WHEELERSBURG — The beat just keeps going on inside the Wheelersburg Pirates’ football program.
How, you ask?
Well, Friday evening’s performance against Waverly certainly highlights a few spectacular numbers.
Wheelersburg, who did a stellar job of balancing its offensive attack in amassing 306 passing yards and 296 rushing yards, obtained 602 total yards of offense.
That stellar mark, along with an outstanding performance by the front six in limiting the Waverly Tigers to 30 yards rushing on 26 carries, allowed Wheelersburg to, once again, defeat an opponent by a running clock margin as the No. 2-ranked team in the Ohio AP Division V Football Poll rolled to a 62-20 victory over the Waverly Tigers on Friday evening at Ed Miller Stadium on a night where the Pirates played for, and honored, the victims of the tragic shooting in Las Vegas, Nev. in tremendous fashion.
For Rob Woodward, Friday’s SOC I conference opener couldn’t have gone much better from a performance standpoint in a resounding victory that really showcased the stamina and mental toughness of his unit.
“I can’t say enough about our kids’ strength and conditioning, and how they were able to come in and be very physical in the football game,” Woodward said. “(Friday night) was really about the offensive line. All of our guys did an outstanding job, but C.J. Hall, Luke May, Baylen Haywood, Alex George, and Caleb Browning just really controlled the line of scrimmage and opened holes. Dominic Reyes hit them downhill, and hit them fast. Just a great job. We got right up on the ball, pushed the envelope, and kept the foot on the gas. As we saw tonight, that opens things up.”
After forcing Waverly into a three-and-out on the first series of the contest for both teams, Wheelersburg was able to overcome three false start penalties en route to a pair of first downs, as Dominic Reyes gained 13 yards on a run play up the middle and Trent Salyers added another 15 yards on his own on a read option keeper to put the Pirates at its own 42. However, on the next play, Salyers, who rolled to his right, had the ball stripped as the junior began to release the football. There, Waverly’s Nathan Sewell recovered the football at the Wheelersburg 33 yard line as Waverly took the football back with 8:49 to play.
From that point, the Tigers’ star signal-caller took over during Waverly’s second drive. Clayton Howell — who completed 18 of his 28 passes on the night for 225 yards and two touchdowns — completed each of the first seven passes that he attempted against the Wheelersburg defense. That stretch included two critical third-down passes — a nine-yard completon to Easton Wolf on a third-and-nine and a 14-yard touchdown pass to Phoenix Wolf on a third-and-12 — to put the Tigers up by a 7-0 tally with 5:47 remaining in the first quarter of play.
“Hat’s off to Waverly,” Woodward said. “They kept coming and they kept fighting throughout the game. They’ve got some very athletic kids that are able to make plays, and they continue to come out and play hard.”
However, Wheelersburg never relented, and, as a result, never looked back. On the ensuing drive, the Pirates used the running abilities of Reyes — who amassed 125 yards on 15 carries for the contest — to establish momentum as the senior ran for 12, 18, 11, and 11 yards on four separate carries to put the Pirates in the red zone. Salyers took care of business from there by capping off a nine-play, 65-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run that tied the score at 7 apiece with 3:02 to play in the opening quarter of action.
“Dominic was a beast,” Woodward said. “His play allowed Trent to work off of his effectiveness and get the ball out on the edge to some of our other guys. It kept Waverly’s defense on their heels, and there was a lot of speed out there on the field that was utilized tonight as a result.”
After Howell competed two consecutive passes to obtain first downs for Waverly off of the back of Phoenix Wolf and Cobe Marquez, the Wheelersburg defense turned up the heat and forced Howell into three straight incompletions, which allowed the Pirates to get the ball back with less than a minute to play in the opening quarter.
Two plays later, Salyers and Cole Lowery showed off the explosive offense that offensive coordinator Tom Kaskey has been known to feature as Salyers looked toward Tanner Holden on a designed slip screen, then moved his eyes up field toward a wide-open Lowery, who caught the pass on the near sideline just past midfield and sprinted the remainder of the distance for an 81-yard touchdown to give Wheelersburg a 14-7 lead at the first quarter horn.
“(The slip screens) are really hard to defend when you’ve not only got to try to take the ball away from Tanner Holden, who is an exceptional athlete, but then also, account for the other exceptional athletes that can make plays, too. Being able to play that chess match and recognize (the open spots) out there on the field was big.”
Then, following another three-and-out, Reyes went right back to work behind the masterful blocking execution from the offensive line.
The 5-6, 150-pound running back obtained 29 additional yards on just two carries in picking up another pair of first downs, and a trio of tough runs by Evan Horsley that led to 18 yards, along with a brilliant 17-yard catch by Holden on a 3rd-and-6, led to another short scamper by Salyers that increased the Wheelersburg lead to a 20-7 margin with 7:02 to play in the first half on an 11-play, 70-yard drive.
Later on in the same quarter, a second consecutive three-and-out from Waverly then led to yet another touchdown for Wheelersburg, as Holden, on a 3rd-and-22, made another spectacular play by catching a 20-yard pass while nearly being sandwiched by two Waverly defenders following an equally spectacular scramble by Salyers. The play not only allowed Reyes to convert a fourth-and-short on the latter’s two-yard run up the middle, but ultimately led to the track standout taking the pigskin in from a yard out en route to putting the Pirates up by a 27-7 margin at halftime.
Wheelersburg, however, was far from done adding to its lead.
After an unsuccessful onside kick gave the Pirates the football at the Waverly 41, Salyers and Reyes wasted no time leaving their mark as the duo combined for all 41 yards on a six-play, 41-yard drive that resulted in a two-yard touchdown pass from Salyers to Xander Carmichael as the Pirates opened the margin up to a 34-7 tally with 10:34 to play in the third quarter.
Even with its backs against the wall, Waverly, however, kept fighting.
After completing his first seven passes in the first half, Howell completed each of his first four passes in the second half of action, including a 14-yard pass to Easton Wolf, a 17-yard bullet to Marquez out in the far flat, and a 42-yard bomb to Wolf once more to set the Tigers up with a first-and-goal at the one-yard line.
Even though the Pirates looked like they had a goal line stand brewing, two personal foul penalties — which added to a yellow-flag-riddled affair that featured 23 penalties — allowed the 6-2, 205-pound quarterback to score from a yard out as Wheelersburg’s lead was cut to a 34-13 margin with 6:37 to play in the third quarter.
The Salyers to Holden connection, however, was just getting started. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Salyers found Holden on the ever-familiar slip screen, and Holden, behind excellent blocking and his amazing abilities in the open field, was never touched en route to a 71-yard touchdown reception that put the Pirates back up by a 27-point margin, 40-13, just 20 seconds later.
“We utilized Tanner’s abilities in order to draw extra attention to him, which opened things up for our additional targets,” Woodward said. “It worked very well. We were then able to go back to him later after the attention was focused on some other guys, and we got some openings for him, so it was a great combination between the two. I was really pleased with how that worked.”
The craziness that ensued in the third quarter, however, wasn’t done. After a chop block and a personal foul on Waverly moved the Tigers back from the 30 to its own 8, a false start, along with relentless pressure from Avery Donini and a host of additional Wheelersburg hats, were crucial in the Pirates obtaining a sack in the end zone en route to obtaining another pair of tallies to make the score 42-13 in favor of Wheelersburg with 5:29 to play.
However, Waverly, again, came back with further life. After being forced into a third-and-eight, Howell, who didn’t panic in the situation, found Drew Kritzwiser for a 67-yard score to cut the Pirates’ lead to a 42-20 margin with 3:42 to go in the third quarter.
But Holden was determined to move the margin into running clock mode. So he did something about it, once more, to aid Wheelersburg’s cause.
On the second play of the enusing drive, Salyers found the 6-6 standout out on the far numbers, where the immensely talented athlete turned on the afterburners, cut back into the middle of the field, and simply ran past all in sight en route to a 52-yard touchdown reception to put Wheelersburg up by a 48-20 tally. It only took one more three-and-out, and four more offensive plays, for Carmichael to add a 10-yard touchdown run and start the running clock. Cameron Howard added his own one-yard touchdown burst to cap the game’s scoring.
“Tanner’s so tough to bring down,” Woodward said. “He fights for yards after the catch, gets up the sideline when he needs to, and fights off defenders on jumpballs. I can’t say enough about Tanner and the job that he does.”
As big as the offensive display was, one of the main keys proved to be the run defense. Kritzwiser, who rushed for 208 yards against Valley last Friday, only amassed 23 yards on 16 carries against Wheelersburg’s experienced and disciplined front six.
“We challenged our guys tonight,” Woodward said. “We told our front six, ‘We want the run stopped. Don’t focus on the pass. That’s not something that you can control.’ Clayton Howell does such a great job of getting the ball out quick. We knew that we could turn and get to the receiver once the catch is made, but we believed that we couldn’t really get to him because of how quick he releases the football. So we just hunkered down and took care of the run. Our guys did a great job of that.”
With the victory, the Pirates, who have now eclipsed the 300-point mark for the year (317) while only allowing 60 points through seven games, will turn its attention to a rivalry bout with Minford. The Falcons will be looking to recover from a 48-42 overtime loss to Logan on Friday at home.
“(Jesse) Ruby is continuing to try to work and get those kids in the direction that he wants,” Woodward said. “We’re going to go out and play the best type of Wheelersburg football that we can, on the road. Anytime that you go on the road, you’ve got to prepare your team and get them ready.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7