WEST LAFAYETTE — Unfortunately for the Wheelersburg Pirates, and on Halloween of all nights, they will have the ghosts of Gabe Tingle in their heads for another offseason.
That’s because the Pirates, on a cold Saturday night and a long way from home, fell victim to more plays made by the Ridgewood Generals’ all-Ohio quarterback —and as a result Wheelersburg’s hard-fought rally fell just short.
Only this time, Tingle —following the opening series —played hurt, but his two second-half pass completions were easily arguable as the game’s biggest plays, as the Pirates fell 13-10 in the much-anticipated Division V Region 19 semifinal rematch at Ridgewood High School.
The loss, which ended the Pirates’ season at 7-2, marked their second consecutive regional semifinal defeat to undefeated Ridgewood — which won last year’s Region 19 semifinal at Lancaster by a decisive 42-17 count.
That also snapped Wheelersburg’s six-year streak of at least appearing in the regional championship game, as the Pirates played in the Division V state semifinals in three (2015, 2017, 2018) of the previous four years —including capturing the 2017 state championship.
Those Generals were 11-0 at the time, and this year’s are now 9-0 in this coronavirus-shortened season, as Tingle torched the 2019 Pirates for four touchdowns and 288 yards on 15-of-22 passing.
He also added 93 rushing yards and a short touchdown run on 16 carries.
However, the reigning Division V East District Offensive Co-Player of the Year and Generals’ focal point took a serious shot to his shoulder on the game’s fifth play on Saturday — after rushing three times for 19 yards and completing a 15-yard pass on the opening snap.
From that point on, Tingle missed the remainder of the first half sans two plays — two handoffs to Deontae Brandon from the Pirates’ 9-yard line, the second of which was the first half’s only score in the form of a one-yard dive.
But with Wheelersburg getting on the scoreboard with a Braxton Sammons 33-yard field goal with 52 seconds remaining in the third period, Tingle —relegated to handing the ball off and rotating plays with backup Javan Belt —took two plays into his own hands.
Or, rather, his injured arm.
With the Generals driving to midfield in the final quarter, and facing 3rd-down-and-10, Tingle tossed to a wide open Kurtis Varian at the Pirate 25 —as there were simply no Pirates anywhere near Varian in defense.
Wheelersburg tackled Varian at the 15, but two plays later, Tingle threw the ball again —this one more a shot put than a football pass, but Brandon made the catch for a 14-yard touchdown with exactly eight minutes to go.
It was a nine-play, 63-yard, four-minute and 45-second scoring drive —but in a defensive struggle, a 10-point (13-3) advantage probably felt like 20.
The 13 points for Ridgewood and 10 for Wheelersburg were season-lows for both teams, but the Generals only allow an average of seven points per game.
“Just a couple of plays at a key time. We lose the receiver (Varian) and that was a huge play. Then they had a nice unbalanced formational play that they hit for the touchdown,” said Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward. “We knew that they were going to be limited with some of the stuff that they had (when Tingle was out), but we missed a couple of times on some pressures and didn’t get him down when we needed to in the backfield.”
The Pirates finally got an all-important touchdown on the next possession — marching four-and-a-half minutes of their own in 11 plays and 84 yards, as senior quarterback Jake Gregg called a keeper and scored from 12 yards out with three-and-a-half minutes left.
Sammons kicked the extra point for the now three-point (13-10) deficit, as Wheelersburg then forced a General three-and-out series, getting the ball back with 2:55 remaining and moving nine plays and into Ridgewood territory at the General 45.
But, with no timeouts remaining and exactly a minute to play, the final three plays Gregg and the Pirates preferred to have back.
After an incomplete pass on first down, a low shotgun snap at Gregg’s feet resulted in a fumble —and all Gregg could do was recover it after a seven-yard loss.
Finally, firing on third down to as deep as the Ridgewood 25, Gregg was intercepted by General defender Dalton Patterson — officially putting an end to the Pirates’ campaign with nine seconds left.
While that interception ended Wheelersburg’s season, Gregg’s second thrown pick late in the second quarter proved to be a potential 14-point swing.
Through the scoreless first half, the Generals punted twice sandwiched around a turnover on downs, before Belt was intercepted twice following three-play drives —once by Casey Doerr and Josh Clark.
Then with Tingle first back for a play, Brandon fumbled at the Pirates’ 31-yard line —as Gage Adkins recovered with a minute and 39 seconds remaining.
The Pirates, in moving quickly, attempted eight consecutive passes including seven by Gregg — but Brandon redeemed himself by intercepting Gregg’s over-the-middle throw at the General 37, and returning the pigskin 54 yards to the Pirates’ nine.
That was with 35 seconds remaining, as Brandon — two Tingle handoffs, nine yards and 25 seconds later — was in the end zone for a 7-0 Ridgewood lead with Andy Troyer’s extra-point kick.
Woodward discussed excellent opportunities to score points going by the wayside.
The Pirates’ first-half possessions produced three punts, a turnover on downs following five plays to the Generals’ 31, the two interceptions, and finally the first half ending.
Wheelersburg was also impacted by important penalties, totaling seven for 72 yards.
“We had some chances in the game to at least put ourselves in better position and just didn’t quite make them. At the end of the first half, we would have loved to get down there and put three points on the board, gone in at halftime and make some adjustments. Instead, we weren’t able to do that and in fact they got a touchdown themselves off the interception,” said the coach. “In a game like this where you are battling back and forth, it’s tough to have that happen. We missed some opportunities on the field, and at this level, you just can’t miss those opportunities when you’re getting close and in position to put points on the board.”
Gregg, in his final game in his only year at Wheelersburg, completed 25-of-38 passes for 224 yards —hooking up with six separate receivers for at least three receptions and 16 yards apiece.
But where Wheelersburg struggled mightily in the opening half running the football for only four yards on five carries, it got the ground game going in the third frame with Derrick Lattimore.
While the Pirates’ first drive moved the ball six plays prior to a punt, the second saw Lattimore break tackles and rip off a 47-yard jaunt to the Generals’ 36.
Lattimore later gained eight and four yards in the same series, as Sammons kicked the field goal after an eight-play drive — which burned three minutes and 50 seconds off the third-quarter clock.
Lattimore amassed 97 yards on 11 carries, as Woodward was pleased with the way his Pirates performed in the second half.
“We had to gain some confidence in our line and some of the things we were doing. They are a really good defense that is coached up well to react in certain ways and certain situations. We were able to do that with Derrick Lattimore hitting the holes that we needed him to, and he ran like a beast in the second half,” he said. “Our kids came out in the second half and just battled away. I can’t say enough about our kids and our senior class and what they’ve been able to do in terms of working and pushing and striving to be the best and leave it all out on the field. They definitely did that.”
Unfortunately, though, there’s Tingle’s two completions that likely will be replayed in Pirates’ minds for an entire offseason.
He completed 3-of-5 passes for 64 yards and the touchdown to Brandon, who rushed for 77 yards on a game-high 17 carries.
Belt, rotating with Tingle throughout the entire second half, completed three passes on 10 attempts for 23 yards —rushed seven times for 22.
Wheelersburg actually outgained Ridgewood by 106 yards (334-228), and ran 14 (64-50) more plays from scrimmage.
“We simplified some things from the previous year and we liked some of the things that our kids presented. We had a group of kids that played with a lot confidence and were very coachable,” said Woodward. “They had confidence in their positions and what they were supposed to do. Their coaches really instilled some things in them that we were able to build upon and gave us a better chance in this ballgame this year.”
Still, unfortunately for the Pirates —and three-and-a-half hours away in Coshocton County —they came up just short.
Although, being able to play nine games this year —and reaching the regional semifinals for the eighth consecutive season — is something to fondly remember.
“With all the adversity that was faced by these guys this year, they came out playing the game that they love with great energy and enthusiasm. That never wavered all year,” said Woodward. “They could have said ‘the heck’ with a lot of things, but this group of guys always wanted to come out and practice. They always gave me everything you could possibly ask for.”
* * *
Ridgewood 13, Wheelersburg 10
Wheelersburg 0 0 3 7 —10
Ridgewood 0 7 0 6 —13
R— Deontae Brandon, 1-yard run (Andy Troyer kick), :10, 2nd (7-0 R)
W—Braxton Sammons, 33-yard field goal, :52, 3rd (7-3 R)
R— Deontae Brandon, 14-yard pass from Gabe Tingle (kick failed), 8:00, 4th (13-3 R)
W— Jake Gregg, 12-yard run (Braxton Sammons kick), 3:29, 4th (13-10 R)
First downs 14 12
Plays from scrimmage 64 50
Rushes-yards 24-110 35-141
Passing yards 224 87
Total yards 334 228
Cmp-Att-Int. 25-40-3 6-15-2
Fumbles-lost 2-0 3-1
Penalties-Yards 7-72 6-46
RUSHING —Wheelersburg: Derrick Lattimore 11-97, Eli Swords 3-3, Matthew Miller 3-2, Jake Gregg 2-16 TD, Eric Lattimore 2-0, Carson Williams 1-1, Gage Adkins 1-(-20), Team 1-(7); Ridgewood: Deontae Brandon 17-77 TD, Kigenn Millender 7-29, Javan Belt 7-22, Gabe Tingle 3-19, Team 1-(-6)
PASSING — Wheelersburg: Jake Gregg 25-38-3-224, Matthew Miller 0-2-0-0; Ridgewood: Gabe Tingle 3-5-0-64 TD, Javan Belt 3-10-2-23
RECEIVING —Wheelersburg: Case Dyer 6-41, Matthew Miller 5-13, Caleb Arthur 4-65, Josh Clark 4-35, Eric Lattimore 3-54, Eli Swords 3-16; Ridgewood: Kurtis Varian 3-52, Kigenn Millender 1-15, Deontae Brandon 1-14 TD, Dalton Patterson 1-6
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