WAVERLY —Unfortunately for the Wheelersburg Pirates, this time, they were on the wrong end of a three-point outcome —and on the wrong end of a regional rally.
As a result, it’s the end of the road for an unforgettable Pirate campaign —one which saw them reverse complete course from a 2-3 start with an eight-game winning streak, and ultimately ending as Southern Ohio Conference Division II champions and Region 19 runners-up.
After back-to-back weeks of erasing double-digit deficits, the Pirates played from ahead for a while against Harvest Prep on Saturday night — leading by 10 (17-7) at halftime in fact, thanks to a Braxton Sammons 25-yard field goal.
But — in a total tale of two halves — the Warriors were the second-half adjusters, the aggressors, and ultimately the victors and Region 19 champions, scoring two touchdown runs of at least 30 yards while shutting out the Pirates en route to a 20-17 decision at Waverly’s rave Raidiger Field.
With the loss, Wheelersburg saw its eight-game win streak snapped — and its improbable run to the regional title tilt stopped stone second-half cold.
The fifth-seeded Pirates, which finished at 10-4 with close yet payback wins at Ridgewood (24-20) and Ironton (17-14) in the regional quarterfinals and semifinals respectively, are regional runners-up for the eighth time all-time.
A regional championship would have been their ninth —as only the past two seasons have they not appeared in the regional final for the first time since 2012.
Although, they were oh so close to capturing that coveted crown —and another berth in the Division V state semifinals.
However, the Warriors were a different second-half team —selling all out and loading up the box on the Pirates’ running attack.
The Pirates punted three times in the second 24 minutes including a pair of three-and-outs, committed two turnovers with interceptions, and — trailing 20-17 with under 30 seconds remaining — turned the ball over downs at their own 42-yard-line on their final series of the season.
The Warriors stuffed the Pirates for 40 rushing yards on 14 second-half attempts, as junior quarterback Eli Jones completed just one pass in his final nine tries —and that was a seven-yarder to Eric Lattimore on the third-to-final play.
“The second half, they just threw everybody in there at us, and they have a lot of athletes out there,” said Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward. “They changed some things scheme-wise, and were able to make plays. They were able to come up with two turnovers too, and it became a game of field position in the second half. That really opened up their playbook.”
On the flip side, what Wheelersburg wanted not to happen indeed did —as Aidan Rogers with a 30-yard run four minutes into the third period and Jaylen Jennings with a 40-yard dash on the opening play of the fourth put the Warriors ahead.
Wonder Harris hit his first two extra-point kicks, but missed his third —which left the score at 20-17 with an entire final quarter to play.
Still, though, Wheelersburg was suddenly — and unfortunately permanently — having no success moving the football forward against Harvest Prep.
Woodward discussed afterwards the differences in halves —which included Jennings, the Warriors’ star running back and Bowling Green commit, going off for 20 touches and 129 yards in the second two-dozen minutes.
He finished with a massive 31 carries, with many direct snaps from center, and 189 yards and two TDs.
Rogers added eight rushes and 37 yards, bolstered by his 30-yard scoring jaunt, and 69 passing yards on 4-of-14.
In dominating the first half, the Pirates forced three Harvest Prep punts, including two on a three-and-out series —and a turnover on downs following four plays.
Jake Darling also recovered a lost fumble, as the Pirates stymied the Warriors to 100 total yards —34 of which came on a Rogers pass completion, which set up HP’s only first-half score, which was a 2-yard plunge by Jennings to make it 14-7 with seven-and-a-half minutes left in the second quarter.
Aside from that 34-yard pass play, in addition to a 10-yard personal-foul penalty on the next snap, the Pirates played a near-perfect half of football against the highly-touted —and according to some observers even heavily-favored —second-seeded Warriors (10-2).
Before Sammons’ field goal with 56-and-a-half seconds left— which capped a dozen-play and six-and-a-half minute drive and which featured four first downs and a run and pass completion (to Josh Clark) by Jones for 21 yards apiece — the Pirates stormed out to a 14-0 advantage, with only 13 minutes and 10 seconds gone by.
After forcing a Harvest Prep punt with only a minute-and-a-half elapsed, the Pirates moved 55 yards in eight plays —with Ethan Glover getting five consecutive carries and six total, before Jones went deep down the middle to tight end Carson Williams with a wide-open touchdown reception of 29 yards.
Sammons’ first extra-point kick made it 7-0, with six minutes and 42 seconds showing in the opening salvo.
Truth be told, as Waverly was the host site for the Pirates’ game, that pitch-and-catch between Jones with Williams resembled strikingly the same hookup which toppled the Tigers at Ed Miller Stadium this season —a deep downfield and open connection between Jones and Lattimore.
Then, to open the second stanza, the Pirates put a sack on Rogers on the Warriors’ 4th-and-11 call from the Pirates’ 40 —a slow-developing and ill-fated double-reverse pass attempt.
The Pirates’ play on defense paid dividends on the very next snap —as Glover, somehow and someway, got free from a stacked line of scrimmage, and sprinted 52 yards to make it 14-0 with Sammons’ second extra point.
“We had some things go our way in the first half, some schematic things and we executed very well and were able to put points on the board,” said Woodward. “In that first half, they were throwing the kitchen sink at us, but we just kept chipping away and firing away at it.”
But, despite Wheelersburg rushing 22 times for 128 yards including 11 by Glover (85 yards) and 10 by Jones (40 yards) —and with Jones completing all three of his pass attempts for 52 yards —the Pirates didn’t score again until almost 11 minutes later, on Sammons’ final field goal of his decorated kicking career.
For the game, Glover gained 110 yards on 18 totes, while Jones rushed for 46 yards on 15 keepers —and completed a third of his dozen passes (4-of-12) for 59 yards.
As it turned out, though, the Orange and Black needed to punch in a touchdown there —instead of settling for just three.
But still, it was an entirely different second half —the final half of football for 11 Pirate seniors.
All 11, Woodward stated, “were major contributors this year, offense and defense and special teams.”
“They fought hard all year,” said the coach. “They’ve enlightened us all on what we can do with what we have and how we can exceed expectations of people.”
Those expectations likely didn’t include —three months ago at least —playing for the Region 19 championship.
However, here Wheelersburg was yet again.
“I’m extremely proud of this team. Proud of this team as I have been any team I’ve ever coached. I didn’t know what to expect going in, and we had some adversity out of the gate, but continued to battle through a lot of different things. These guys never wavered, continued to show up every day and practice extremely hard, and did the things necessary to be in this situation of being out here competing for a regional championship against a good football team,” said Woodward. “We wanted to be playing better football at the end of the year than at the beginning of the year, and we definitely did that and then some. Everybody wants that one more game, and I want that for these seniors and this team, but we sure fought throughout this entire year and in this game tonight. Huge accomplishments by this group.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 7 10 0 0 — 17
Harvest Prep 0 7 7 6 —20
W — Carson Williams, 29-yard pass from Eli Jones (Braxton Sammons kick), 6:42, 1st (7-0 W)
W — Ethan Glover, 52-yard run (Braxton Sammons kick), 10:50, 2nd (14-0 W)
HP — Jaylen Jennings, 2-yard run (Wonder Harris kick), 7:32, 2nd (14-7 W)
W — Braxton Sammons, 25-yard field goal, :56.5, 2nd (17-7 W)
HP — Aidan Rogers, 30-yard run (Wonder Harris kick), 7:59, 3rd (17-14 W)
HP — Jaylen Jennings, 40-yard run (kick failed), 11:51, 4th (20-17 HP)
First downs 10 14
Scrimmage plays 48 58
Rushes-yards 36-168 44-219
Passing yards 59 69
Total yards 227 288
Cmp-Att-Int. 4-12-2 4-14-0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 3-25 12-90
Punts-Ave. 4-44 5-32.2
RUSHING —Wheelersburg: Ethan Glover 18-110 TD, Eli Jones 15-46, Creed Warren 1-7, Jake Darling 1-3, Casey Doerr 1-2; Harvest Prep: Jaylen Jennings 31-189 2TD, Aidan Rogers 8-37 TD, Chris Brown 1-7, Marchello Cox 2-0, Artrell Saunders 1-(-5), Team 1-(-9)
PASSING —Wheelersburg: Eli Jones 4-12-2-59 TD; Harvest Prep: Aidan Rogers 4-14-0-69
RECEIVING—Wheelersburg: Carson Williams 1-29 TD, Josh Clark 1-21, Eric Lattimore 2-9; Harvest Prep: Shawn Ruffin 1-34, Chris Brown 1-20, Jermaine Townsend 1-9, Artrell Saunders 1-6
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved