CHILLICOTHE — Once again, on Saturday evening, Wheelersburg was winning at its home away from home.
This time, as the actual visiting team against the Chillicothe Cavaliers, the Pirates —over the course of two bus trips and two days —pitched an emphatic and solid season-opening shutout.
The Pirates forced three turnovers, stymied the Cavilers to only 126 total yards, and made explosive scoring plays from their new offensive cast of characters —as Wheelersburg scored 21 second-period points en route to a 31-0 blanking of Chillicothe at the hosts’ Herrnstein Field.
The non-league encounter was originally scheduled for the season’s second week, but with the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s decision to reduce the regular season to a minimum of six games, it was worked as such to open the year.
For the Pirates, they probably didn’t mind the return trip — or rather trips — to Ohio’s first capital.
It was Wheelersburg’s fifth affair at Herrnstein Field in the past four seasons, as the 2017 Division V state championship squad played three consecutive playoff games there —including the 15-10 state semifinal win over Middletown Madison.
A year later, the Pirates played — and defeated — Jamestown Greeneview in the Region 19 semifinals.
The current crop of Wheelersburg seniors were sophomores then, but made their own memories in Chillicothe on Saturday.
“I’m so stinking proud of these guys and the coaching staff for the great job they’ve done,” said an elated Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward. “These seniors and this team, all the adversity we’ve had to face throughout this entire offseason, summer and preseason…these guys came out and just did the job they needed to do tonight against a good football team that has some talent for sure. Their enthusiasm was there, their love of the game was there, their physicality was there. I liked our tackling tonight. As a coach, for week-one with only one scrimmage, I am super proud. It was great. ”
Wheelersburg, like all other programs in the state, was only permitted one pre-season scrimmage —and only after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine declared two weeks ago that fall “full contact” sports could continue forward.
The new-look Pirates then faced another obstacle on Friday night —a weather delay which turned into a postponement until Saturday.
Friday’s action only consisted of the opening kickoff by Wheelersburg — and one of those seniors, Matthew Miller, making an interception of Chillicothe quarterback Kamron Smith on the first play from scrimmage.
Miller returned the pick around 11 yards to the Cavalier 19-yard-line — as the Pirates picked up on Saturday where they left off on Friday.
Braxton Sammons booted a 33-yard field goal on the Pirates’ opening possession, which came at the 10:42 mark of the first quarter and only a minute and seven seconds after Miller’s interception.
From there, and for the remainder of the half, Wheelersburg’s defense simply swarmed the Cavaliers — forcing five consecutive three-and-out possessions and subsequent punts, as Chillicothe crossed its own 30-yard-line only once during that span.
In fact, the hosts had only 30 total yards on 22 first-half snaps.
The Cavaliers then lined up for a sixth straight punt following three plays, but this time attempted a fake with punter Joel Barnes.
But Barnes was dropped for a two-yard loss at his own 32, and once again, the Pirates scored on their ensuing series —just like the previous two.
Wheelersburg blitzkrieged the Cavaliers with multiple defenders to the ball and excelled at gang-tackling, and surrounded Smith at several turns.
He had zero yards rushing on 12 tries and completed 5-of-11 passes for just 27 yards, as Mason Doughty relieved him in the second half with Smith moving to wide receiver.
The Cavaliers finished with just 64 rushing yards on 30 carries, as Doughty did complete all five of his passes — but for only 35 yards.
“Defensively, the biggest thing was the attention to detail regrading our assignments. Not over-pursuing different things and taking good angles to the football. And that just comes from kids being coachable and listening and our coaches recognizing,” said Woodward. “We have a great staff that all are watching eyes every day in practice and every day in film, and communicating with our kids. They are eager to learn and you saw them out there tonight. Matthew Miller made the interception last night, does a great job of pointing things out and holding things back at the safety spot. I couldn’t be happier with our corners, our linebackers underneath and our defensive line. Got as many bodies flying to the ball as we could. It all shows up in a shutout on the scoreboard.”
Speaking of the scoreboard, all 21 second-period points came over the final 6:18 to make it 24-0, but it wasn’t until a minute had elapsed in the final stanza that Wheelersburg had officially put the game on the OHSAA’s running clock.
Chillicothe, which drove seven plays on its first second-half series but turned the ball over on downs inside the Pirates’ 10, then moved nine plays after a Wheelersburg three-and-out —and attempted a 28-yard field goal.
But Jacob Coffland’s kick clanged off the right upright, thus preserving the shutout entering the fourth quarter.
Three plays later, and after senior quarterback Jake Gregg completed a 17-yard pass to Miller to the Pirates’ 39, Gregg found Miller again —this time right along the Pirates’ sideline.
Miller made the reception, put on a nifty move or two to the inside, and darted back across the field all the way to the end zone for a 61-yard scoring strike.
With Sammons connecting on his fourth of four extra-point attempts, the Pirates now led 31-0 —as Wheelersburg went on to complete the shutout after the Cavaliers crossed midfield again, but once again turned the ball over on a lost fumble.
Gregg, the Ashland (Ky.) transfer in making his first Pirates’ start under center, only threw two incompletions on 15 total tries —as his hookup with Miller a minute into the fourth gave him a hat trick of TD tosses.
He threw for 192 yards on his 13 completions, as Miller made half of them (six) for 141 yards —including a wide-open 42-yarder down the middle of the field for the 17-0 advantage.
That was with 3:52 to play, as Gregg completed a 4-yard TD to Case Dyer with 35 seconds remaining.
“We talked with him (Gregg) about not forcing things and making sure we are communicating. We have athletes around, and our offense is one that spreads the ball around a lot. We’re looking to do that again, and make sure we are establishing two first downs if we can every single time,” said Woodward. “I thought Jake managed the game very well.”
On the ground, seven separate Pirates carried the ball at least twice —as Chillicothe kept seeing more and more of Eric and Derrick Lattimore.
Eric Lattimore, bolstered by a 32-yard TD sprint halfway through the second quarter to make it 10-0, managed 59 yards on only five carries — as Derrick Lattimore toted the most with eight for 50 yards.
Wheelersburg rushed for 152 yards on 34 attempts, part of 50 plays from scrimmage and 344 total yards with 14 first downs.
The Pirates punted the ball just twice.
Wheelersburg, the six-time defending Southern Ohio Conference Division II champion, will face Minford next week in the league opener —and at its real home of Ed Miller Stadium.
It was nice, though, to once again win at the Pirates’ home away from home in Chillicothe.
“I couldn’t be more proud of everybody on the team and how they handled all the adversity of last night (Friday) and tonight (Saturday). I like where we are at, but we can’t be happy with just this,” said Woodward. “Our biggest improvements every year are when you get into week two. We have to continue to improve and get back after it because we’re facing a very good Minford team next week.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 31, Chillicothe 0
Wheelersburg 3 21 0 7— 31
Chillicothe 0 0 0 0— 0
W — Braxton Sammons, 33-yard field goal, 10:42, 1st (3-0 W)
W — Eric Lattimore, 32-yard run (Braxton Sammons kick), 6:18, 2nd (10-0 W)
W — Matthew Miller, 42-yard pass from Jake Gregg (Braxton Sammons kick), 3:52, 2nd (17-0 W)
W — Case Dyer, 4-yard pass from Jake Gregg (Braxton Sammons kick), :35, 2nd (24-0 W)
W — Matthew Miller, 61-yard pass from Jake Gregg (Braxton Sammons kick), 11:03, 4th (31-0 W)
First downs 14 6
Plays from scrimmage 50 46
Rushes-yards 34-152 30-64
Passing yards 192 62
Total yards 344 126
Cmp-Att-Int. 13-16-0 10-16-1
Fumbles-lost 3-2 2-2
Penalties-Yards 5-46 7-75
Punts-Ave. 2-36.5 5-31.6
RUSHING —Wheelersburg: Eric Lattimore 5-59 TD, Derrick Lattimore 8-50, Jake Gregg 6-15, Eli Swords 5-11, Carson Williams 5-10, Case Dyer 2-6, Gage Adkins 3-1; Chillicothe: Chucky Thomas 13-49, Joel Barnes 2-26, Kamron Smith 12-0, Mason Doughty 2-(-6), Team 1-(-5)
PASSING — Wheelersburg: Jake Gregg 13-15-0-192 3TD, Kenny Sanderlin 0-1-0-0; Chillicothe: Kamron Smith 5-11-1-27, Mason Doughty 5-5-0-35
RECEIVING — Wheelersburg: Matthew Miller 6-141 2TD, Josh Clark 3-23, Eli Swords 1-11, Caleb Arthur 1-8, Gage Adkins 1-5, Case Dyer 1-4 TD; Chillicothe: Kamron Smith 4-33, Logan Snowden 3-11, Joel Barnes 1-9, Mason Doughty 1-7, Caleb Francis 1-2
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved