Wheelersburg senior Creed Warren (25) looks to avoid the tackle attempt of Barnesville’s Casey Carpenter (4) during Friday night’s Division V Region 19 semifinal football playoff game at Hamilton Township’s Alumni Field.
Courtesy of Terry Stevenson of www.burgsports.com
OBETZ — In recent weeks, during their hunt for October and so far indeed a November to remember, the Wheelersburg Pirates have typically — from first a defensive and then an offensive perspective — started fast, almost to a point of running away and hiding.
But Friday night’s Division V Region 19 semifinal against the Barnesville Shamrocks showed Wheelersburg wins in other ways too.
For it’s often times about not how you start, but how you finish.
And few teams in the entire state are playing better football than the Pirates, which are still — in fact — one of the few teams remaining playing.
That’s because the Pirates posted all 26 of their points over the final 28 minutes and 53 seconds, and dominated the Shamrocks for the final three quarters sans a midpoint of the fourth period pick-six —as Wheelersburg won its sixth consecutive contest, and advanced to another Region 19 championship bout by doubling up Barnesville 26-13 at Alumni Field at Hamilton Township.
That’s right, the tradition-rich and proud Pirates — with the program’s milestone 600th all-time victory — punched another Elite Eight ticket, which is actually the 16th regional finals appearance in program history.
The 2023 Pirates are the 83rd all-time Wheelersburg team, which first fielded a squad from 1930 thru 1939 —and then from 1950 and every year since.
Wheelersburg is making its 35th all-time playoff appearance —with the Ohio High School Athletic Association expanding the state playoff field twice (to eight teams per region in 1999 and to 16 teams per region in 2021) in the past quarter-century.
The seventh-seeded in Region 19 Pirates, now 9-3, play in their second regional championship in three years —when this season’s seniors and juniors were merely sophomores and freshmen.
And, for the second straight season, the Orange and Black brought the curtain down on the Shamrocks’ undefeated campaign.
Last season, the Pirates played at 11-0 Barnesville in the Region 19 quarterfinals —and won by a high-scoring count of 55-31.
This time, the Shamrocks sported a 12-0 record —and met Wheelersburg one round deeper.
Friday night’s semifinal was nowhere near as high-scoring, and the Pirates relied on their stingy defense to right the ship — following a struggle for a quarter-and-a-half.
After the Pirates made a major defensive stop on a Shamrock 4th-and-1 at the Wheelersburg 21, they turned the tide from there —scoring 20 points unanswered, and 26 of the game’s final 32.
While Wheelersburg did deal with more adversity on Friday night than it has in the past six weeks combined, including quarterback Braylon Rucker throwing an interception which was returned 71 yards for a Shamrock score that made it 20-13 with six minutes and six seconds remaining, 16-year head coach Rob Woodward was overly-proud of his Pirates’ “resiliency.”
For Woodward, the win was his 160th as head coach, including his 31st in the playoffs.
“Just the resilience. The most important thing our kids showed tonight was being coachable. I mean what maturity did our kids show by the in-game adjustments in the first half and the second-half adjustments that they listened to the coaches, and they applied those out there on the field. Just a great job by our kids,” said an elated Woodward. “As a head coach, you want to say enough about how well they work in the weightroom and the conditioning and all that. But when you can be coachable in-game, that’s another level of maturity shown by our kids. I’m just super-proud of them for that and what they were able to do.”
What Wheelersburg did defensively was force three Shamrock punts over the final 30 minutes, including a pair of third-quarter three-and-outs —as the Shamrocks ran just 15 second-half plays for only 14 total yards, including minus-11 yards rushing.
Wheelersburg senior Brayden Maxie (28) makes a tackle of Barnesville quarterback Casey Carpenter (4) as Pirate teammate Jake Darling (29) seeks to assist during Friday night’s Division V Region 19 semifinal football playoff game.
Courtesy of Terry Stevenson of www.burgsports.com
Barnesville senior standout running back Taison Starr finished with 74 yards on 17 carries, but had only one touch for three yards in the entire second half.
The Pirates rattled the Shamrocks for three second-half fumbles, one which resulted in an 18-yard team loss with the score still tied 7-7, and another which Brayden Maxie recovered for Wheelersburg with eight minutes remaining —with the Pirates leading 20-7 at that point.
The Pirates pretty much sealed the win with 3:16 remaining —as a Shamrock false start and holding penalty put them in 1st-and-25 at their own 25, and two Casey Carpenter incomplete passes preceded a Kenyon Evans interception by Wheelersburg, two plays later and 50 yards downfield.
Carpenter completed 13-of-24 passes for 117 yards, but only 4-of-9 for 25 yards in the entire second half.
In the end, Starr’s score marked the only offensive touchdown the Pirates allowed —and only the third TD allowed as part of the six-game winning streak.
“They were definitely moving some pieces extremely well there early on. But our coaching staff found some ways to tighten things up, and our kids responded with tightening up,” said Woodward. “I didn’t think we were playing at our typical physical level in the first quarter. We didn’t come out of the gate like we needed to, and that’s going to happen at times. But when it does, you want to see your kids be able to respond to that adversity. And they (Shamrocks) are a team that likes the big plays, and relies on a lot of trick plays to really open things up. I thought we did a good job of stopping a lot of those.”
Indeed, the Pirates steered the ship in the right direction —beginning with that 4th-and-1 stop just two minutes and six seconds into the second stanza.
The Shamrocks took the opening kickoff, and drove 13 plays and 70 yards —devouring six minutes and 20 seconds off the first-quarter clock, with Starr toting the rock mixed in with four Carpenter completions.
Wheelersburg was whistled for encroachment to set up 1st-and-goal at the 3-yard line, and Starr crossed the goal line from there —with Evan Lough landing the extra-point kick.
The Pirates punted following three Jake Darling carries for a three-and-out, as the Shamrocks again drove 12 plays —moving from their own 17 to the Pirate 21 in a matter of five minutes and 49 seconds.
Starr dove over the top on the 4th-and-1, but Wheelersburg defenders were right there en masse to meet him —and hit him for no gain.
“That was a huge stop by our kids,” said Woodward. “That was a turning point with us being physical and we needed to continue that. All of guys started cranking it up after that.”
Both defensively and offensively, as the Pirates put together an 11-play, 80-yard and five-minute second-quarter drive — that ended with Creed Warren rushing into the end zone for the final 15 at the 4:53 mark.
Cooper Heimbach hit the first of two extra-point kicks for the 7-7 tie, but Warren was just revving his engine up —as he turned on the afterburners in the second half.
After the Shamrocks went three-and-out with 7:53 left in the third, Warren not only flipped the Pirates’ poor field position, but he suddenly swung the score into Wheelersburg’s lead.
Taking the handoff on 3rd-and-4, Warren burst right up the middle and into the secondary —sprinting 83 yards to the house, and putting the Pirates in front 14-7 at the six-and-a-half minute mark.
Warren wasn’t done, though, as he quickly reversed momentum following the Shamrocks’ score off Luke Detling’s interception of Rucker —and 71-yard return to paydirt.
With the score 20-13, Devon Lattimore returned the ensuing Shamrock kickoff 31 yards to the Pirate 47 —then Darling had back-to-back rushes of six and 10 yards.
Warren then dashed 37 yards for his third touchdown, doubling the lead once again to 26-13 — and only 4:18 to go.
It was a memorable rushing night for the all-purpose performer Warren, whose 23 carries resulted in a whopping 276 yards.
He had 10 for 107 in the first half, and 13 for 169 yards in the second —skewed of course by those touchdowns jaunts of 83 and 37.
“Our offensive line took over, and Creed Warren…what a football player he is. Keeping those legs churning, he had a number of yards after initial contact. And when he gets that opening, man he has the speed to really break it and get down the field in a hurry,” said Woodward. “What a huge night for Creed.”
Rucker overcame that pick-six, and an end-zone interception by Duker Castello with 44 seconds left in the opening half, to complete 8-of-10 passes for 76 yards —and a four-yard touchdown toss to tight end Kolton Salyers to make it 20-7.
“We had a few miscues at different times, but when you’re pushing the quarterback to make plays, you’re going to have different things that happen in certain situations. But I thought Braylon did what he needed to do to get the ball out and stretch things,” said Woodward. “Maybe it wasn’t something that opened up at that time, but it did spread the defense and it allowed us to go back in our running lanes and what we needed to do.”
The Rucker-to-Salyers score followed the Shamrocks’ second second-half three-and-out, and in which Wheelersburg went another 11 plays and 79 yards and over five minutes in time of possession.
Lattimore made five receptions for 68 yards, including a key 28-yard catch — which set up Warren’s first touchdown two plays later.
Wheelersburg senior Devon Lattimore (9) leaps to make a reception between Barnesville defenders Duker Castello (7) and Luke Detling (8) during Friday night’s Division V Region 19 semifinal football playoff game at Hamilton Township’s Alumni Field.
Courtesy of Terry Stevenson of www.burgsports.com
The Pirates rushed 40 times for a dozen yards shy of an even 400 —including 268 on 25 second-half touches.
Wheelersburg was guilty of 11 penalties for 58 yards —most of which were of the five-yard false start variety.
Still, those mistakes must be cut down — and even altogether eliminated for Friday night’s (Nov. 17) regional final.
“For sure,” said Woodward, of the penalties. “That’s just one thing we have to go back and talk about. Teams have things that they utilize and try to work and our kids have to block out the noise, control what they can control, and lock in.”
Speaking of which, the Pirates are now locked in on a rematch —in more ways than one —with fourth-seeded and 11-1 Harvest Prep.
The Warriors advanced to the Region 19 championship —by eliminating Ironton 20-14 in the other semifinal from Friday night.
For the Pirates, their last loss was on Sept. 29 —a 32-16 non-league outcome at Ed Miller Stadium to this very same Warriors club.
In addition, the two teams’ only other meetings are in the past two postseasons —both Warrior wins by narrow counts (20-17 in 2021 Region 19 championship and 25-21 in 2022 Region 19 semifinals).
Woodward said his Pirates’ season “flipped” from that Harvest Prep loss.
It’s been all good things ever since.
This fourth matchup —for the Region 19 championship —takes place on Friday night at Athens High School’s Joe Burrow Stadium.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., as incidentally the Warriors return to Athens —the site of their semifinal win over Ironton.
But location aside, the Pirates are looking forward to playing Harvest Prep yet again.
Only this time, Woodward and Wheelersburg want a different outcome —and a ninth all-time regional championship with it.
“As a head coach, I’m extremely excited that we played Harvest Prep in week 6. There was a moment in that game where our football team flipped, and they realized how good they could be. Ultimately, we didn’t win that game. But we left that game with our kids holding their heads high. They knew what we had working and what we were building. You’ve been seeing the results of that every week since then,” said the coach. “So we’re excited to go at them again.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 0 7 7 12 — 26
Barnesville 7 0 0 6— 13
B— Taison Starr, 3-yard run (Evan Lough kick), 5:40, 1st (7-0 B)
W — Creed Warren, 15-yard run (Cooper Heimbach kick), 4:53, 2nd (7-7 tie)
W — Creed Warren, 83-yard run (Cooper Heimbach kick), 6:26, 3rd (14-7 W)
W — Kolton Salyers, 4-yard pass from Braylon Rucker (kick failed), 10:18, 4th (20-7 W)
B — Luke Detling, 71-yard interception return (kick blocked), 6:06, 4th (20-13 W)
W — Creed Warren, 37-yard run (PAT try failed), 4:18, 4th (26-13 W)
First downs 15 12
Scrimmage plays 50 49
Rushes-yards 40-388 25-65
Passing yards 76 117
Total yards 464 182
Cmp-Att-Int. 8-10-2 13-24-1
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-1
Penalties-yards 11-58 6-51
Punts-Ave. 2-32 3-33.7
RUSHING —Wheelersburg: Creed Warren 23-276 3TD, Jake Darling 7-31, Braylon Rucker 4-21 Riley Cunningham 3-30, Kenyon Evans 2-26, Landon Hutchinson 1-4; Barnesville: Taison Starr 17-74 TD, Trey Toliver 4-11, Casey Carpenter 1-3, Bradey McIntire 1-(-4), Team 2-(-19)
PASSING — Wheelersburg: Braylon Rucker 8-10-2-76 TD; Barnesville: Casey Carpenter 13-24-1-117
RECEIVING—Wheelersburg: Devon Lattimore 5-68, Kenyon Evans 2-4, Kolton Salyers 1-4 TD; Barnesville: Luke Detling 6-62, Duker Castello 5-41, Camden Carpenter 1-13, Taison Starr 1-1
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