A new season, new players, new expectations — same old rivalry.
The Wheelersburg Pirates and the Ironton Fighting Tigers kick off their 2015 campaigns by renewing one of the fiercest rivalries in southern Ohio.
Last year, the two storied programs met twice — once at the beginning of the season and again in postseason play. Wheelersburg dominated both contests, winning 42-16 at home before taking the rematch 38-7 at Trojan Coliseum.
In 2014, senior quarterback Austin May made his first start against the Fighting Tigers and had a breakout performance, recording 267 total yards and five touchdowns. Friday, defensive back turned first-year quarterback Kyle Davis will have an opportunity to make his own mark.
“Kyle Davis adds another element to the game in terms of his ability with his feet,” Pirates head coach Rob Woodward said. “He’s a tough runner that we’ve used at different times throughout his career, maybe not over the past couple of years because we’ve had other guys step up.”
Two other players who took advantage of their opportunities last season were Jordan Howard and Chasen Burke. The duo combined to gain over 1,000 yards last season. Against Ironton, Howard recorded 169 yards on the ground in two games ,while Burke gained 118 total yards. Woodward doesn’t foresee their production changing this go around.
“Both of those guys are going to be extremely versatile for us,” Woodward said. “There are guys that can make things happen when we get the ball to them. It just tended to happen more for Jordan and Chasen last year, and it’ll be a lot of those same kind of scenarios this year.”
While the Pirates have seemingly perfected the spread attack, Woodward expects his unit to remain balanced with the option to attack a defense using many different formations.
“We are going to be balanced as we can be,” Woodward said. “That’s the way we attack the game. If that is a power-run game at certain times, then we’ll show a power run game. If that is finesse, sideline to sideline, then we are going to that.
“I like the fact that our kids are working really hard and doing the things they need to do. They’ll be asked to do different things throughout the game, so we try to make them well rounded and versatile for the different things that we do.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Wheelersburg will have to contain 2014 southeast District Player of the Year D’Angelo Palladino, a back who rushed for 1,552 yards last season. The Pirate defense slowed down Palladino in two meetings last year, holding him to just 123 rushing yards.
Wheelersburg will need the same defensive success if it wants to replicate last year’s results.
“We’ve got to swarm to the football,” Woodward said. “He’s a guy that’s not going to go down on first contact. So, we’ve got to get 11 hats to the football consistently. We’ve got to fly around and gang tackle … “
Woodward’s main key to the game Friday is eliminating turnovers but, his message goes deeper.
“The old cliche of not turning over the football,” Woodward said. “But I always like to tell our guys to control the things that we can control, take care of the things that we can take care of, help one another, aid one another and don’t hurt yourselves or your teammates in terms of major mistakes that you make. There will be times that we may lose the battle for two yards or three yards because they are a very good football team.
“Going back to last year, they scored on us first and went up 7-0. But our guys are ingrained and instilled to battle for four quarters. We may lose a few battles but we’ve got to make sure the war after four quarters is something we come out on top.”
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.