WHEELERSBURG — If once is perhaps an accident, and the second time is likely a trend, then the Wheelersburg Pirates need to take note.
When Wheelersburg last played the Columbus Bishop Ready Sliver Knights, in the Division V regional quarterfinals in fact, the Pirates ultimately captured Ohio high school football’s ultimate prize — a second state championship trophy just three short years ago.
Fast forward to the out-of-whack and indeed unique year that is 2020 —and it’s another regional quarterfinal with the Silver Knights making another trip southward along U.S. Route 23.
So who knows, and you never know what’s up down the road, but Wheelersburg will attempt to take its next step in its 32nd all-time state playoff appearance.
That’s because the 6-1 and third-seeded Pirates play host to the 6-2 and sixth-seeded Silver Knights, as Wheelersburg welcomes Ready to town for a Division V Region 19 quarters tilt on Saturday night.
Kickoff is once again set for 7 p.m., inside an electric —although still socially distant —Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg.
Saturday’s showdown is the fifth all-time official meeting between Ready and Wheelersburg, as the series stands tied 2-2 —with Ready winning close games in 1990 (21-20) and 1991 (26-20) before the Pirates prevailed in 2002 (21-13) and pitched a shutout in 2017 (34-0).
They also played, when current Ready coach Joel Cutler coached the Silver Knights before, in 2012 and 2013 as part of an Ohio High School Athletic Association Jamboree game.
But it’s likely that this season’s seniors, aside from perhaps special teams, had little impact on the outcome of three years back.
In an interview on Tuesday, veteran Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward said it’s a separate season —and a separate playoff game against a different Ready team.
“He (Cutler) always has a well-coached team and a group of young men that will work to execute the plays that they have,” said Woodward, of Ready. “They’ve had their fair share of tough games and tough opponents this year. We recognize that and we respect the fact that they are going to come to our place ready to play. We have to make sure that we execute. We have to make sure as a coaching staff we are putting our kids in the best situations to be successful, and just focus on the things that we can control and what we can do.”
What the Pirates did two weeks ago was enjoy —for this season’s setup of the playoffs anyway with more than eight teams competing in each region — an opening-round bye.
But the rest, recharging and refocusing did the Pirates much good —as they rolled visiting West last week 47-13 in a second-round affair.
Wheelersburg forced five West turnovers on defense, and turned four of those into points — amassing a 47-6 advantage halfway through the third quarter.
Offensively, senior quarterback Jake Gregg completed all but four of his 13 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns, while sophomore Derrick Lattimore broke off for 102 yards and a hat trick of TD dashes —on only nine carries.
Several Pirates toted the rock at least once against the Senators, and likely will again against the Silver Knights —although Lattimore looks to be the clear-cut go-to guy.
“We worked on a lot of things during the bye week that we then transitioned to the field the other night. I was really pleased with the performance. We created five turnovers and scored four times off those. That’s definitely what you want. Jake Gregg utilized his skills to disperse the ball to a number of our athletes, and a number of our kids touched the ball,” said Woodward. “And Derrick (Lattimore) is breaking big plays for himself. He is still young and misses some holes here and there, but when he trusts where he is going and follow his backs, man he can hit a hole as fast as any back I’ve ever seen here at Wheelersburg. He runs with that low center of gravity and is tough to bring down and definitely carries the ball very well. We just have to continue to be balanced and make sure we don’t become too predictable in what we do.”
What Wheelersburg prefers to do, just as Ready does, is establish its running attack.
Including quarterback Darius Parham (6-3, 189), the Silver Knights have three backs that —through their first seven games — rushed for at least 63 carries and 332 yards, which is what Parham’s numbers were.
Ready’s featured back is sophomore Brian Fitzsimmons (5-10, 185), who had —along with Parham —six rushing touchdowns and 503 yards on 104 rushes.
In the Silver Knights’ 52-3 second-round rout of Northwest, Fitzsimmons finished with 107 yards and five touchdowns on only 13 carries.
Ready runs senior Tyrese Hudson (5-9, 164) as well, as Hudson and Parham posted eight carries apiece last week — for at least 51 yards.
Hudson had 85 carries for 10 yards shy of 600 through seven games, and five rushing scores.
“They try to use different formations and focus on the run game, and they like to run their quarterback who is definitely a big body and who can move well in the pocket. They use their tight end and a Z-back or an H-back. Then they try to set you up and hit you with a pass play when they can,” said Woodward.
Parham completed 38-of-70 passes for 426 yards with three TDs in the regular season —with P.J. Daniels catching 18 of those for one yard shy of 200.
Hudson had eight receptions for 58 yards and Andy Schulze six for 102 —as Parham completed 8-of-10 passes for 134 yards against the Mohawks, including a back-breaking 49-yard second-stanza touchdown toss to Schulze.
Schulze caught five passes for 102 yards against Northwest.
Woodward, while admitting that neutralizing Ready’s speed is indeed a point of emphasis, said the most important factor for a victory on Saturday is winning the war up front.
“They are contingent on how they are able to open gaps and holes with their front lines. We have to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” said the coach. “That will be a key in order for us to win this game.”
While Wheelersburg’s lone loss came at Division IV Waverly (36-35) on the final two-point conversion play in overtime, both Silver Knights’ setbacks are against two fellow Region 19 quarterfinalists.
They fell 7-6 against seventh-seeded Liberty Union, and 18-15 at fifth-seeded Harvest Prep.
Their most impressive victory was over fourth-seeded and visiting Columbus Academy — a 33-7 runaway win.
Although, a win at Wheelersburg will likely trump that one, but the Pirates — playing their fifth home game out of now eight so far — plan on advancing to their next playoff bout.
And, who knows just how far THIS particular Pirate club can go.
“I am thankful for our seniors to get to have a fifth home game this year. While the stands aren’t as full as they would be on a typical night, there’s still a lot of energy and a lot of feel of comfort and enthusiasm that is generated at Ed Miller Stadium,” said Woodward. “I’m proud of our team and their accomplishments and am just looking forward to going out and competing once again in another playoff game.”
In other Region 19 quarterfinal matchups, second-seeded Ridgewood will host Liberty Union, Harvest Prep plays at Columbus Academy, and Ironton —the undefeated top seed — hosts eighth-seeded Johnstown-Monroe.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved