The Friday night will feature two of the top teams in Southern Ohio at this stage in the season battling as the undefeated Waverly Tigers will host the defending state champion Wheelersburg Pirates.
The Pirates, whose first game of their SOC II slate is Friday against Waverly, have had another great start to the 2018 campaign. Other than their loss to Bishop Hartley in week two, 51-20, the Pirates have been playing excellent football. Led by first team all-state quarterback Trent Salyers, who on the year has thrown for 1143 yards 14 TDs and 2 INTs, Wheelersburg’s offense is averaging 28 points per game while playing a very difficult non-conference schedule.
Co-offensive player of the year in Division V in the 2017 season, senior wide receiver Tanner Holden, has had another quality year. For the year, Holden has 22 receptions for 390 yards and 6 receiving touchdowns, while also having an interception returned for a touchdown in their most recent home game against the Jackson Ironmen. Holden is accompanied by senior playmaker Makya Matthews who has had an excellent season for the Pirates. Matthews has 628 all-purpose yards, which accounts for rushing, receiving, and kick and punt return yards. On the defensive side of the ball, Matthews also has one interception and forced fumble each.
Ashton Clevenger leads the Wheelersburg rushing attack this season with 384 yards and 1 rushing touchdown. Clevenger is averaging 6.2 yards per carry through the Pirates first six games.
As mentioned above, the Pirates have only lost one game so far in their attempt to repeat as state champions to the aforementioned Bishop Hartley Hawks. In route to their 5-1 record, Wheelersburg has defeated Ironton, Heath, Bishop Watterson, Jackson, and Oak Hill. In order for the Pirates to continue on the pace they are on this season and to get a victory this Friday night, their offense will need to continue to fire on all cylinders, beginning with Salyers finding his playmakers in open space.
The 2018 Waverly Tigers season is beginning to resemble that of 2016 when the Tigers finished with a record of 9-2. Waverly began the season the same as they have this season with a record of 6-0 before losing their only regular season game to Wheelersburg. That is not to say that history always repeats itself, but the Tigers have a tall task waiting in the wings with the defending state champions coming to town in their second conference game so far this season.
Last Friday night, Waverly won their first conference game of 2018 by defeating Valley in Lucasville, 35-28. In that game, Valley lead for a large portion of the contest before Indians quarterback Andrew Shope threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown to Peyton Shoemaker to ultimately give Waverly the victory.
Shoemaker leads the Tigers in rushing through six weeks with 642 yards and 9 touchdowns while rushing for an average of 6.7 yards per carry. Leading the conference in passing yards is Tigers quarterback Haydn Shanks who on the season has thrown for 1335 yards 19 TDs and only 5 INTs with a 59.3% completion percentage. Shanks is not lacking in receiving weapons this season. Tigers receiver Easton Wolf has caught 31 passes for 709 yards and a conference leading eight touchdowns as well. Wolf’s brother, Phoenix, is second in the conference in receiving touchdowns with seven while also having 339 receiving yards on just 24 catches. Tight end Zeke Brown has also been a popular red zone target for Shanks as he has the third highest number of receiving touchdowns on the team with three.
The Tigers have defeated Piketon, Zane Trace, Unioto, Fairland, Nelsonville-York, and Valley to achieve their undefeated mark so far in 2018. Waverly has outscored their opponents on average by a score of 40.3 to 14.2 per game, good enough for best in the conference. If the Tigers want to have a shot at something that no team in the regular season has done besides Bishop Hartley since 2014, beat Wheelersburg, they have to find a way to limit the myriad of skill position players the Pirates have, while also protecting Shanks to allow him to have enough time to find his offensive weapons in the Wolf brothers and Shoemaker.
This Friday should be a good one, kickoff to decide who will control their own destiny in the SOC II race is slated for 7 p.m. in Waverly.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT