WHEELERSBURG — Over the duration of Rob Woodward’s tenure with the Wheelersburg Pirates’ football program, Wheelersburg has collected its fair share of impressive victories that would make the most diehard football fans do a double-take in amazement of what the Pirates were able to do.
However, in Friday evening’s nonconference affair against the Columbus Bishop Watterson Eagles, Wheelersburg was able to put together a performance that is comparable with one of the best ever assembled on the grounds of Ed Miller Stadium — before or since the installment of the FieldTurf that was laid down in 2012.
The No. 4-ranked team in the Ohio AP Division V Football Poll collected 525 total yards of offense — including 417 yards passing and four touchdowns from Trent Salyers alone — and held Bishop Watterson to just 69 yards rushing on 25 carries in a 47-17 beatdown of the Eagles — which marked just the third time since the turn of the millennium that an opponent has defeated Bishop Watterson by 30 points or more — in a playoff atmosphere and a capacity crowd affair.
For Woodward, the performance was so thrilling to watch in all areas that it was understandably hard to single any one person out of the crowd.
“I’m just really pleased, overall, with the performance from our football team,” Woodward said. “I thought that we took a step up tonight in growth. We talked about penalties over the course of the week, and we improved in that area tonight, as well. Our guys really took care of a lot of the little things that we challenged them with this week, and again, that shows growth.”
From the outset, Wheelersburg wasted no time in making a statement to all in attendance at Ed Miller Stadium as Nic Parsley greeted Kyle Naderhoff with the first of many pad-popping hits en route to forcing Bishop Watterson into a three-and-out to start the affair.
Then, after moving the ball soundly thanks to a 13-yard run from Dominic Reyes and a 10-yard completion from Salyers to Xander Carmichael that put Wheelersburg in Bishop Watterson territory, two incomplete passes by Salyers forced Wheelersburg into a 3rd-and-10. That scenario, however, became a distant memory as Salyers found Tanner Holden on a beautifully-executed funnel screen that saw the Pirates pick up every Bishop Watterson defender on the initial level.
From there, Holden did what Holden has done throughout the 2017 season — leave defenders grasping for air. The junior receiver simply highstepped out of one tackle and outraced everyone to the far side pylon for the game’s opening touchdown to cap off a seven-play, 70-yard drive with his 47-yard touchdown reception to put Wheelersburg in front by a 7-0 tally with 8:47 to play in the opening quarter of action.
“The job that they did with funnel screens was fun to watch,” Woodward said. “Those guys have to get downfield in a hurry on those and get blocks. We were able to hit Tanner on those, and of course, he does a great job with his footwork. He’s fast, he’s elusive, and he’s hard to bring down. Even with that tall frame, he runs so well with the football.”
While the first drive offered up plenty of fruits for the Pirates, the second proved to be a pretty fruitful result for Wheelersburg, too, as Makya Matthews set the Pirates up with excellent field position after returning a punt 33 yards down the near sideline to the Bishop Watterson 27, which set up a 39-yard field goal for Jalen Miller that put the Pirates up by a 10-0 margin with 5:37 to play in the first quarter.
However, the onslaught was just getting started at this point.
After Bishop Watterson started its third drive of the affair at its own 27-yard line, the Eagles were able to collect a pair of first downs on a 17-yard run by Nick DePalma and a 22-yard pass from Cole Andrews to Nate Meyer as Watterson advanced to the Wheelersburg 31. However, the drive stalled from that point forward thanks to the intensity and urgency of the Pirates’ defense, and a Kevin Laming field goal try ended up falling well short of its desired destination.
As a result, Wheelersburg got the ball back with 1:54 to play in the opening frame, and proceeded to drive down Bishop Watterson’s throat.
Despite facing tense situations that included a 3rd-and-6 and a 1st-and-20 on the drive, the Pirates got themselves out of trouble both times as a splendid 23-yard catch by Cole Lowery on the left hash and a 29-yard reception by Holden put the Pirates in serious business again at the Wheelersburg 29.
There, Dominic Reyes took a handoff from Salyers and exploded down the right side for the final 29 yards en route to capping off the nine-play, 80-yard drive with another touchdown. Another three-and-out followed, and from there, Wheelersburg needed just three plays to cap off a 62-yard touchdown drive as Salyers found Holden down the right sideline on a 3rd-and-9, with the 6-6 junior dazzling with a beautiful cutback that allowed Holden to go into the endzone untouched from 61 yards out as the Pirates took a commanding 23-0 lead with 9:01 to play in the first half.
“Dominic showed the speed that he has,” Woodward said of Reyes’ touchdown. “He was able to turn the corner and kick it into that extra gear that we all know that Dominic Reyes has. He showed that tonight, and he’s done that two, three games in a row where he’s just put his head down and really ran hard.”
Following the touchdown, Bishop Watterson got excellent field position to start its fifth drive of the affair as a 68-yard return by Antonio Auddino allowed the Eagles to start at the Wheelersburg 32.
But after driving down to the Wheelersburg 12, the Pirates’ defensive unit, once again, bowed up and showed its stingy self. Overall, Wheelersburg had 25 players that collected at least one stop on the evening, with Parsley, Avery Donini, Xander Carmichael, Alex George, and Evan Dahm leading the unit with five stops apiece. Bryson Keeney and Evan Horsley had four tackles on their own, with Horsley collecting a critical third-down sack on the Eagles’ fifth series to force Watterson to settle for a 32-yard field goal from Laming.
“Nic Parsley jumped out at me three or four times, making big sticks and big plays,” Woodward said. “Alex George, Jeremy Cooper, and CJ Hall all did, as well. Our guys were playing physical tonight. Avery Donini came up with some big sticks during the first and second half, Xander Carmichael had some big plays in there, and Evan Dahm and Bryson Keeney did, as well. “Evan Horsley, out on the edge, recognized the formation, did his job, and came in and made a big stick in the redzone for a sack on third down that was critical for us. We kept them out of the end zone there. That just deflates Bishop Watterson and rises your guys up. Those are plays that, as a coach, you’ll remember for a lifetime, especially when you play teams and you see guys come out and perform. We’ve got big games that are going to require some big plays out of our kids, and we’ve got a lot of guys that are going to make those.”
While the defense continued to hold down the fort, Salyers continued to blow the doors down with his cannon arm. The 6-2, 175-pound signal-caller found Mack Dyer wide open behind the Bishop Watterson defense down the near side en route to a 77-yard touchdown pass just two plays into the enusing drive, which put the junior over 250 yards passing for the half as the Pirates took a 30-3 lead with 4:09 to play in the first half.
Salyers was so in tune on Friday evening, in fact, that not even back-to-back touchdowns by Bishop Watterson — which were set up off of a trick play by the Eagles and Salyers’ lone interception of the evening — phased him.
With 3:02 remaining in the opening half of play, the newly-minted 1,000-yard passer rebounded from his interception by connecting on five of his six attempts on the drive — the lone incompletion being a dropped pass — en route to capping the drive off with a textbook 24-yard touchdown pass to Holden in the back left corner of the endzone after scrambling to his left. As a result, Salyers’ poise and wherewithal, which led to 356 yards passing in the first half alone, allowed Wheelersburg to open the contest back up to a three-score advantage at 37-17, which was crucial in the outcome of the affair.
“I can’t say enough about the job that Trent Salyers did at quarterback,” Woodward said. “He obviously has some big targets to throw to, and Tanner Holden is an outstanding individual talent, but Trent knew where he needed to go with the football. That fourth touchdown that he threw, which was on a scramble that we practiced, was so impressive. Him being in the pocket, flushed out, and all of our receivers are still continuing to run their routes. It showed in the end result. Trent just connected with guys and really did a great job.”
In the second half of play, Wheelersburg, again, wasted no time messing around. After getting the ball to start the second half of play, the Pirates used a 13-yard reception from Holden and a 42-yard catch and run from Carmichael to set up a 28-yard field goal by Jalen Miller to increase the lead to 23.
Then, just three plays later, the Pirates put the icing on the cake. With the Wheelersburg defense swarming him, Andrews threw a ball right into Holden’s window on the far hash. The junior — who had six catches for 144 yards and three scores in the first half alone on the offensive side of the football en route to 10 catches for 208 yards overall — sprinted all the way to the near sideline, where seven of his teammates had the red carpet already rolled out for Holden with their outstanding downfield blocking as Holden’s 59-yard interception return for a touchdown commenced the running clock and put the affair officially out of reach.
“Honestly, that was something that we worked on in practice this week,” Woodward said of Wheelersburg’s ability to maximize its takeaway opportunities. “We worked on takeaways, and how to adjust ourselves if the ball is taken away. We want to know what we can do, and get as much yardage as possible, by setting ourselves up in the right positions to block appropriately when a ball is recovered or picked off. There were a bunch of guys who knew exactly what to do when that situation happened. It was a great play by Tanner, and a great job of our guys blocking for him.”
With the victory, Wheelersburg, who has outscored its opponents by a margin of 173-26 in 2017, moved to 4-0 on the year and became just the third team (Pickerington North, 2011; Columbus Bishop Hartley, 2016) to defeat Bishop Watterson by 30 points or more in the current millennium. In Bishop Hartley’s case, the Hawks went on to win the Division IV State Championship last season.
However, the Pirates aren’t about to overlook anybody. That’s especially the case next week, when Wheelersburg takes to the road to face a 4-0 Jackson squad that pummeled Western Brown, 49-20, at home on Friday evening.
“We had a great week of preparation for Watterson,” Woodward said. “With that being said, I know that our guys know what is ahead of them here with Jackson looming. They have been hitting on all cylinders. I expect nothing less than great preparation again. Our coaching staff did a wonderful job this week of putting kids in situations to be successful. I know that each of our coaches will continue to put our kids in situations to be successful, and utilize as many players as we can to help us go out there, defeat teams, and come away with the victory. “We’ve just got to be ready to go next Friday.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7