As the old saying goes, ‘Something’s got to give.’
And when an offense that has collected a total of 4,071 rushing yards and 55 touchdowns on 6.1 yards per carry meets a defense that has allowed just 792 rushing yards on 350 carries for a total of 2.3 yards per attempt, the cliched saying will certainly be true when the Wheelersburg Pirates and the Johnstown-Monroe Johnnies square off in a primo football bout for the rights to the OHSAA Division V, Region 19 Championship at Herrnstein Field on the campus of Chillicothe High School in Chillicothe.
With that being said, Rob Woodward knows that his Wheelersburg squad will have to be prepared, especially considering that Johnstown-Monroe — who has gone 39-8 since the beginning of the 2014 season — has plenty of big game experience in its own right, as a Division IV, Region 13 Final appearance would suggest.
“They’re no stranger to the playoffs,” Woodward said. “They’re well-coached. Mike Carter is an outstanding coach. Him and his staff do a great job of preparing their players. I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for him and his program. They have a very intimidating style of football in terms of how they attack the line of scrimmage and come after you. We’ve got to work to try to match that same intimidation and that same toughness at the line of scrimmage, because that is where this game is going to be won.”
Throughout the course of the 2017 season, Johnstown-Monroe (10-2) has taken no prisoners in a season that has been as impressive as any in Division V.
The Johnnies, who have defeated five opponents between the Division II, III, and IV ranks, have a home victory over Division III playoff qualifier Granville (42-34), won two of its three games against Division II opponents by defeating Big Walnut (3-0) and Licking Heights (47-28), and, over the past eight weeks, have allowed just 9.4 points while pitching two shutouts. The result? Nine straight wins.
Much of that effort, however, has come from the offense’s ability to possess the football and control the clock.
Of the Johnnies’ 4,000 yards rushing, Bryce Barasch has 2,062 yards and 24 touchdowns on 282 carries for an average of 7.34 yards per carry, while Caden Calhoun has added 1,002 yards rushing and 13 additional touchdowns on 140 carries for a 7.16 average. Together, they’ve only fumbled the football twice in 421 carries between the pair, and their overall effectiveness has kept the Johnnies from having to go to the air (only 35 passes attempted through three games). Luke Myers (115 carries, 505 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Jared Orders (349 yards, 58 carries) round out a strong stable of backs that Wheelersburg will have to keep an eye on.
“Their quarterback (Bryce Barasch) has done an outstanding job of getting around the edges and running the option,” Woodward said. “He runs the option very well, and their tailback (Caden Calhoun) really grinds out tough yards. It’s a great football team that we are going to have to be sure that we’re on our A game for.”
According to Woodward, part of what makes Johnstown-Monroe’s offense so hard to stop is in the way that the offense is run, in addition to the athletes that the Johnnies have. Johnstown-Monroe’s receivers take off in a straight sprint as if they are running a passing route, which opens up perimeter running lanes for Barasch, the team’s main standout.
“The receivers, sometimes, will run off to get the defensive backs out of the way so that (Barasch) can take off running in the open field,” Woodward said. “The way that’s designed is a great scheme and is a great way for them to attack opposing defenses. It really puts a lot of pressure, especially on the perimeters and the edges, as far as controlling Johnstown-Monroe’s offense is concerned.”
Besides that, however, the Johnnies, who run in the Wing-T, will also pull guards and call tackle over plays in addition to the regular blocking assignments that the garden-variety Wing-T offense entails.
“They’re a Wing-T style team that doesn’t necessarily run your traditional Wing-T formations,” Woodward said. “The plays are the same plays that you’ll see in the Wing-T, but they’ve added in a little bit of the option with that out of some power sets. They run a tackle over, they’ve got a wing that does a great job and basically serves as another lineman who can really power down, and they’ll pull guards at times to try to give themselves some numbers on different sides of the football. All of those looks are things that we’re going to have to recognize, but not consume ourselves with. When it comes down to it, we’ve got to do a great job of tackling, we’ve got to play an aggressive style of football, and limit our penalities and mistakes in terms of missed tackles.”
However, if there is a team that is more well-equipped to stop such a powerful rushing attack, it would be hard to find.
With two of the best open-field tacklers around in Bryson Keeney (38 tackles, three pass deflections, two interceptions) and Avery Donini (53 tackles, two pass deflections, INT), along with two end-to-end linebackers in Xander Carmichael (72 tackles, two pass deflections, two interceptions) and Evan Dahm (62 tackles, INT) behind a defensive line that can go eight to 10 guys deep in the Pirates’ trademark 4-2-5 scheme, it is certainly an offense that Wheelersburg can slow down, and even halt.
“We have looked back and evaluated ourselves from a standpoint of where we were at the beginning of the season,” Woodward said. “Our run defense is the best that we’ve ever had, so that bodes well for us regarding the run. However, every opponent is different, and Johnstown-Monroe runs the ball more effectively than any of our opponents have this year. We’re just trying to put our guys in the best situations to be successful, and counter the things that can be done in regards to throwing the football, if need be. We’ve got to make sure that we’ve got ourselves in a position to be ready for those opportunities if, or when, they take those.”
Defensively, Johnstown-Monroe’s quintet of Kaden Davis (110 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, eight sacks, five fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles), Stew Davis (103 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 19 sacks), Jake Lusk (100 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, six sacks), Josh Boso (87 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 12 sacks) and Jason Walters (66 tackles, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries) will have to be contained by a Wheelersburg offensive line that has proven to do the job through the first 12 weeks of the season, as the Pirates’ 5,256 yards of total offense suggests.
And it’s a job that the Pirates can certainly do, as evidenced when the line opened up running lanes for Carmichael, Dominic Reyes, and Evan Horsley in the second half en route to overcoming a 13-0 deficit and obtaining a 35-16 victory over Columbus Academy in order to advance to the Division V, Region 19 title bout for the fifth consecutive year. Carmichael, Reyes, and Horsley combined for 272 yards and four rushing touchdowns in the championship-caliber effort.
“The seniors really put the game on their back,” Woodward said. “They, along with a number of sophomores and juniors that contributed throughout the game, were big. However, it was the execution throughout the week of practice that allowed us to be able to go out and use everything that we had. Some people didn’t know that we had some of those options, but there are still some things in the toolbox that we haven’t broken out yet. We use them when we need to, and it’s been effective for us. That, however, all goes back to the preparation and the execution that the players have been able to do throughout the whole year, which allows them to continue to find effective ways to produce late in the season.”
However, no matter what the situation, the outcome, or the final numbers tell us all, one thing is a definite: the Wheelersburg Pirates’ football program will play as if the entire Wheelersburg community is jumping up and down the backs of each player on the roster.
“I want to see us fight,” Woodward said. “Regardless of what happens, I want to see us represent our teammates, the inner group of our football family, and the community very well by playing a good, hard football game for four quarters. That’s the ultimate goal, and doing all of that puts us in the best situation in order to emerge victorious. We’ve got to do those things in order to win and advance, and I believe that those guys have had that all week in practice. We’re going to go out and work to display that on Friday night.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT