The start of the football season also brings with it one of the best high school football feuds in southern Ohio, Wheelersburg versus Ironton.
Both teams enter each season with this game circled on their calendar as the Pirates of Wheelersburg and the Fighting Tigers of Ironton strive to make the postseason. A win by either team makes those chances of taking the field in November a greater possibility, which makes the game even more exciting for both communities.
Ironton lost a lot of talent due to graduation last year, but has been able to rebuild the team in the areas they lost players.
“They’ve lost some people, but they’ve replaced with some big, big size on both sides of the ball,” Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward said. “They’re able to always find those guys that fit right into those roles.”
Playing each other in the first game of the season makes is difficult for the Pirates to dissect their opponents on film, but Woodward senses this years Ironton squad will resemble their typical style, from what scouting reports he has seen.
“It looks like a lot of the same kind of machine that they typically put together, it’s just they have some new parts in there in those spots,” Woodward said.
Noting the rivalry between the two teams and the scheduling of the game to open the season, Woodward expects both teams to make mistakes, as the public judges how the season will go for both teams from this one game.
“People always want to gauge this as to how good one of the two teams will be and really, you throw how good anybody is out the window when it comes to a rivalry game, especially an early-season rivalry game because you have a lot of new faces in there that haven’t proven themselves necessarily and been battle tested,” Woodward said. “There’s mistakes that are going to happen and it comes down to who can really limit their mistakes and obviously take care of the football.”
Last year, the Pirates prevailed over the Fighting Tigers by a single score in Ironton, 14-6.
“It was a dogfight all the way to the end and both the teams ended up seeing one another in the playoffs,” Woodward said. “That proves the caliber of the teams that are competing. The two programs are both well coached and have a lot of talent out on the field.”
During the team’s practices and scrimmages, Woodward has liked what he has seen from his team, noting their speed, youth and talent.
“I really like our athletes,” Woodward said. “I really like the competition that we’ve had. We’ve got young guys, but they are guys that can step in and compete and have competed right now in practice.”
Woodward believes his defensive system will particularly help the Pirates against the Fighting Tigers run-heavy offense.
“Ironton is really good at finding out where there may be a weak spot in your defense and start to attack that,” Woodward said. “We’ve always got a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C…That’s something that we’ve really improved in, in our coaching ability; to be flexible and to have the versatility to make the changes when required.”
When asked what three things the Pirates have to do to win Friday evening, Woodward responded with, “take care of the ball, limit missed tackles and limit penalties.”
Wheelersburg will host Ironton Friday evening, August 26, 2016 at historic Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg, Ohio. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.