For the second year in a row, a rivalry reaches a new extreme as the Ironton Fighting Tigers visit the Wheelersburg Pirates Friday night in the first round of the Division V, Region 17 postseason.
The top ranked Pirates enter the contest ranked No. 1 in Region 17 with a perfect 10-0 record. Wheelersburg has dominated throughout the regular campaign, scoring 410 points while only surrendering 64 on the year.
The closest contest the Pirates faced in their unblemished season came in week 1 as Wheelersburg traveled to Tanks Memorial Stadium and left with a 14-6 victory over Ironton (6-4, 6-0).
“Ironton is a tremendous football team, very storied football program,” Pirates coach Rob Woodward said. “They obviously know what it’s like to be in the playoffs. That first game of the year was like a playoff caliber game. Everybody was starting to get their feet wet and here we are coming back again.”
Since the opening week, Wheelersburg hasn’t been challenged as it’s next closest contest came on Sept. 25, a 28-7 victory over the Jackson Ironmen who finished the season with a 9-1 mark.
Now that the regular season has concluded, both teams are ready to test the knowledge they’ve obtained over the last 10 weeks.
“Both of us have been battle tested and we both know what type of teams we are,” Woodward said. “We get to look and see who’s improved the most.”
Ironton began the season losing it’s first four games while sustaining massive injuries, especially at the running back position.
“I know they’ve suffered some injuries, so it’s going to be a question of who they’ve got in those positions,” Woodward said. “They are going to be methodical in their approach and their attack because that’s what they’ve always done, it’s kind of their MO in terms of them being a smash mouth football team.”
One of the key injuries the Fighting Tigers sustained was to star tailback DeAngelo Palladino who’s status for Friday night is still in question.
“We are going to prepare as if (Palladino) is going to play,” Woodward said. “We are going to prepare our team because I truly feel they are going to do some of the same things that they’ve done whether he’s in the game or isn’t in the game. We’ve got to attack them with that kind of mentality.”
Despite who lines up in the backfield, Woodward doesn’t believe Ironton’s game plan will change, which means Wheelersburg will once again have to stifle the Fighting Tiger run game.
“We know that they are going to be a very formidable opponent,” Woodward said. “We’ve done well against the run but we’ve got to continue to get 11 hats to the football. They have the potential to just maintain possession of the ball. They seem to get those small amounts of yards after contact that seem to keep drives alive and keep your offense off the field. That’s something that bolds very well for them. We really need to limit those yards.
“Some teams aren’t consistent enough as Ironton in terms of being content with picking up small gains out of the power-run game. So, we really have to make sure we limit those yards and keep them from getting first downs.
Wheelersburg was also bitten with the injury bug as the Pirates’ multi-dimensional offensive threat Chasen Burk sat out week 10 with a undisclosed injury. Burk will be a game-time decision.
If Burk is unable to play, Keaton Newsome would be the first player to assume those responsibilities.
“Keaton Newsome is the first backup that we go too,” Woodward said. “Keaton is a guy that we’ve used all year. Keaton just finds more of a role now in terms of some of our packages running the football.”
Another player that shined in week 10 and is looking for more playing time is Dominic Reyes.
“He’s actually the fastest guys on our team,” Woodward said. “He’s got the most explosive speed. He’s just a smaller guy and he’s still learning a little bit of the offense in terms of the physical play and blocking.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday night from Ed Miller Stadium.
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.