Entering the 2017 campaign, Wheelersburg was expected to be a good team. The question was, just how good were the Pirates?
Wheelersburg passed their first test of the season on Saturday night at Tanks Memorial Stadium. The Pirates dominated the Ironton Tigers in every facet of the game on their way to a 48-3 victory.
The anticipation of week one had been building throughout the Wheelersburg community all offseason, and the Pirates faithful packed the visitor’s stands – even well before the game kicked off.
Fans stood against the fences, and those who were fortunate enough to arrive early filled the bleachers. Wheelersburg’s side of the stadium was completely full 40 minutes before the game even started. Ironton fans also showed up and showed out, and the stadium was full of life early on.
“Really pleased with the community turnout today,” Wheelersburg head coach Rob Woodward said. “Outstanding, what a great atmosphere here to kick off the 2017 season.”
Woodward would be very pleased with his team’s performance, too.
The Pirates started the game on the defensive side of the ball, as Ironton elected to receive. The Tigers picked up a first down, but were forced to punt in six plays. Wheelersburg took over at their own 35 yard line.
It didn’t take very long for the Pirates to make some noise. Cole Lowery took a sweep for five yards on the first play, immediately followed by a 60 yard touchdown pass from Trent Salyers to Tanner Holden. In just two plays, Wheelersburg marched 65 yards in their opening drive and led 7-0 with 8:22 remaining in the first quarter.
Holden had a big day for the Pirates, catching 5 passes for 159 yards and 4 touchdowns.
“Big game for Tanner Holden,” Woodward said about his junior receiver. “Tanner is a big time player, he’s a big part of our offense and we make plays to him.”
Looking for an answer, Ironton was able to get a big kickoff return from Charlie Large. A Pirate personal foul gave the Tigers great field position at the Wheelersburg 36 yard line.
Ironton marched inside the redzone, but quarterback Gage Salyers was sacked on a 3rd-and-6 from the seven yard line. The Tigers were forced to settle for a field goal, and trailed 7-3 with 4:43 left in the first quarter after the 11 play drive.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, it would be the only points they put up on the board. Wheelersburg’s defense locked in and dominated the rest of the way.
“Defensively, we just played lights out in terms of our attacking,” Woodward said. “Our front four though, I thought were just holding the front. They were creating a new line of scrimmage behind that and really putting pressure on the quarterback.”
The Pirates limited Ironton to just 51 total yards of offense on the night.
Wheelersburg was unable to answer Ironton’s scoring drive in their following possession. The Tigers got the ball back, but went three and out right after. Ironton had five drives go three and out in the game.
That quick drive and punt from Ironton allowed Wheelersburg great field position, starting the drive at the Ironton 49. It took just one play for another score, as Trent Salyers found Holden again.
This time, Holden took a little swing pass and did the rest of the work. The touchdown gave Wheelersburg a 14-3 edge with 26 seconds left in the first quarter.
Several players later, Wheelersburg got the ball back when Makya Matthews intercepted Gage Salyers on a 3rd down and 8. The Pirates took over at the Ironton 45.
In opponent’s territory, Wheelersburg struck once more. The Pirates put together a six play drive, as Trent Salyers found Cole Lowery for a 14 yard touchdown pass on 3rd down and 12. Wheelersburg was now in front 21-3 with 9:30 left in the second quarter.
Taking the field on offense again, Ironton continued to struggle. The Tigers were faced with another quick third down, and Gage Salyers was intercepted again. This time, Bryson Keeney was the culprit for Wheelersburg.
The Pirates were again on Ironton’s side of the field, at the Tiger 45 yard line again. A four play drive was assisted from an Ironton late hit, and the Pirates capped off the series with a seven yard Evan Horsley touchdown run.
Wheelersburg now held a 28-3 lead with 6:53 left in the second quarter. After forcing two straight turnovers and scoring touchdowns following the change of possession, the Pirates were well in control of the game.
Another three and out for the Tigers gave the Pirates a chance to blow the game open, but Wheelersburg was unable to capitalize after a nice punt return put them at the Ironton 37. Trent Salyers tried to find Holden once more, but was intercepted in the endzone by Ironton’s Garrett Carrico.
The interception was perhaps Wheelersburg’s only noticeable blemish of the day, and the Pirates pushed ahead for a 28-3 halftime lead.
In the second half, things were much of the same. Wheelersburg took the ball to start things off, and the Pirates pieced together a nine play touchdown drive as Trent Salyers found Holden once more for a 22 yard touchdown. With a 35-3 lead and 8:24 left in the third quarter, the game went to a running clock.
Yet another drive that only lasted for three plays for Ironton gave the Pirates another prime opportunity at scoring after a big punt return put them at the Tiger 26 yard line. Wheelersburg added another score, as Holden caught his fourth touchdown pass.
Holden made his defender miss and dove for the pylon, extending just far enough for the score. The extra point was no good, so Wheelersburg held a 41-3 lead with 4:19 left in the third quarter.
Quarterback Trent Salyers finished the game 14-of-23 for Wheelersburg with 280 passing yards and five touchdowns. He also added 21 yards on the ground for the Pirates.
“I thought Trent did an outstanding job of just manning the offense,” Woodward said. “I thought he did an outstanding job dispersing the ball.”
From that point on, both teams were unable to add much excitement on offense. Wheelersburg got another late touchdown in the fourth quarter when Mack Dyer scored on a five yard touchdown run with 2:07 left in the game.
Dyer’s touchdown rush gave Wheelersburg their final score of the game, and the Pirates went on to obtain the victory, 48-3.
A solid win for the Pirates in week one, but Wheelersburg is focusing on bigger and better things as the season moves forward.
The Pirates will host the Fairland Dragons in their home opener next Friday, Sept. 1.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 or on Twitter @BSpicerPDT