The Division V, Region 17 championship features two teams looking to make the perfect statement.
The Wheelersburg Pirates and the Zane Trace Pioneers enter the contest with identical 12-0 records and both teams have aspirations of reaching the state championship game. However, only one program will emerge victorious Friday night.
The Pirates enter the game after beating Ridgewood 42-21 but the final score didn’t tell the entire story. Wheelersburg suffered four turnovers on the night, which was uncharacteristic of the Pirates. While mistakes didn’t cost Wheelersburg last week, Pirates coach Rob Woodward knows his team can’t afford to make “uncharacteristic” errors against Zane Trace.
“We uncharacteristically turned the ball over four times last week,” Woodward said. “That’s something that can’t happen in a regional championship game. We uncharacteristically, for a lack of a better term, had a number of obscured penalties that took place and that again is something that can’t happen. We’re hoping we got that out of our system and we can focus again on the fundamentals of blocking and tackling in this game.”
A major key to Wheelersburg’s success last week and throughout the season has been the play of the Pirate defense.
“The defense has really stepped up and kept teams in poor field position, which ultimately gives our offense good field position,” Woodward said. “I think they have been a big part of our success this year.”
Wheelersburg’s defense will need to step up again to contain the Pioneer offense. Woodward identified Pierce Mowery, Joel Dunkle and Austin Harris has the three playmakers that can ruin the Pirates’ postseason run.
Mowery is a receiver who has the ability to make plays on the outside.
“When the ball gets in his hands, he has the potential to break it open,” Woodward said. “He has the ability to make the big play.”
Dunkle and Harris have rotated at quarterback for the Pioneers but regardless of who has lined up under center, the result has been the same.
“Both of them are explosive and they are so athletic at the quarterback position,” Woodward said. “You may feel you have a play stopped and if the ball is still in their hand, they can really look to break out and make a big play with their feet.
“They are a football team that has the ability to make a play at any time.”
Zane Trace runs a Pro-Style offense, primarily out of the I-formation. The Pioneers are a run-first team who plays physical, smashed-mouth football with the ability to pick up big chunks of yards at anytime.
“They’ll get the tough yards with Truman Love, the fullback, who will just hit it up in there on dives,” Woodward said. “They’ll run quarterback sneaks. They really rely on their offensive line who comes off the ball well to get those tough yards. They’ll keep chipping away and then look to make a big play. They like to get out on the edge with the quarterbacks sprinting out or just a basic spot pass out to (Mowery).
“They are very simple and methodical in how they chip away the yards, and put their team in the situation to take a shot and score.”
The Pirate defense will attempt to contain the Pioneer running attack, forcing Zane Trace to beat Wheelersburg through the air.
“We’re going to have to limit the run game and yards after contact,” Woodward said. “We have to make sure we don’t allow them to get any momentum started with those short runs they try to do. And we’ve really got to contain the edge. We’ve got to try to bottle the quarterback up and force them to put the ball in the air. We’ve just got to make sure we’ve got (Mowery) covered. He can really go up and get the football. We’ve got to take away what they hang their hat out, which is running the football.”
Offensively, the Pirates will rely on the offensive line, which has been playing at an extremely high level.
“We challenged them last week and got back to fundamentals, and boy did they rise to the challenge,” Woodward said. “They put together the best display offensively that they had all year … They created holes. And as I look back over the stats, we don’t have a 1,000 yard rusher. We have a 300, 400, 500, 600, 800; we have guys that have put together huge chunks of yardage and have been able to spread the ball to different guys.
” I think that’s a tribute to the blocking of the offensive line and the blocking of the backs for one another. They understand when you’re able to hit from different areas and use different weapons, it makes your team that much more versatile. That’s what we are as an overall team … “
Wheelersburg and Zane Trace will put their undefeated streaks on the line Friday night at 7:30 p.m., at Waverly High School.
I will be on leave as my second child will be born Friday. For in-game coverage, follow @MikeHamilton82 and read Michael Hamilton’s game recap online Friday night and in Saturday’s edition of the Daily Times.
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.