Key games involve Jackson County clubs
By PAUL BOGGS
Photos by Ruth Boll,
So a lingering question for the Wheelersburg Pirates this week has been are they “back”?
What exactly are these Pirates back from probably depends upon subjective perspective, but – truth be told – Wheelersburg was never gone if you are referring to the Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship chase.
The Pirates did begin the season an uncharacteristic 2-3, but do remember they graduated the most successful senior class in school history – and lost to three teams with a current combined record of 16-2.
Still, they entered SOC II competition as the consensus division favorite, and captured the gigantic conference opener last week with their colossal 21-20 overtime triumph at Minford.
It was the second such one-point overtime win for Wheelersburg, with 5-1 Ashland (34-33) being the other, as – with Minford now 5-1 – the Pirates picked up enough playoff points to vault them all the way to fifth in the OHSAA Division V Region 19 computer ratings.
This week, Wheelersburg invades Oak Hill, which is also 3-3 and just outside the Region 19 top-10 in 11th.
That matchup, no longer a non-league one, is now an SOC II encounter – and even a bit better one than originally anticipated in say the preseason.
Kickoff on Friday night inside sparkling Davis Stadium in Oak Hill is set for 7 p.m.
After a 20-point (35-15) mistake-filled loss at Jackson, the Pirates put together an effort for the ages in winning at Minford – and extending their SOC II win streak to 22 games.
“It was such a great step forward for us last week. We were finally at full strength health-wise for the first time all season, and we had a great week of preparation and practice,” said Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward. “We’ve overcome a lot of adversity and injuries already this year, we’ve played a great schedule to get us ready for the SOC II, and we keep getting better in all three phases.”
The Oaks opened SOC II action at injury-riddled Valley, and escaped the Indians’ lair with a 21-16 victory – their second consecutive of the season.
Wheelersburg has dominated the series against the Oaks, who were members of the SOC I -and held a strangle-hold upon that division for the past decade.
The Pirates are another heavy favorite for a victory on Friday, but should they saddle themselves with more penalties and even turnovers, then Oak Hill has the opportunity at an upset.
The Oaks are primarily a run-oriented unit, while Wheelersburg enjoyed success both running and throwing a week ago.
Oak Hill Rushing
“I’m not sure what the expectation was for Oak Hill entering the year, but they’ve won a couple of big games in the last two weeks and we certainly expect them to give us another kind of challenge,” said Woodward. “At some point, we figured Oak Hill would move up to the SOC II, so that’s a big reason why we kept them on the schedule. They have shown an ability to run the football. Coach (Paul) Carver has done a good job in his first year there.”
Wellston at Nelsonville-York
Speaking of good first years, new coach Mike Smith has the Wellston Golden Rockets off to their best start since a 6-1 beginning in 2004, which was the first season of two (also 2006) in which they qualified for the state playoffs.
The Golden Rockets opened that season with a loss to Jackson, ran off six straight victories, and then fell short at Nelsonville-York (13-8), which went on to capture the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division championship.
Fast forward 15 years, and the Golden Rockets return to Buckeye country having began this campaign at 5-1 – on a five-game winning streak following their final matchup against undefeated Jackson.
Wellston is 2-0 in the TVC-Ohio with two shutouts – an 8-0 blanking at Alexander and a 42-0 blowout of River Valley.
But, beginning with the Buckeyes on Friday night, the Golden Rockets really get into the meat of their schedule, as Athens – the defending division champion – comes calling next week, with archrival Vinton County looming soon.
Nelsonville-York – having lost to two of the top Division VI programs in all of Ohio in undefeateds Trimble and Fort Frye – has recovered nicely with four straight wins, including two lopsided ones over River Valley and Meigs in the TVC-Ohio.
The winner will, along with expected Athens, improve to 3-0 in the division.
Kickoff inside historic Boston Field in Nelsonville is set for 7:30 p.m.
Wilburn, a threat to score at any time he touches the football, has rushed for 475 yards and seven touchdowns on 35 carries – while catching 18 passes for 242 yards and four scores.
When Wilburn gains yardage, his average is a whopping 13-and-a-half yards per play.
He also has 94 receiving yards for 811 all-purpose.
While Nelsonville-York last won the TVC-Ohio in back-to-back falls of 2016 and 2017, it’s been since back-to-back seasons of 2001 and 2002 when Wellston last won its only league championships.
It’s also a massive contest involving OHSAA computer points, as the Buckeyes are 10th in Division VI Region 21, while Wellston is eighth in Division V Region 19.
The top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs – with the top four squads earning first-round home bouts.
Jackson at Washington Court House
The Jackson Ironmen are actually at work with trying to make this season their seventh undefeated in school history.
In fact, under 11-year head coach Andy Hall, the Red and White went 10-0 in the regular season in 2011 and 2014 – so Hall has a chance at three for a decade.
The others were in 1996, 1961, 1954 and clear back during the Great Depression days in 1932.
Oh, but these Ironmen are anything but depressed, as they begin a three-game road stretch with what’s suddenly become an interesting encounter with Washington Court House.
The Blue Lions are 4-2, and aim to upset the visiting and undefeated Ironmen on Friday night at 7 p.m.
Jackson is the defending Frontier Athletic Conference champion with Hillsboro, but the Indians are only 3-3 – and the Ironmen are the overwhelming conference favorite.
But the Ironmen – despite key victories last week by Wellston, Logan and especially Wheelersburg – fell to fifth this week with the latest release of the Division III, Region 11 computer ratings.
Jackson can regain some of that traction – and positioning – by defeating the Blue Lions, whose four victories are over teams with a combined record of a poor 4-20.
While Washington’s defense has vastly improved, as it surrendered 69 points to the host Ironmen a year ago, the Blue Lions must make major inroads in stopping Jackson’s powerful running attack.
Jayden Spires is the Ironmen’s leading rusher with 580 yards and six scores on 84 carries, while five other backs have carried at least 18 times – with Brice Graham going for 59.