LANCASTER — Unfortunately for the Wheelersburg Pirates, Ridgewood’s revenge was served quite cold.
In the fifth all-time meeting between the Pirates and undefeated Generals on Saturday night, in the Division V Region 19 semifinals at a frigid Fulton Field in Lancaster, the Generals — specifically sophomore quarterback Gabe Tingle — just had all the right moves and made all the big plays.
Tingle, the East District Division V Offensive Co-Player of the Year, torched the Pirates’ pass defense for four touchdowns and 288 yards on 15-of-22 — and second-seeded Ridgewood rolled third-seeded Wheelersburg 42-17 to advance to the Region 19 championship tilt next week.
Tingle, too, paced the Generals in rushing with 93 yards and a 2-yard touchdown run on 16 carries — as Connor Kunze kicked all six Ridgewood extra points, while catching three of Tingle’s TD tosses.
For the Pirates, they had won their first four meetings with Ridgewood — all in the playoffs and all occurring since the 2007 season.
However, the 2019 club wasn’t Wheelersburg’s most highly-touted team of all-time, while many observers of Ridgewood believe this is the best General squad ever.
The Generals are now a perfect 12-0, won their second straight playoff affair over a Scioto County team, and will now face top-seeded and 11-1 Ironton for the Region 19 championship next Saturday night.
Wheelersburg, meanwhile, wraps up its season at 8-4 — and exits the postseason in the regional semifinal for the first time since 2010, as it did not make the playoffs in 2011 and lost to Liberty Union in the regional quarterfinals in 2012.
The Generals also snapped the Pirates’ six-game winning streak, as Wheelersburg had won eight out of nine games entering the regional semi.
But Ridgewood was real good, and actually was involved in its closest game all season — aside from a 31-9 victory over Indian Valley.
“They are a good team, no doubt,” said Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward, who completed his 12th season at the Pirate helm on Saturday night. “We went into the game knowing we had to stop the run. And low and behold, they went after us in terms of taking some shots downfield. And they converted them. We had to get some stops there and we didn’t. They maintained momentum the whole game and in playoff football, that’s what happens if you are not on top of your game.”
The Generals scored on their first four possessions and in nine plays or less, and only a kneel-down for the final first-half play prevented a possible larger lead than 28-3 at halftime.
Then, following the Pirates’ 12-play 70-yard four-minute and 11-second scoring drive to open the second half and which featured five first downs, the Generals answered with a similar eight-play, 73-yard four-minute and nine-second drive that ended with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Tingle to Kunze at the 3:25 mark of the third quarter.
Once again, the Generals were up by 25 at 35-10, and Evan Horsley — the Pirate senior quarterback who had both of Wheelersburg’s touchdowns on one-yard runs — was intercepted by Kunze on back-to-back possessions.
The second of those was with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter and, with Ridgewood starting at the Wheelersburg 9-yard-line after Kunze’s 21-yard return, the Generals were in the end zone again just three plays and a minute and 15 seconds later — on Tingle’s final of four touchdown passes and third to Kunze.
The four-yard pitch-and-catch on a nice back-shoulder throw made it 42-10 just 45 seconds in the fourth quarter, and put the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s running-clock rule into effect — for a mere two minutes and 20 seconds anyway.
Horsley, who paced the Pirates with 92 rushing yards on 18 carries and completed 10-of-21 passes for 138 yards, had his second scoring plunge with 8:40 remaining.
Braxton Sammons successfully made his second extra-point kick to stop the running clock, but after Wheelersburg forced Ridgewood into only its second punt attempt, Horsley was intercepted for the fourth and final time.
Of course, the Pirates and Horsley had to throw deep and take some second-half chances — after falling behind 28-3 and victim to the Generals’ big plays.
“The shots that we did take downfield that we didn’t convert resulted in worse things for us,” said Woodward. “The shots that they took they converted. Hats off to them for being in the right spot and making good plays on the ball.”
Ridgewood outgained Wheelersburg by almost 200 (315-117) yards in the opening half, including by 140 (225-85) through the air.
In all, while both teams rushed for 123 yards on almost an identical number of carries (35 for Wheelersburg and 34 for Ridgewood), the big difference was in the 150-yard (288-138) and four-touchdown disparity in the passing game.
Both teams ran 56 plays from scrimmage, while the Generals held a 23-14 advantage in first downs.
Following its first first down, on a Tingle completion for nine yards on the game’s second play, Ridgewood went up 7-0 on the fourth play from scrimmage — when Tingle, from the Wheelersburg 49-yard-line, went deep down the middle to a wide-open Koleton Smith.
No Pirate defender was within 10 yards of Smith, as it appeared a safety got lost in coverage — as Smith made the catch on the deep post route and raced into the end zone.
While Kunze caught five passes for 164 yards and a hat trick of TDs, Smith made the most receptions from Tingle — seven for 115 yards.
“The fourth play of the game was just a good job by them schematically. They worked those first three plays setting things up, trying to see what we were in. We had a blown assignment, but a good football team plays that chess match and executes,” said Woodward.
The Pirates did answer, as Matthews — who was held in check rushing with 35 yards on 14 carries but caught six of Horsley’s passes for 87 yards — returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards to the General 29.
Wheelersburg moved to the 11 and faced a 3rd-down-and-2, but Matthews losing a yard on the next play forced a Sammons 29-yard field goal at the 6:48 mark of the first period.
However, the next two full quarters belonged to Ridgewood, which went up 14-3 just four minutes and nine seconds later.
The Generals drove nine plays and 67 yards, aided largely on a pass completion from Tingle to Smith to midfield — with a Wheelersburg 15-yard face-mask penalty tacked on.
Kaden Smith finished the march with a four-yard TD run, and the Pirates got no closer the rest of the way.
The Pirates then drove as deep as the General 8-yard-line, thanks largely to Matthews running for 26 yards on a successful fake punt, but a fumbled snap on 3rd-and-5 essentially stalled the drive out — as Matthews’ inside counter run on fourth-down resulted in a turnover on downs.
Two plays later, from his own 1-yard-line in fact, Tingle scrambled and stepped up in the pocket — and found Kunze open behind the Pirate secondary for a 64-yard gain to the Wheelersburg 35.
Tingle then escaped for a 15-yard run to the 15, as the Pirates were whistled for another personal-foul penalty, and Tingle’s 2-yard run at the 8:14 mark made it 21-3 — ending an eventful, but impactful, six-play drive.
The Pirates then drove seven plays to the General 26, as a Horsley pass to Matthews for 27 yards put them inside the 30, but Ridgewood’s Kurtis Varian intercepted Horsley in the end zone at the six-minute mark of the second stanza.
Ridgewood went up 28-3 three-and-a-half minutes later with two-and-a-half minutes left in the half — when Tingle, after already hooking up with Kunze for 39 yards, found him open in the corner of the end zone from 27 yards away.
That capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive, as another Wheelersburg possession which moved to the Ridgewood 33 stalled out after.
But one drive which concluded with precious points was Wheeelersburg’s opening of the third quarter — when the Pirates quickly operated with a no-huddle offense and involved Horsley on all but four of the dozen plays.
The Pirates converted three third downs in the series, as Horsley had a 31-yard sprint up the middle to begin the drive — followed by pass completions to Hunter Ruby for 15 yards to the 13 and to Matthews for seven yards two plays later.
Horsley had the final yard for the score, and Sammons kicked the extra point, putting the Pirates down 28-10 with 7:42 remaining.
But when Wheelersburg forced a punt on the next General possession, it was whistled for a roughing-the-kicker call — resulting in the Ridgewood drive remaining alive and picking up 15 yards and an automatic first down to the Pirates’ 42.
Three plays later, the Generals made the Pirates pay for that penalty — when Tingle’s deep slant pass to Kunze turned into his 30-yard touchdown reception.
“Exactly what we wanted to do was get the ball back in our possession after we scored. Our player was trying to make a play and block the punt, and he made an aggressive mistake. High school players are going to make aggressive mistakes,” said Woodward. “He was trying to do what his job was, which was force the kick. It was at an inopportune time that he happened to run into the punter, but I will never fault a player for trying to do what he can to make a play. It was just at a time when we felt we had an opportunity to take some momentum.”
The Pirates didn’t help themselves with eight penalties for 93 yards — five of which were personal foul calls.
Indeed, Wheelersburg wasn’t at its best on Saturday night, but again enjoyed another strong season.
The Pirates captured their sixth consecutive Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship, and turned around their season after an 0-2 and 2-3 start.
Wheelersburg’s senior class will graduate having played 14 playoff games over four seasons, including the 2017 Division V state championship and last season’s state semifinals.
Its four-year record is an incredible 48-6.
“What a great four-year ride it has been here for these seniors and all the success they have had,” said Woodward. “We were a little thin at times this year with depth, but they have embodied our theme this year, which was ‘Respect the W’. That is to play the game of football the way it is supposed to be played at Wheelersburg High School. I am most proud of what these seniors did during the weeks of practice. The games are fun, but I remember the time spent in preparation for those games and how hard we had to work to go out and have success. This was a successful senior class at Wheelersburg. We had guys step up that needed to when it was time to step up.”
Unfortunately, on one cold night in Lancaster anyway, Ridgewood got its revenge.
“Great turnout by our fans tonight. Pirate Nation was out in full force supporting our kids and that’s all you can ask for,” said Woodward. “I’m proud of the job our guys did together this entire season to get to this point. It wasn’t the way we wanted it to turn out tonight, but hats off to Ridgewood for that.”
* * *
Ridgewood 42, Wheelersburg 17
Wheelersburg 3 0 7 7 — 17
Ridgewood 14 14 7 7 — 42
R — Koleton Smith, 49-yard pass from Gabe Tingle (Connor Kunze kick), 10:17, 1st (7-0 R)
W — Braxton Sammons, 29-yard field goal, 6:48, 1st (7-3 R)
R — Kaden Smith, 4-yard run (Connor Kunze kick), 2:42, 1st (14-3 R)
R — Gabe Tingle, 2-yard run (Connor Kunze kick), 8:14, 2nd (21-3 R)
R — Connor Kunze, 27-yard pass from Gabe Tingle (Connor Kunze kick), 2:32, 2nd (28-3 R)
W — Evan Horsley, 1-yard run (Braxton Sammons kick), 7:42, 3rd (28-10 R)
R — Connnor Kunze, 30-yard pass from Gabe Tingle (Connor Kunze kick), 3:25, 3rd (35-10 R)
R — Connor Kunze, 4-yard pass from Gabe Tingle (Connor Kunze kick), 11:15, 4th (42-10 R)
W — Evan Horsley, 1-yard run (Braxton Sammons kick), 8:40, 4th (42-17 R)
First downs 14 23
Plays from scrimmage 56 56
Rushes-yards 35-123 34-123
Passing yards 138 288
Total yards 261 411
Cmp-Att-Int. 10-21-4 15-22-1
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 8-93 5-61
Punts-average 0-0 1-33
RUSHING —Wheelersburg: Evan Horsley 18-92 2TD, Makya Matthews 14-35, Eli Swords 2-(-7), Hunter Ruby 1-3; Ridgewood: Gabe Tingle 16-93 TD, Isaiah Lamnceck 9-23, Kaden Smith 2-7 TD, Deontae Brandon 2-4, Kigenn Millender 1-1, Team 4-(-5)
PASSING — Wheelersburg: Evan Horsley 10-21-4-138 ; Ridgewood: Gabe Tingle 15-22-1-288 4TD
RECEIVING — Wheelersburg: Makya Matthews 6-87, Hunter Ruby 2-29, Eli Swords 1-19, Gage Adkins 1-3; Ridgewood: Koleton Smith 7-115 TD, Connor Kunze 5-164 3TD, Colten Hursey 1-9, Kaden Smith 1-3, Kurtis Varian 1-(-3)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved