‘Burg, West go for Gold Ball

SOC II at stake at ‘The Rock’

By Paul Boggs - [email protected]

Wheelersburg junior Creed Warren (25)

Wheelersburg junior Creed Warren (25)

Courtesy of Terry Stevenson of www.burgsports.com

West senior Alex Blevins (11)

Courtesy of Joey Shupert

SCIOTO COUNTY — The Wheelersburg Pirates are plenty accustomed to capturing the coveted ‘Gold Ball’.

The West Senators are aiming to rediscover what that glory means.

As two ends of Scioto County collide on the west side of Portsmouth on Friday night, the annual Halloween Bowl between Wheelersburg and West — for the 75th all-time football meeting — will once again include the outright Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship trophy at stake.

The Pirates own 35 all-time SOC championships, including defense of last season’s crown this year —which was their seventh and all outright in the past eight campaigns.

But the 8-1 Senators have matched the 7-2 Pirates win for win inside the division —doing what both are supposed to, and set out to accomplish at the season’s outset.

Both are 4-0 in the SOC II, meaning it’s a winner-take-all affair for Friday night at ‘The Rock’ —as BOTH are also attempting to lock up opening-round home playoff games in Division V Region 19.

West has already done that much, while Wheelersburg with a win would do the same —as kickoff amid a sea of Orange and Black is set for 7 p.m. on the west side.

The last time the Senators secured an SOC II title was in 2008, when they went 10-0 in the regular season — as the last season in which they faced Wheelersburg with the division championship up for grabs was five years back.

West was 9-0 entering that game, and finished its most successful season since 2008 at 10-2 —while Wheelersburg went on to win its second all-time state championship in the sport.

In fact, the Senators last defeated the Pirates over a full decade ago in 2011 —as for three of the past four years, the two have rematched in the state playoffs.

But all of that was then, and this is now, and rather than rehash history as an old guarder on an Internet message board or even in a morning coffee shop— all the players taking the field for Friday night were in junior high or elementary school five years ago.

Both coaches commented this week, in separate in-person interviews with The Portsmouth Daily Times, what an SOC II title would mean for their respective programs.

Of course, naturally, it’s both teams’ first goal to claim the outright conference championship.

“There’s a buzz around the community you can tell this week. Our seniors have had great careers, and the plan is for it not to be over anytime soon. We’ve had a great week of practice, and you can tell our seniors’ leadership is showing. A lot of experience in this group, and it’s a lot of excitement just to have the opportunity to play in this championship game. A lot of people never get this opportunity,” said West coach Todd Gilliland on Wednesday. “It’s been a few years for us, but we’re pumped for it, these seniors are hungry for it, and they’ve worked hard and battled. We’ve come close against Wheelersburg a few times here recently, but we want to get over the hump this time, so we’ll see what we can do. It’s the goal that everybody sets out when you start lifting weights in the offseason. We’ve done a good enough job to put ourselves in position to do that.”

“I learned in the early stages of my coaching career what it means to play Portsmouth West in the final game, winning this particular game, and what winning the conference championship means to the community, and what it means to the kids and especially the seniors. We’ve always placed this as our number-one goal,” said Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward on Tuesday. “We understand we work everything towards that goal, and everything else aside from that is a bonus. The team goal of working hard for each other and our community towards an SOC championship is first and foremost.”

In the most recent meeting, following Wheelersburg’s 38-0 shutout of visiting West to officially and outright win last season’s title, the Senators returned to Ed Miller Stadium for the opening round of the expanded Ohio High School Athletic Association state playoffs —and played the host Pirates much tougher to the tune of a 23-14 loss.

It’s possible the two can meet again in this season’s Region 19 field, as West and Wheelersburg —with Tuesday’s penultimate release of the OHSAA football computer rankings —sit fifth (West with 16.0944 computer points average) and sixth (Wheelersburg with 14.9343) respectively.

Per the unofficial yet respected rankings website www.joeeitel.com, the Senators are assured of a first-round home tilt —while Wheelersburg will finish from third through seventh with a win, and from sixth thru ninth with a loss.

The top 16 teams in each region qualify for the state playoffs, with the top eight squads securing opening-round home bouts.

While Wheelersburg has been basically a run-oriented unit all year, yet has improved in its passing attack, the Senators have demonstrated balance —behind a physical front and featuring senior running back Ryan Sissel, senior quarterback Mitchell Irwin, and junior wide receiver Jeffery Bishop.

Sissel can pound the rock for shorter gains before breaking one to the end zone, and Irwin connecting with Bishop and Cole Tipton have torched teams with long passing plays.

“Irwin has a great arm and his scrambling, his ability to extend plays, his escapability in the pocket is something you definitely have to account for because he can run the ball very well. But he makes good decisions and disperses the football. Then Sissel is the returning SOC back of the year, who runs extremely hard and it takes multiple people to bring down. That and combination with what Bishop is able to do as a receiver, as a running back in motion, as a returner…he mimics a lot of the same things that we see in our own team,” said Woodward, of the Senators. “Their offense has developed into a lot of the similar sets that we have. We have to line up and be ready, and we better be balanced on either side of the field. Both Bishop and Tipton stretch the field vertically very well, their offensive line has been solid, and they pose a lot of threats.”

The Pirates have countered with physicality of their own, featuring four backs which split carries —seniors Derrick Lattimore and Ethan Glover, junior Creed Warren, and senior quarterback Eli Jones.

Eric Lattimore lines up primarily in the slot, and is a threat either running jet sweeps or racing downfield past defenses.

Against Waverly, Jones and Lattimore burned the Tigers for a 70-yard pitch-and-catch touchdown — before Lattimore took a rush 46 yards to the house last week against Valley.

While Wheelersburg has retooled and prided itself on ball control with Jones under center, the Pirates are more explosive offensively this season.

“Defensively, we have to get to the football and we have to tackle,” said Gilliland. “There’s no secret that they are a run-heavy team. They run four or five different backs including the quarterback, so there’s not just one guy you can key on. We have to wrap up and tackle, we can’t give up the big play or even over-run plays. You can’t hold them to a third down and manageable situation, then give up 40-yard play. You have to force them to drive the length of the field. No cheap stuff.”

Gilliland admitted, in several of the recent Wheelersburg wins, the Pirates pressured the Senators into mistakes —which the Pirates proceeded to take advantage of.

For West to win, that has to change.

“Execution has been the big thing. Wheelersburg is not going to make the big blatant mistake or give you free plays. You can’t make mistakes against them. In the past few games where we’ve been close, there’s been something happen in the game, whether it’s been on special teams or a turnover in a bad spot,” said Gilliland. “They’ve done a good job of forcing us into a few mistakes, so we have to clean those up. Last year, in the first game, their punter (Braxton Sammons) did such a good job that we started five or six drives inside our own 5-yard-line. You have to win the battles on special teams, turnovers and field position. It’s just amped up when you are facing them for sure.”

For the Pirates, if it’s not broke, then don’t fix it.


“We don’t have any one guy that has tremendous numbers, but that’s what makes our team so great,” said Woodward. “We use that multiple running back approach, and we’re always looking to stretch the field vertically as best we can. Intermittently, we try to get it out in space on the perimeter. Our offensive coordinator Dusty Salyers has done so much in order to spread the field for us. Our offensive line has just developed into a very physical group. When we go right at teams, they do such a great job of creating new lines of scrimmage.”

Gilliland said while Wheelersburg has gotten the best of West more times than not, as the Pirates lead the all-time series 45-27, it’s important for his Senators “to be who we are”.

“Not try to do something that we’re not. Some teams, in big games, tend to do that something extra. If we can just be who we are, and execute what’ve we’ve done all year, we’ll be alright,” he said.

But, will it be enough to capture the coveted “Gold Ball”?

While West will put up a good fight for sure, and who knows if the Senators will win, but the Pirates plan on returning to Wheelersburg with another SOC II trophy in hand.

“I expect West to come out and play good, physical and hard football. They respect the game the same as us. I love teams that respect the game of football and play at an extremely high level. For us, we have to be sound in all three phases,” said Woodward. “This is our first goal every year, and I like where we’re at right now and we’ve seen the growth of this team. Now we need to play one more mistake-free, physical game on Friday night to bring home another SOC championship.”

Wheelersburg junior Creed Warren (25)
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/10/web1_Burg-West-PRE-Burg-pic.jpgWheelersburg junior Creed Warren (25) Courtesy of Terry Stevenson of www.burgsports.com

West senior Alex Blevins (11)
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/10/web1_Burg-West-PRE-West-pic.jpgWest senior Alex Blevins (11) Courtesy of Joey Shupert
SOC II at stake at ‘The Rock’

By Paul Boggs

[email protected]

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved