Pirates fall to Warriors again


THE PLAINS — The Wheelersburg Pirates — playing Harvest Prep in Friday night’s Division V Region 19 championship bout, were hoping that finally that the fourth meeting —and third consecutive in the state playoffs —was indeed the charm.

Instead, it was anything but, but rather perhaps Harvest Prep’s most complete performance against the Pirates.

That’s because the fourth-seeded Warriors, with two first-quarter scoring runs and another inside the final four minutes and all the while pitching an extremely rare shutout of the Pirates, won 22-0 inside a rainsoaked Joe Burrow Stadium at Athens High School.

That’s right, just when maybe it appeared that seventh-seeded Wheelersburg had finally solved the Harvest Prep puzzle, the Warriors won by their most lopsided score in the now four all-time matchups.

For the 9-4 Pirates, the loss snapped a six-game winning streak —dating back to week 6 and Sept. 22 at Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg, which was a 32-16 loss to this very same Warriors club.

It was during the second half of that game, in which Wheelersburg scored twice in the final 12 minutes and 57 seconds and in which Harvest Prep scored a mere two minutes after that initial Pirate touchdown, that Wheelersburg head coach Rob Woodward said his team “flipped” —for the right direction in all of October and into mid-November.

The Warriors, rather, turned the switch back on Friday night.

Harvest Prep allowed only 64 total yards and six first downs on 46 Pirate plays, and gained 239 of their 310 total yards in the first half —including 209 rushing on 28 carries.

They also forced six Pirate punts —four of which were three-and-out possessions.

Offensively, the fast and athletic and now 12-1 Warriors posted a hat trick of rushing touchdowns — including two by Lenny Wicks of 20 and 24 yards — en route to 280 rushing yards on 44 attempts.

Woodward was impressed with how Harvest Prep played, as the 2017 Division V state-championship winning coach was a perfect nine-for-nine in winning playoff games — against teams the Pirates had played in the regular season.

Friday night marked the completion of his 16th season, as he has 160 career wins including 31 in the postseason —part of the program’s milestone 600 in history.

“They’ve (Harvest Prep) got some dudes. That’s the best game they’ve played against us thus far. I will be honest, they looked bigger and stronger and faster than they were in week 6. I don’t know how you do that during the season,” said Woodward. “They were a good and fast football team tonight. It was really hard for us how to figure out and navigate and take advantage of them. They were the better team tonight and earned the victory.”

In the first two meetings, in the 2021 Region 19 championship at Waverly (20-17 Warrior win) and the 2022 Region 19 semifinals at Nelsonville-York (25-21 Warrior win), the Warriors ripped off explosive scoring runs —followed by Dezmond Porter touchdown darts of 52 and 51 yards in this year’s regular-season tilt, and another 83-yard TD sprint by Marchello Cox.

On Friday night, the Pirates recovered a fumble at the Warrior 18-yard line on the opening kickoff —but a 31-yard missed field goal following that Riley Cunningham recovery was truly a missed golden opportunity for points.

The Warriors responded by driving 86 yards in 10 plays and five minutes and four seconds, picking up five first downs with Wicks racing in for the final 20 yards halfway through the first quarter.

Shawn Ruffin, who ran in the two-point conversion following Wicks’ fourth-quarter scoring run, caught the two-point pass from Ernest Pierce to make it 8-0.

It was only the fourth offensive touchdown allowed by the Pirates in seven weeks, but ultimately proved to be all the points Harvest Prep needed.

Wicks, with his 24-yard fourth-quarter run that capped a five-play and 46-yard and three-minute and six-second scoring series, wound up with 101 yards on only nine carries.

The Warriors, which knocked out Ironton 20-14 in the semifinals at Athens High School, returned to Joe Burrow Country a week later—and ran the football seemingly at will.

At least four different Warrior ballcarriers had at least seven rushes and at least 44 yards —as Pierce played primarily quarterback, and rushed for 52 on 14 tries.

Cox chalked up 60 yards on seven attempts, and Porter —the primary QB in the regular-season bout —added eight attempts for 44.

Following the first Pirate three-and-out, Porter polished off a four-play, 27-yard, two-minute possession with a three-yard dive into the end zone.

That score came four minutes following the first —at the 1:45 mark of the opening quarter.

That 14-0 advantage held up for almost three full stanzas —when Wicks with his second TD and Ruffin with his two-point PAT run made the 22-0 final.

Woodward admitted the Pirate defense — which pitched five shutouts this season — kept Wheelersburg within striking distance at least.

“Our defense got in some bad positions, but there were times when that game could have gone the wrong way very fast in that first half. They kept it at 14 for three quarters, giving ourselves a chance, even in the second half,” said the coach.

Pierce completed 3-of-5 passes for 30 yards, as 13 of the Warriors’ 17 first downs came in the opening half.

The Pirates — specifically Xander Mowery in the first half and Creed Warren in the second —did intercept the Warriors, but did next-to-nothing offensively to show for it.

Wheelersburg — with its first-half possessions — went missed field goal following three plays, three-and-out, lost fumble on a first play, seven plays and punt, three-and-out, and another three-and-out.

Its only two first-half first downs were on that seven-play series —as Warren rushed for 41 first-half yards on nine carries, but the remainder of the offensive unit tallied only 13.

The second half was only slightly better — as the Pirates punted following eight plays, went three-and-out again, drove six plays prior to two turnovers on downs, and finally another lost fumble for their second and only other turnover with three minutes remaining.

Warren had only one second-half yard on five tries, as Braylon Rucker’s longest pass completion was an eight-yarder —unintentionally to lineman Cody Risner.

Risner was one of the few regular offensive linemen starting, as injuries and illness sidelined three full-time and/or part-time starters for Friday —forcing some shuffling for the Wheelersburg front.

The timing of that, of course, was poor.

The ground-oriented Pirates gained just 52 rushing yards on 36 carries, as senior Landon Hutchinson had seven touches — all in the “wildcat” quarterback set.

In the regular-season meeting, Hutchinson —operating out of that look — amassed 192 yards and Wheelersburg’s only two touchdowns on a whopping 32 carries.

Connor Estep, with a 30-yard first-quarter field goal and an extra-point kick, were the only other four points the Pirates scored against the Warriors in two games.

The shutout marked the Pirates’ first on the wrong side since a 27-0 loss against Jackson in 2014, as all they had against Ironton in the 2022 season opener (12-3 loss) was an Estep field goal.

Risner, Estep, Hutchinson and Warren were four of the dozen seniors playing major roles—and all of whom made first-team all-Southeast District Division V throughout their careers.

Jake Darling, at linebacker, led the Pirates in tackles —and was the Southeast District Division V Defensive Player of the Year.

Cole Estep, a three-year starter on the offensive line, and Devon Lattimore — a two-way standout at wide receiver and defensive back — made all-district first team as well.

Rounding out the senior class were two-way lineman Nate May, tight end and linebacker Kolton Salyers, and defensive stalwarts Brayden Maxie, Jackson Willoughby and Rowdy Watkins.

“This group really made coming to practice fun every day, and the leadership they demonstrated throughout the year and instilled in our younger players is something that carries on throughout our program,” said Woodward.

The 12 were part of two Southern Ohio Conference Division II championships and regional runner-up squads —with their sophomore season being the other campaign.

Wheelersburg was making its 35th all-time playoff appearance this year, and was appearing in its 16th all-time regional final —as the Pirates now have eight runner-ups and eight championships (1981, 1989, 1991, 1994, 1998, 2015, 2017 and 2018).

The Ohio High School Athletic Association expanded the state playoff field from four teams per region to eight in 1999, and then to 16 per region in 2021.

Following the regular-season loss to the Warriors, the Pirates stood at 3-3 —and then had their SOC II tilt against Oak Hill get canceled.

At that point, reaching 600 program wins this year —and in the shorter term even qualifying for the playoffs let alone advancing to the regional championship game —looked bleak.

But Wheelersburg bounced back throughout the final six weeks, as the past four full seasons have brought forth the Pirates’ resiliency.

“Our guys put themselves in this position to play for a regional championship tonight,” said Woodward. “These guys gave them a chance to be in this situation, when a lot of people didn’t think we would have this opportunity. They were gritty, resilient, tough, they worked hard and had a chance to go out and compete for it. That’s what we’re all trying to do. We’re all trying to battle through adversity and trying to recognize who we are identity-wise as a team. A lot of guys grew up and stepped up huge throughout the season. That’s what the goal is. Putting young men in situations, if football is a snapshot of life, where they are going to face adversity, but they are resilient and tough and work through those circumstances.”

Unfortunately, a fourth time against the Warriors wasn’t at all the charm.

Still, as Woodward said, these proud Pirates only added to the program’s rich history.

“This team really showed a lot of growth and development. There is a lot of tradition with Wheelersburg football, 600 program wins is a huge milestone, and all of these guys are excited to be a part of this winning tradition,” he said. “They have now etched their names as one of those tough teams that made the community proud.”

* * *

Wheelersburg 0 0 0 0 — 0

Harvest Prep 14 0 0 8 — 22

HP— Lenny Wicks, 20-yard run (Shawn Ruffin pass from Ernest Pierce), 5:47, 1st (8-0 HP)

HP — Dezmond Porter, 3-yard run (pass failed), 1:45, 1st (14-0 HP)

HP — Lenny Wicks, 24-yard run (Shawn Ruffin run), 3:52, 4th (22-0 HP)

Team Statistics


First downs 6 17

Scrimmage plays 46 51

Rushes-yards 36-52 44-280

Passing yards 12 30

Total yards 64 310

Cmp-Att-Int. 4-10-0 5-7-2

Fumbles-lost 4-2 2-1

Penalties-yards 3-13 7-45

Punts-Ave. 6-36 3-37


Individual Leaders

RUSHINGWheelersburg: Creed Warren 14-42, Jake Darling 5-22, Landon Hutchinson 7-11, Braylon Rucker 6-(-29), Ison Emnett 1-4, Kenyon Evans 1-1, Riley Cunningham 1-0, Team 1-1; Harvest Prep: Ernest Pierce 14-52, Lenny Wicks 9-101 2TD, Dezmond Porter 8-44 TD, Marchello Cox 7-60, Elijah Brown 3-25, Jemarcus Jones 1-3, Team 2-(-1)

PASSINGWheelersburg: Braylon Rucker 4-9-0-12, Landon Hutchinson 0-1-0-0; Harvest Prep: Ernest Pierce 3-5-1-30, Dezmond Porter 0-2-1-0

RECEIVINGWheelersburg: Cody Risner 1-8, Devon Lattimore 1-7, Kenyon Evans 1-(-1), Creed Warren 1-(-2); Harvest Prep: Chris Brown 2-15, Jemarcus Jones 1-15

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

No posts to display