Pirates push onward, blank PHS


WHEELERSBURG — Some of the greatest all-time shows are re-runs, or even in today’s day and age, I-pods stuck on replay.

Apparently, the Wheelersburg Pirates defense is becoming the latest must-see and run-it-back craze.

That’s because, for the second consecutive Ohio High School Athletic Association playoff tilt at Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg, the host and seventh-seeded Pirates pitched an identical 34-0 shutout —this time on a feel-good fall Friday night against archrival Portsmouth in the Division V Region 19 quarterfinals.

That’s right, if you’ve seen some strikingly — even astonishingly —similar names, numbers and accomplishments for the past few Wheelersburg weeks, especially the last two in the state football playoffs, you’re not misreading anything.

Or, even misinterpreting anything, because these Pirates are truly playing their best football for a five-game winning streak.

More importantly, though, the Pirates are indeed pressing onward in the playoffs —raising their Jolly Roger record to 8-3, and advancing to another Region 19 semifinal.

A week ago against Africentric, and at Ed Miller Stadium in an opening-round bout, the Pirates posted a 34-0 blanking —stymieing the Nubians to only 54 total yards, and forcing at least three three-and-out and punt possessions plus at least two turnovers.

Offensively, Jake Darling had a short first-quarter touchdown dive as did Landon Hutchinson from seven yards out, quarterback Braylon Rucker connected with wide receiver Devon Lattimore for a scoring strike, and placekicker Cooper Heimbach had a perfect 4-of-4 extra-point kicks and two field goals from inside 30 yards.

Against Portsmouth, playing the longtime neighboring Trojans for the first time since 2016 and for the first time ever in the playoffs, the same Pirate movie made its way to the big screen again.

This time, the Trojans turned the ball over three times on three lost fumbles, while Wheelersburg limited them to under 100 total yards at 91 —and once again an opponent punted three times following three-and-out possessions.

Wheelersburg with the ball, conversely, was also like re-racking a record.

Once again in the first quarter, the senior Darling scored the Pirates’ opening touchdown —a 2-yard plunge this time, with only four minutes and 10 seconds gone by.

Hutchinson had a TD of eight yards on a ‘wildcat’ quarterback run, and two-and-a-half minutes later, Rucker went deep downfield to Lattimore again —this time on a 71-yard bomb to make it 21-0 with two minutes and six seconds to play in the first quarter.

Heimbach, again, made four more of four attempts on extra points — and once again booted two field goals of less than 30 yards.

And, for the second straight playoff week, the Pirates put the OHSAA’s running-clock rule in effect —for at least the final 19 minutes of action.

Against the 15th-seeded, run-heavy, and underdog Trojans, that clock kept running for the final 21:47.

So stop if you’ve seen this before, but these Pirates prefer instead that you don’t dare hit that pause button.

Rather, they won’t mind to rewind —and play it forward for yet another playoff week.

For 16-year Wheelersburg head coach Rob Woodward, it was simply another week where the Pirates’ practice and preparation indeed met their opportunity.

Their shutout was their fifth of the season, and third in five full weeks —all against Division V teams with at least four wins.

Wheelersburg, once again, brought a physical component to the contest —and incorporated its speed and athleticism as well.

“Just real proud of how our kids prepared, just as much as how they played,” said Woodward. “Portsmouth has been playing much better football than they did early in the year, but they are obviously offensively very one-dimensional. I thought our kids just responded all week with what they needed to do in order to stop their threats, and just continue to play at a high level. There was a point there where I didn’t think Portsmouth would cross the 50 (yard line). Our guys were shutting down everything that they needed. Offensively, we try to score every time we are in the red zone. Try to score our opening drives of both halves. I’m thinking in my mind as a coach to just check boxes each and every game that we have. Defense continues to impose its will, our kids are bought into what it takes to keep their bodies and their physicality at a high level for postseason football. The coaching staff continues to push that envelope and get them to understand that. That’s what it takes to compete, especially up front on both sides of the ball. Just being really physical, and this is the fastest team I’ve ever coached here at Wheelersburg as a whole. That team speed really shows up on defense, when we’re able to stalemate at the front and control the line of scrimmage and be fast on the edge and fly to the football.”

The Pirates are now 26-11 all-time against the Trojans, as Portsmouth’s last win in this series remains 2007.

Wheelersburg is making its 35th all-time playoff appearance, and with Woodward now 30-13 in playoff games all time, the Pirates have lost — under him — only ONE opening-round OR regional quarterfinal game.

That was to Liberty Union in the 2012 regional quarterfinals, as the OHSAA expanded the state playoff field to 16 teams per region in 2021.

The Trojans finish the season at 6-6, gaining the 50-38 opening-round upset at second-seeded Fairland for the right to play the Pirates.

Portsmouth’s playoff appearances all-time are at 15, including for six straight under sixth-year coach Bruce Kalb —as the last three have resulted in opening-round road wins as a nine-seed or lower.

But Friday’s first play was the worst-case scenario for PHS.

Chase Heiland, the standout running back who erupted for 376 yards and four touchdowns on a massive 43 carries in the triumph of the Dragons, was absolutely popped by the Pirates’ leading tackler and standout linebacker Darling —and lost a fumble that Hutchinson recovered at the Trojans’ 42-yard line.

Ten plays, and three minutes and 56 seconds later, Darling was in the end zone for the 7-0 Pirate lead —with Heimbach’s first of four extra points.

“When you have a big turnover like that in the playoffs, you have to capitalize on that and score,” said Woodward.

The Pirates, in fact, turned that trick twice.

Four plays into the Trojans’ second series, quarterback Camron Williams was hit and fumbled —and Brayden Maxie recovered.

Five plays, 45 yards, and a minute and 20 seconds later at the first quarter’s four-and-a-half minute mark, Hutchinson scored —and the Pirates’ lead was 14-0.

With Portsmouth’s passing attack almost non-existent, two Trojan turnovers — and two Pirate touchdowns — sort of seemed almost insurmountable.

“When you’re playing a team like Wheelersburg, not just with how well they play, how disciplined they play and how physical they play, you can’t afford to go down two scores right off the bat. It’s even worse when it’s self-inflicted,” said Kalb. “We knew we would have to play a perfect game tonight to win. To come out, two fumbles for the first two drives, it just sucked the wind right out our sails.”

Then the Pirates pretty much threw the dagger when Rucker threw deep to Lattimore.

Following the first of the three Trojan three-and-outs, the sophomore Rucker carried out and well-executed the play-fake —and the former Trojan Lattimore ran right by his defender.

The play took 10 total seconds, and Rucker hit a wide open Lattimore in stride — up the sideline for a 71-yard stunning scoring strike.

Not even a full 10 minutes in, and Wheelersburg was already ahead 21-0.

Rucker completed 8-of-13 passes for 122 yards, as Lattimore made four receptions for 91.

“Devon (Lattimore) is a player than can really stretch the field on any snap, on any given play. We’re looking to try and take those shots when we can,” recalled Woodward. “That play was great protection, great throw, great catch and really right there, to make it 21-0, that’s hard for them to come back from.”

The Trojans finally crossed midfield as the contest crossed into the second quarter, but Portsmouth’s eight-play and five-minute series stalled out — with a turnover on downs at the Pirate 43, as the Trojans did reach the 30.

The Pirates then drove 12 plays and burned six-and-a-half minutes off the second-stanza clock, climaxing the march with a 29-yard Heimbach field goal at the two-and-a-half minute mark.

Per Kalb, those were the only first-half points he believed his charges truly allowed.

“We went into halftime, and we’re thinking we gave them 21 points on two fumbles and two short fields and a blown coverage on the long touchdown pass. They’ve earned three points on that field goal. Minus that blown coverage and considering the position they were in, our defense we felt played pretty solid in the first half,” said the coach. “But when you’re down like that at halftime, and with a running clock starting if they get one more score, we’re really up against it.”

The Pirates indeed got that running clock started, taking the second-half kickoff following Lattimore’s 23-yard return —as Creed Warren ran for the final 16, capping a six-play, 52-yard, two-minute and six-second series to make it 31-0.

After Portsmouth’s third and final three-and-out, the Pirates ended the scoring with another Heimbach field goal —this one from 23 yards to cap another six-play series, which consumed the final six minutes and 10 tics of the third frame.

Warren went for 75 yards on 10 totes, as the Pirates piled up 19 first downs —and outgained the Trojans by almost 100 yards rushing (160-62), and by almost 200 total (282-91).

The Trojans’ two true chances to score occurred at the end of each half.

In the first, Portsmouth blocked the Pirates’ only punt attempt with six seconds left —but senior placekicker Zach Roth missed a 25-yard field goal as time expired.

The Trojans’ final drive spanned a dozen plays throughout the entire fourth, as Williams attempted all four of his passes — and completed three for 29 yards.

Portsmouth pushed as deep as the Pirate 6-yard line, but lost its third and final fumble from there —and Jake Clevenger recovered.

“Hats off to our kids. They fought until the end and never once wanted to come out and fold up the tent. But when you find yourself in a position like that against a good team like this, you know you are behind the eight-ball,” said Kalb.

Especially Heiland, who was keyed on all night by Wheelersburg’s blitzkrieg for a defense.

He had 17 carries, but only 36 yards.

“Wheelersburg had a heckuva of a gameplan and we knew they wanted to stop Chase (Heiland), and make us beat them with somebody else,” said Kalb. “We tried to do some other things on them, but we just couldn’t gain any footing from the start.”

But for Portsmouth, it’s about the Trojans’ finish —to go 5-5 with a challenging schedule, securing a playoff spot, and then exacting a major measure of revenge on Fairland.

The Trojans graduate six seniors, including all-Ohio placekicker Roth, top offensive lineman Leo Poxes, and leading linebacker Noah Livingston.

“Getting to play in week 12 this year, that speaks to the leadership that this senior class has provided us all season,” said Kalb. “This senior class kept these young kids plugged in and locked in all season long. We may not be the best, but we’re going to put up one heckuva fight. That’s what won us that game at Fairland. Unfortunately tonight, we just ran into the buzz-saw that is the Wheelersburg Pirates.”

Now, that Pirate buzz-saw sets sail northward along US Route 23 — all the way to Hamilton Township High School, and a playoff rematch with the undefeated and third-seeded Barnesville Shamrocks.

The now 12-0 Shamrocks, which were also undefeated last season when Wheelersburg went to Barnesville for a Region 19 quarterfinal and won 55-31, punched their semifinal ticket — by knocking out sixth-seeded Columbus Academy 19-17.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Friday night (Nov. 10) — at Hamilton Township’s Alumni Field.

Since that 2012 quarterfinal loss to Liberty Union, the Pirates have played in at least the regional semifinal in every season since.

But this one takes on even added significance —as a win would be the tradition-rich and proud Pirate program’s 600th victory in history.

As for the here and now, though, the Pirates’ plans are just for another playoff win — a re-run if you will — over the unbeaten Shamrocks.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge again,” said Woodward. “But everyone is going to be a challenge from here on out. We’ve not faced great adversity in these first two weeks (2023 playoffs), but we just have to continue to grind and work and make sure we’re ready for what’s going to be a very good Barnesville team.”

* * *

Portsmouth 0 0 0 0 — 0

Wheelersburg 21 0 10 3— 34

W — Jake Darling, 2-yard run (Cooper Heimbach kick), 7:50, 1st (7-0 W)

W — Landon Hutchinson, 8-yard run (Cooper Heimbach kick), 4:33, 1st (14-0 W)

W — Devon Lattimore, 71-yard pass from Braylon Rucker (Cooper Heimbach kick), 2:06, 1st (21-0 W)

W — Cooper Heimbach, 29-yard field goal, 2:32, 2nd (24-0 W)

W — Creed Warren, 16-yard run (Cooper Heimbach kick), 9:47, 3rd (31-0 W)

W — Cooper Heimbach, 23-yard field goal, :00, 3rd (34-0 W)

Team Statistics


First downs 6 19

Scrimmage plays 34 45

Rushes-yards 30-62 32-160

Passing yards 29 122

Total yards 91 282

Cmp-Att-Int. 3-4-0 8-13-0

Fumbles-lost 3-3 1-0

Penalties-yards 10-103 7-65

Punts-Ave. 3-33.7 1-0


Individual Leaders

RUSHINGPortsmouth: Chase Heiland 17-36, Camron Williams 10-27, J.T. Williams 2-(-1), Fernando Poxes 1-0; Wheelersburg: Creed Warren 10-75 TD, Landon Hutchinson 7-21 TD, Jake Darling 4-31 TD, Braylon Rucker 4-5, Riley Cunningham 3-15, Brayden Maxie 2-8, Kenyon Evans 1-5, Team 1-0

PASSINGPortsmouth: Camron Williams 3-4-0-29; Wheelersburg: Braylon Rucker 8-13-0-122 TD

RECEIVINGPortsmouth: J.T. Williams 2-23, Chase Heiland 1-6; Wheelersburg: Devon Lattimore 4-91 TD, Kenyon Evans 3-23, Kolten Salyers 1-8

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on X @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

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