WHEELERSBURG — While Halloween isn’t until the end of the month, the Wheelersburg Pirates —rightfully donning the Orange and Black —already, apparently, have a big bag filled full of treats.
And, although the Pirates didn’t steal the Waverly Tigers’ candy on Friday night, their gameplans on both sides of the football pretty much took away all of what Waverly wished for.
Moreover, just for kicks —literally —Braxton Sammons made two of three field-goal attempts and Eric Lattimore returned a punt 64 yards for an electrifying touchdown, as the Pirates regained complete control of the Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship chase, with their ultra-important 21-14 victory inside an amped-up Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg.
And finally, the Pirates —on an Indian Summer yet beautiful football Friday night — exacted a measure of revenge.
That’s because, in case you couldn’t hear the chants following the Pirates’ triumph, those were of three loud letters: S…O…C.
A year after the talented and highly-touted Tigers topped the Pirates 36-35 in overtime at Waverly’s Raidiger Field with a throwback two-point conversion pass, and ended the Pirates’ 28-game league winning streak and six-year stranglehold on the division in the process, Wheelersburg paid the Tigers back —and moved smack dab to the front of the line for the SOC II title race.
In fact, a win over Valley will assure the tradition-rich and proud Pirates of a share of yet another SOC II crown.
Wheelersburg, now 5-3 (3-0 in SOC II), won its third consecutive game —and loaded up the ship with golden pots of state playoff points.
While the official Ohio High School Athletic Association Division V Region 19 computer ratings are released on Tuesday, the Pirates —per the unofficial yet highly-respected rankings website www.joeeitel.com — jumped to fifth following Friday night’s win.
Waverly — of Division IV and the ever-difficult and Cincinnati-centric Region 16 — WAS undefeated at 6-0 and 2-0 in the SOC II, as the Tigers topped Wheelersburg last season for the first time since their undefeated regular campaign of 2006.
With the expansion of the OHSAA state playoffs to 16 teams per region this year, and no bye weeks with that, the top eight squads secure first-round home games.
However, and despite the Tigers erasing a 13-0 deficit with two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a matter of three minutes and 46 seconds, they remain without a win in Wheelersburg for exactly two decades — with Waverly’s wins since 1974 coming in 1988, 2001, 2002, 2006 and 2020.
Before the 2001 Waverly win at Wheelersburg, the Tigers’ last triumphs there came clear back over a decade-long span in the 1960s (1958, 1960, 1962, 1964 and 1968).
But, many observers were projecting a Tiger win inside Ed Miller Stadium this time, but the Pirates indeed had other plans —in the form of well-executed gameplans.
Truth be told, 14-year Wheelersburg head coach Rob Woodward has amassed many great victories, including the 2017 Division V state championship, but this one really ranks right up there —when you think about the building job towards it.
“This one is unbelievable just because of all the adversity that has taken place throughout. We had one heckuva non-conference schedule that we battled through with a young group of guys that we just kept telling them to keep persevering. Everybody wants instant gratification in today’s day and age. This year, we had five non-conference games that really pushed us to the limits. Mistakes have been made throughout those games, which are going to happen because everybody was trying to figure out who they are and where they can fit. We’ve been trying to find an identity. But championship teams and winning all three phases come together at this time of the year. If we’re going to be a championship team, we had to practice exactly like we have the last two weeks,” said Woodward. “That’s young guys stepping up and being ready for their opportunity to be successful. It’s just a great job by our kids trusting and listening to our coaching staff and following the gameplans that we put together for them.”
Defensively, while Wheelersburg was willing to surrender rushing yards, they held the prolific and breakneck-paced Tigers’ offense to a two-year season-low in points (14) —and only 130 passing yards.
Waverly, with senior quarterback Wade Futhey, prefers to run an up-tempo, no-huddle attack —snapping the football within 15 seconds or less of the previous play.
The Pirates — doing a better job of tackling in space than in last season’s meeting — kept the majority of Futhey’s 16 completions, 34 pass attempts and 130 yards in front of them, and thus forced Futhey to throw out routes which often times went incomplete and out of bounds.
Wheelersburg indeed disrupted the Tigers’ rhythm, actually forced six punts, and didn’t allow those deep and over-the-top passing plays which often result in touchdowns.
“The big thing was keeping them (offensively) off the field, but we worked all week on putting together a defensive gameplan, and then the kids going out and doing a tremendous job of executing,” said Woodward.
Offensively, the Pirates pounded the rock on the ground, rushing 48 times for 268 yards —but keeping Futhey and the Tigers’ offense off the field for the majority of the opening three quarters.
In fact, Wheelersburg maintained possession for 27-and-a-half minutes, compared to the Tigers’ 20.
Then with special teams, Sammons drilled two (28 and 40 yards) of three field goals through the first 33 minutes and 46 seconds —giving the Pirates 3-0 and 13-0 leads, sandwiched around his extra point on Lattimore’s incredible punt return.
With Sammons’ foot as indeed a dangerous weapon, his four punts averaged 50-and-a-half yards —including a pair of book-ending 58-yard boomers and rollers, in which Waverly was forced to start from its own nine and 11-yard lines.
In addition, all five of Sammons’ kickoffs sailed inside the 7-yard line —including one touchback.
Truthfully, the Pirates — which didn’t turn the ball over once either — planned for AND out-executed the Tigers in all three phases.
And then, they made two big plays for touchdowns.
The first was Lattimore’s punt return near the Waverly sideline to the house, in which he made moves and broke Tiger tackles in covering all 64 yards.
“Eric is a dynamic player back there, and we talked all week about the opportunities that we thought we had on those,” said Woodward. “Eric just catching that ball and getting down the field.”
That made it 10-0 only a minute and 21 seconds into the third quarter.
“The punt return, you have to give credit to the Lattimore kid. He is very explosive, and we had him at different points wrapped up, but we just didn’t finish,” said Waverly coach Chris Crabtree. “We had people there.”
But, on the second big Pirate play, the Tigers didn’t.
With Waverly battling back and taking a 14-13 advantage with eight minutes and 14 seconds remaining, its only lead lasted a mere minute and two seconds.
Keegan Smith’s kickoff went out of bounds and gave the ball to the Pirates at their own 35, as Derrick Lattimore rushed for 23 yards to the Tiger 42.
A pair of Pirate penalties pushed them back to their own 49, but Eric Lattimore gained 13 to get back into Tiger territory at the 38.
On a 2nd-and-6 call, quarterback Eli Jones operated from the shotgun, but the snap to him was low at his feet — as Jones initially bobbled it in the pickup process, but kept concentration and got the handle on it.
That actually allowed Eric Lattimore to slip into the secondary uncovered on a post route, as the Tigers’ defensive backs charged up towards the line of scrimmage —seeing Jones trying to control the bad snap.
Jones gathered the ball, gripped it and ripped it —and found a wide open Lattimore for what resulted in a dramatic 38-yard go-ahead touchdown strike.
It was the only pass which Jones completed of three, but couldn’t have been more impactful —especially at the time.
“We haven’t thrown the ball much this year, but what a great gutsy play-call by (Wheelersburg offensive coordinator) Coach (Tom) Kaskey. It was a risky play-call, but one that was needed. Coach Kaskey is always pushing the envelope, and you live and die by great calls that either are going to result in touchdowns or they come up short. We took some shots when we needed to, and none were bigger than that one right there,” said Woodward. “A huge play by Eli Jones to pick up the low snap and deliver the ball where it needed to be.”
Jones then ran in the two-point conversion, making it 21-14 with 7:12 remaining.
“The touchdown pass, that was really a routine assignment that we should have been there, but for whatever reason we weren’t. Give the quarterback credit, he threw a ball deep down the middle that was catchable and Lattimore made the catch and run,” said Crabtree. “We should have had a safety there, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen. This was a game that was going to come down to explosive plays, and they made two big ones.”
Otherwise, the Pirates played keep-away pretty much to perfection.
Jones (15 carries for 64 yards), Ethan Glover (15 carries for 70 yards), Derrick Lattimore (eight carries for 84 yards) and Eric Lattimore (seven carries for 45 yards) all followed their blocks from up front —which included fullback Jake Darling and tight end Carson Williams.
“What a great job by those guys, just pounding the football up in there behind our offensive line, who was winning the point of attack,” said Woodward. “All those guys got the job done in terms of moving the chains, maintaining possession and keeping the ball. Just kept battling and coming back.”
And, making two more major defensive stops in the final seven minutes.
The Tigers trailed 13-0, but began ball control action themselves —scoring twice in less than four minutes, sandwiched around a pair of Pirate three-and-out possessions.
Jase Hurd, who toted 27 times for 142 rushing yards, scored twice —from five yards and 16 yards, and capping drives of nine plays and 67 yards in two minutes and 10 seconds and 10 plays and 60 yards in two minutes and 25 seconds.
But trailing 21-14, a 14-play, 53-yard, four first-down and four-minute and 38-second march stalled out at the Pirate 25 —when Futhey was sacked on 4th-and-2.
Then the final Waverly series started at its own 11 with 36 seconds showing, but only managed a six-yard completion to Mark Stulley and a 13-yard reception by Penn Morrison.
Stulley (58 yards) and Morrison (57 yards) made seven receptions apiece, as Will Futhey —facing Wheelersburg defensive back Josh Clark often times — was shut out.
That was perhaps the added bonus of the Pirates’ plan, as Wheelersburg indeed filled its early Halloween bag full of treats.
Those being an inside track to the SOC II championship, a shipload of Region 19 playoff points, and a measure of revenge on the previously-undefeated Tigers.
“Great win by our Pirates. This win ranks right up there right now, when you look at the kids and coaches and the jobs they have done and what they’ve been able to work through and push through,” said Woodward. “We’ve just stayed the course. Our number-one goal is always the SOC (championship), and this is a big step tonight.”
* * *
Waverly 0 0 0 14—14
Wheelersburg 3 0 10 8 —21
Burg — Braxton Sammons, 28-yard field goal, 5:30, 1st (3-0 Burg)
Burg — Eric Lattimore, 64-yard punt return (Braxton Sammons kick), 10:39, 3rd (10-0 Burg)
Burg — Braxton Sammons, 40-yard field goal, 2:14, 3rd (13-0 Burg)
Wave— Jase Hurd, 5-yard run (Keegan Smith kick), 11:56, 4th (13-7 Burg)
Wave — Jase Hurd, 16-yard run (Keegan Smith kick), 8:14, 4th (14-13 Wave)
Burg — Eric Lattimore, 38-yard pass from Eli Jones (Eli Jones run), 7:12, 4th (21-14 Burg)
First downs 17 13
Scrimmage plays 71 51
Rushes-yards 37-193 48-268
Passing yards 130 38
Total yards 323 306
Cmp-Att-Int. 16-34-0 1-3-0
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-0
Penalties-yards 7-44 7-64
Punts-Ave 6-36.8 4-50.5
RUSHING —Waverly: Jase Hurd 27-142 2TD, Wade Futhey 5-32, Will Futhey 2-10, Penn Morrison 1-6, Mark Stulley 1-6, Team 1-(-3); Wheelersburg: Ethan Glover 15-70, Eli Jones 15-64, Derrick Lattimore 8-84, Eric Lattimore 7-45, Eli Swords 2-2, Creed Warren 1-3
PASSING — Waverly: Wade Futhey 16-34-0-130; Wheelersburg: Eli Jones 1-3-0-38 TD
RECEIVING— Waverly: Mark Stulley 7-58, Penn Morrison 7-57, Jase Hurd 2-15; Wheelersburg: Eric Lattimore 1-38 TD
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved