West and Wheelersburg. Pirates, Senators. Rinse, repeat. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Both teams’ opening round playoff game of the Division V playoffs just so happens to be against one another, and so we get another opportunity to relive one of Southern Ohio’s greatest football rivalries.
A week ago, Wheelersburg defeated Portsmouth West 28-7 in very rainy and muddy conditions. The Senators led for a majority of the first half before ultimately giving in to the Pirates extremely efficient offense.
“They had a flurry where they had three touchdowns in four plays in the last half of the second quarter” said Senators head coach Ben Johnson when discussing his team’s week ten contest with Wheelersburg, “You take that small moment in time away and it was really a battle all night, even in the second half it was a one score game. It’s just a matter of being able to stay focused, whether you’re coming off a good play, whether you’re coming off a bad play, coming off a turnover or a change of possession, we just need to focus on every single play.”
Despite the Senators losing their final three games of the regular season against Waverly, Wheeling Central Catholic, and Wheelersburg, they were able to sneak into the postseason as the eight seed with an overall 6-4 record and 2-2 in SOC II play. Johnson knows his team has to continue to look forward if they hope to make a run this postseason. “We try to talk about not focusing on what has happened most recently” said Johnson, “But to try and pause for a second to look at the season as a whole. We had a really good season and qualified for the playoffs, and now we get to start over. Everybody is 0-0 in the playoffs, it’s kind of like week one again. That’s kind of where our mindset is.”
Johnson said he has never done what West and Wheelersburg will be doing this week, playing in back to back weeks, but he sees some advantages to the situation in terms of knowing how you match up player for player against the other team. “I think it can be both an advantage and a disadvantage” said Johnson, “It’s an advantage for the fact that you’ve been on the field with them and you’ve seen what they’ve got from a physical matchup stand point. The players know first hand who they’re going to be up against. The weather being bad a week ago limited some things for both teams in what they could do as far as schemes go. We know they have a lot more diversity in their offense, and we do too.”
Wheelersburg head coach Rob Woodward said that playing West in back to back weeks will be a new experience for him as well as a head coach. “It’s something I’ve never experienced before” said Woodward, “I’ve played a team twice in the regular season a couple of times. But of course, the players having an extra week to prepare for the same team under their belts definitely helps. I’m the sure the coaching staff reviews the film and looks at some things that we could have done differently, or we could do this differently to enhance our chances. Ultimately, both teams do what we do. We’ve got to go out and limit mistakes and play at a heightened level. With that being said, it’s the team that makes the least number of mistakes that gets to win and advance in the playoffs. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re that team.”
The Pirates finished the regular season at 9-1 and SOC II champs. Wheelersburg’s only loss of the season came against Division II Bishop Hartley 51-20. When including that 31 point loss, the Pirates are still outscoring their opponents on the season 350-90 including 163-13 over SOC II opponents.
The last two games of the regular season for Wheelersburg against Valley and Portsmouth West West, as Woodward mentioned, featured slower than normal starts for the highly efficient Wheelersburg offense. “The level of the competition as you get into the playoffs is enhanced” said Woodward, “We’re playing the same team we did last week, but we’re now on a surface that is going to better both teams in terms of how both teams play. We have to understand that the level of competition we play at is going to be raised, even though it’s the same team we’ll be facing. We can’t start off slow.”
Kickoff between Wheelersburg and Portsmouth West is set for 7:00 p.m. on Saturday night at Ed Miller Stadium in what should be an absolutely raucous environment as two of Southern Ohio’s greatest rivals do battle one final time in 2018.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT