Over the course of a football season, it can be very difficult to maintain a consistently strong energy level with the grind, and the wear and tear that comes with physical contact over weeks at a time.
Yet, throughout the first 11 weeks of the regular season, Wheelersburg has maintained an energy level that has been so intense that it can’t be described in just one or two words.
And even after the Pirates’ 10th running clock victory in 11 affairs — its latest victory coming against Bishop Ready, 34-0, in a dominating defensive display — Wheelersburg has continued to carry over an energy level that can hardly be matched heading into its Division V, Region 19 Regional Semifinal affair against Columbus Academy, which will be played at Herrnstein Field in Chillicothe on Friday evening.
“I can’t say enough about the energy that our kids are continuing to bring to practice and to the locker room,” Wheelersburg head coach Rob Woodward said. “It’s just like they’ve started football season again, and here we are, 11 weeks into the full season. If you count the scrimmages and intrasquad scrimmage, we’ve been together for 14, 15, 16 weeks, and these guys are still loving every minute of it. If you saw the start of our practices, our guys have come out energized, juiced up, and playing with a lot of fun. I love where they are at right now. Strength-wise, conditioning-wise, and mentality-wise, we’re right where we want to be at this stage of the game.”
Last week, Wheelersburg certainly showed off the skill that has allowed the Pirates to obtain a perfect 11-0 mark in 2017, especially on the defensive side of the football. There, Wheelersburg held Bishop Ready to just 50 yards of total offense until the Silver Knights’ final drive of the affair in a flawless defensive effort where the Pirates not only held Bishop Ready to 10 yards passing, but outscored the Silver Knights on their own behind a 22-yard interception return from Xander Carmichael early in the fourth quarter of action.
“That’s a testament to how our kids prepared throughout the week,” Woodward said. “Our coaches really challenged them and tested them throughout the week, and they responded to that. This week has been no different. They have been laser-focused on what they’ve needed to do this week, and have asked questions themselves about how they can improve. I feel like we’ve just gotten better throughout the week as we’ve tried to prepare.”
Still, Wheelersburg — in all three phases of the game — will have to be stout in order to stop the Columbus Academy attack.
Herman Moultrie III, a 5-11, 175-pound senior running back, along with receivers Chris Boyle (6-4, 200) and Dorrian Moultrie (5-11, 190), are the primary weapons in a offensive attack that has averaged 30.7 points per contest and has accumulated a solid 3-2 record in contests decided by 17 points or less — including wins over Division II Whitehall-Yearling (31-14) and Union Local, who the Vikings defeated by a 13-6 count last week to advance to Friday’s regional semifinal affair against the Pirates.
However, with guys such as Carmichael (64 tackles, two interceptions) and Nic Parsley (57 tackles, four sacks) in its arsenal, the Columbus Academy offensive attack can certainly be contained with the talent that the defense has, along with a proper attention to detail that Wheelersburg has had no trouble bringing to the table in past weeks.
“All the teams that we’ll face from this point on are teams that are going to be of high-caliber,” Woodward said. “Columbus Academy is no different. They’ve done a great job of limiting points from the teams they’ve played here in recent weeks; they’ve got an explosive back in (Herman Moultrie III), and he’s matched with two very talented receivers in (Dorrian Moultrie and Chris Boyle), who can go up and get the football. They run a lot of reverses, some halfback screens, and like to move (Moultrie III) around. He has the ability to make people miss. He’s very elusive back there, runs hard, and has talented receivers around him that make the play-action passing game very effective. In fact, all three of them are explosive with their hands on the football, so we’re got to recognize of where those guys are aligned, and make sure that we are focused on playing a great defensive ballgame. We really want to focus on limiting missed tackles and not letting big plays deter us.”
Defensively, Columbus Academy, much like Wheelersburg, is very solid. The Vikings have only given up 10.8 points per affair during the 2017 campaign, but against their Division V counterparts, that overall number is even more impressive as Columbus Academy has given up just four points per game in their three contests against Division V opponents this year.
“They are a disciplined defense that gets themselves aligned where they need to be,” Woodward said. “They’ll take advantage of blitzing opportunities when they see certain formations or certain tendencies from their opponents. Those are all things that we have to take into account for, and make sure that we have a plan B so that we can work to execute.”
Still, Wheelersburg has plenty of firepower in its own right.
That’s clearly evident just in the abilities of Trent Salyers, who has put together an outstanding campaign in his first season as the varsity signal-caller for the Pirates. Salyers, who broke Eddie Miller III’s overall mark for passing yards in a season last week against Bishop Ready and tied Miller III’s school-record tally for passing touchdowns in a season, has obtained 2,872 yards passing and 30 touchdowns through the air in 2017 by himself.
Salyers, who has rushed for 428 yards and 10 additional touchdowns in 2017 as a true dual-threat quarterback, has used his abilities to open up the field for talented wideouts Tanner Holden and Cole Lowery. Holden has obtained an astounding 1,266 yards receiving and 18 touchdowns on 64 catches for a 19.3 yard-per-catch average, while Lowery has collected an impressive 741 yards and three touchdowns on 46 catches en route to racking up a strong 16.1 yard-per-catch total in his own right.
“I haven’t said enough about the achievements that Trent has made because I believe he’ll continue to obtain more achievements,” Woodward said. “He’s just a student of the game who prepares himself. I’m so impressed with the physical way that he’s able to build himself up in the weight room. He works very hard and stays at an elite level on how he prepares himself, not only physically, but mentally. He’s always talking to (Tom Kaskey) about how he can make some changes or find ways to improve his play. So many components go into all of those things that have helped him obtain those numbers, but he’s shown a lot of great decision-making skills. Hat’s off to him for what he’s been able to accomplish this season.”
As Woodward says, every opponent from this point forward is, indeed, talented enough to emerge as a state championship contender. That’s why a team’s overall preparation — a vital part of the game that Wheelersburg has excelled at — is, indeed, what will be the deciding factor on Friday evening.
“It’s a direct result of our seniors,” Woodward said of Wheelersburg’s physical and mental focus from week to week. “They have played with a loose attitude, but in that, have still maintained a focus that has been razor-sharp throughout. The thing that leads to the wins is the work that you put in on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and our guys have really invested the time and the commitment that is needed to achieve their goals. That’s what’s so special about it. They understand what it takes, and as a result, everything that they’ve done throughout this season has been earned. They don’t just walk out on a Friday night and play.”
The Pirates and the Vikings will square off at 7:30 p.m. Friday evening.