Week one is filled with hope and high expectation for teams all across the area, particularly the Wheelersburg Pirates and the Ironton Tigers.
The Pirates travel to Ironton with a lot of hype, and rightfully so. Wheelersburg has a lot of reason to believe they can play well into November this season, and on top of that the Pirates have beaten the Tigers four straight times.
That stat will be in the back of Ironton’s mind on Saturday night, as the Tigers look for a big win over their nemesis. Ironton has offensive weapons, and you can expect the Tigers to be ready to play.
Wheelersburg head coach Rob Woodward is looking forward to the challenge. “It’s a great way to kick off the season,” Woodward said. “We open up with Ironton, a storied program that gives you a playoff type atmosphere.”
No matter who suits up for the Tigers, Woodward says you can expect Ironton to come well prepared and excited for their opportunity.
“Ironton will be their typical type of team with good athletes out there that are physical and will play for four quarters, and we’ve got to match that ourselves,” Woodward said about the 2017 Tigers squad.
After all, there is a lot on the line for both schools.
“You’ve gotta be on your A game,” Woodward said. “You’ve got to be ready to execute from the get-go, because it’s definitely a challenge to start off. We know that going in every year, and we try to work hard to get our guys ready.”
Woodward has noticed that Ironton is trying to expand their offense a bit, and has taken an interesting approach in practice to keep his team on their feet.
“They’ve shown signs of trying to expand their offense a little bit to some more spread sets,” Woodward said. “So we’ve got to be able to recognize the formations that they’re in and get ourselves aligned defensively.”
Wheelersburg has spent all summer preparing for Ironton’s offensive schemes by scrimmaging amongst themselves. The Pirates run a multiple offense, and operate from various formations throughout the game. Because of this, they have been able to anticipate what Ironton might try and do by showing their defense numerous formations in practice.
“We’ve been experiencing that all summer as we prepared against ourselves,” Woodward said about his team’s practices. “We’re a multi-faceted offense ourselves, so our guys are all the time jumping in and ready to align themselves to the things that we do ourselves.”
The practices have exposed Wheelersburg to many different possibilities that they could potentially face on the field against Ironton. “You don’t get a whole lot of time to scout what this week one opponent is going to do, we just make sure we have ourselves ready for anything,” Woodward said.
In Wheelersburg’s offense, a new quarterback has emerged over the summer. Trent Salyers will start for the Pirates tomorrow, but several other players could take snaps at the quarterback position as well.
“Right now, Trent Salyers will be taking the helm,” Woodward said. “Tomorrow, we’ve got different packages where we can utilize other players as well.”
The Pirates are a team that utilizes way more than the 11 players in the starting lineup. Woodward said Wheelersburg has used “upwards of 20 to 30 players” in their offense before, and the strategy works to help keep his players fresh.
Woodward said the constant rotation of players helps his team, because some of the opposing players might have been in the game for much longer.
“You’re talking about maybe a player that you’re going up across from on the other side that may have been out there for 40-50 plus snaps on the offensive and defensive side of the ball,” Woodward said. “Maybe you’re an offensive player that has only been out there eight or nine snaps, and you’ve got a little more quickness and a little more step.”
Over the course of the game, Woodward expressed this strategy pays dividends. “That’s huge when you’re talking about competing through a game through 120 plays,” Woodward said.
The Pirates have plenty of roster space to spread the wealth. Their roster features over 80 players this season, and a lot of capable athletes across the board.
For Wheelersburg to win, Woodward is keeping it simple. “Blocking, tackling, and taking care of the ball, those are the three things it comes down to,” Woodward said. “X’s and O’s get thrown out the window if you can’t sustain those things.”
Wheelersburg will take on Ironton at Tank Memorial Stadium Saturday night at 7 p.m.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 or on Twitter @BSpicerPDT