So close on some other possessions that we took shots on too,” said Woodward.
The Pirates, primarily though, ran the football —for 222 yards on 53 attempts.
Derrick Lattimore muscled for team-highs in carries (16) and yards (92), while Glover (14 carries for 50 yards), Jones (11 carries for 34 yards) and Warren (seven carries for 31 yards) all rushed for at least seven carries and 31 yards.
It marked the final game for 13 Pirate seniors, as Wheelersburg’s four losses occurred against two regional semifinalists (Jackson in Division III and West in Division V) — and two regional finalists (Ironton in Division V and Harvest Prep in Division V).
Woodward deemed it “another really good season out of this group”.
“These Pirates came out and made teams really work to earn their victories they had against us. That’s what I am most proud of,” he said. “They prepared all year and came out and gave it their all every time they played. These are 13 good seniors, which have contributed for a number of years. All of these kids worked extremely hard.”
Harvest Prep plays top-seeded and undefeated Ironton in Friday night’s Region 19 championship — right where the Warriors won it last year at Waverly’s Raidiger Field.
* * *
Wheelersburg 0 21 0 0 — 21
Harvest Prep 13 0 6 6 —25
HP — Marchello Cox, 42-yard run (Aijalen Sharpe kick), 9:44, 1st (7-0 HP)
HP — Marchello Cox, 45-yard run (kick blocked), 3:27, 1st (13-0 HP)
W — Ethan Glover, 1-yard run (Connor Estep kick), 11:06, 2nd (13-7 HP)
W — Ethan Glover, 12-yard run (Connor Estep kick), 10:05, 2nd (14-13 W)
W — Eric Lattimore, 74-yard fumble recovery return (Connor Estep kick), 8:58, 2nd (21-13 W)
HP — Aidan Rogers, 64-yard run (pass failed), 1:08, 3rd (21-19 W)
HP — Aidan Rogers, 4-yard run (run failed), 4:53, 4th (25-21 HP)
First downs 16 16
Scrimmage plays 63 54
Rushes-yards 53-222 33-280
Passing yards 16 112
Total yards 238 392
Cmp-Att-Int. 2-11-1 11-21-1
Fumbles-lost 1-1 4-2
Penalties-yards 7-60 10-70
Punts-Ave. 2-42 0-0
RUSHING —Wheelersburg: Derrick Lattimore 16-92, Ethan Glover 14-50 2TD, Eli Jones 11-34, Creed Warren 7-31, Eric Lattimore 2-12, Landon Hutchinson 2-5, Team 1-(-2); Harvest Prep: Marchello Cox 11-134 2TD, Aidan Rogers 13-107 2TD, Shavez Watkins 3-28, Chris Brown 3-20, Shawn Ruffin 1-4, Desmond Porter 1-0, Team 1-(-13)
PASSING —Wheelersburg: Eli Jones 2-11-1-16; Harvest Prep: Aidan Rogers 11-21-1-112
RECEIVING—Wheelersburg: Caleb Arthur 1-9, Creed Warren 1-7; Harvest Prep: Justin Batista 3-58, Marchello Cox 3-20, Chris Brown 3-19, Jordan Upton 1-8, Shawn Ruffin 1-7