Falcons, Tigers collide in key bout
By PAUL BOGGS
Photos by Rene Nemeth
Indeed, it’s awfully late in the season for bounce backs.
However, there’s no better time than the here and now for one, and that’s exactly where the Minford Falcons and Waverly Tigers stand entering their colossal contest on Friday night.
While both are 6-2, their state playoff positions are quite precarious – with their Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship hopes all but evaporated.
In many ways, it is a playoff game for the Falcons and Tigers, as 7-3 seasons – by one or both – might or might not be enough to qualify for this year’s postseason field.
Therefore, playoff points, positioning and even the feeling of relief for a lock are on the line on Friday night – as Minford meets Waverly with an amped-up and standing-room-only atmosphere anticipated inside Waverly’s renovated Raidiger Field.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The game also marks Senior Night activities at Waverly High School, as eight Tiger seniors will be recognized beforehand.
Both squads are coming off close losses last week, as Waverly was in a running-game shootout at SOC II leader Wheelersburg – although the Tigers trailed from opening whistle to final kneel-down and suffered a 42-28 defeat.
However, while that wasn’t an upset, Minford’s matchup against Oak Hill was.
The Falcons led 7-0 and 14-7, but the 4-4 Oaks rallied for a pair of ties – before breaking the 14-14 deadlock with a last-second field goal by Brock Harden.
While Waverly remained fourth in Region 15 of Division IV of the official Ohio High School Athletic Association computer ratings, and still “control their own destiny” towards a state playoff berth, the Falcons fell from fourth to six – in the OHSAA’s Division V Region 19.
Even with a pair of victories in their final two tilts, including against visiting Valley in the regular-season finale, the Falcons are not assured of anything – although at 8-2 their chances of qualifying are quite better.
Hence, both need to bounce back this week, but Minford is more desperate than are the Tigers.
This is the same Falcons’ squad which started 6-0 – and that took Wheelesburg to overtime in the SOC II opener, before falling 21-20 after a two-point conversion attempt failed for the win.
The top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs – with the top four squads earning first-round home bouts.
Minford coach Jesse Ruby remarked briefly on the Oak Hill contest, then quickly moved to focusing on the task of defending the talented Tigers.
“I don’t want to take away anything from Oak Hill. They came out and played one of their best games of the year in terms of penalties, turnovers and limiting big plays. We did not play to the level that we normally do in terms of execution, and Oak Hill took advantage of the opportunities given to them,” he said. “Our team is motivated to get back to playing the way we were throughout the season before the Oak Hill game. Practice has been upbeat and very crisp this week.”
The Tigers, which practiced earlier in the sunny afternoons this week with soccer tournament matches at Raidiger Field, also expressed improving upon their defensive performance against Wheelersburg.
The Tigers’ tackling could be better, as Minford comes calling with its senior standout running back – Ty Wiget.
“We obviously have to do a better job of tackling, making sure we don’t put ourselves in bad positions on the defensive side. Offensively, Wheelersburg did some good things, but defensively, we have to keep getting better these last couple of weeks,” said Waverly coach Chris Crabtree. “We’re focusing on Minford now, though, and working to execute the gameplan and preparing for them to come here and have a great game.”
It will be another great matchup of running backs operating out of spread-the-field formation offenses.
Wiget was limited against the Oaks to only 61 yards and 15 carries, but he did account for both of Minford’s touchdowns – including an 8-yard run.
For the season, Wiget has rushed for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns on 167 carries, while junior quarterback Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis has added five rushing TD on 94 carries and 634 yards.
Crabtree commented on the similarities of the two offenses.
“Everything kind of runs through the Wiget kid for them, so they are similar to what we like to do. He has carried the ball quite a bit, the majority of the time actually,” said the coach. “It comes down to making sure we are in our gaps up front where we need to be. And we have to tackle the football. It’s no mystery what they are going to do. They are going to run inside zone, and they are going to throw it to (Matthew) Risner and (Drew) Skaggs on the outside and down the field. We have to be better defensively and execute and tackle better.”
Ruby said spreading the wealth will be of greater emphasis this week, with wide receivers Matthew Risner and Drew Skaggs seeing more footballs flying their way.
“Offensively, we need to focus on taking care of the little things and get back to controlling what we can control. We need to win the line of scrimmage and spread the ball around to make it difficult on their defense to just key on one or two players,” he said. “We have to be able to score touchdowns when we are given the opportunity.”
But, that means keeping Shoemaker off the field.
Of the Tigers’ 250 total carries this season, the five-foot nine-inch 155-pound senior Shoemaker now has 189 — while rushing for 1,668 yards and 23 touchdowns, which is good enough for almost nine yards per tote.
In addition, despite battling a knee injury all season which has hampered his mobility and even knocked him out of a game or two, junior quarterback Haydn’ Shanks has completed 83-of-135 passes for 1,282 yards and 13 touchdowns with only one interception.
- Haydn Shanks
- Current Team
- SEO, SOC2
- 2019, 2020
“Waverly does such a good job with getting the ball to their playmakers, whether it be in the running game or the passing game. Haydn’ Shanks is a great quarterback who can make just about any throw on the field. Their receivers are big, fast and hard to cover. Shoemaker is very dangerous in the open field, but he also has the ability to run between the tackles. When you put all of that together, their offense makes you defend the entire width and depth of the football field,” said Ruby. “With their weapons, they can score from anywhere on the field in many different ways.”
Crabtree was asked if ball control could be one of those ways – with Wiget, like Shoemaker, capable of breaking off a big play on any given snap.
“We’re designed to go fast, and time of possession isn’t something we have had a lot of concern. We score really quick and then our defense is back on the field,” he said. “There are times where we can slow it down and take the ball out of their hands, but our philosophy tends to be give our offense as many opportunities as we can. We are going to play how we play and see how it turns out.”
And, how this week turns out will have a monumental impact on how two weeks from now sets up – assuming one or both squads sees the regional quarterfinal round.
For the Tigers, it is simple.
Win both, and Waverly will host a Region 15 quarterfinal.
“We have a lot to take care of this week and next week. But if we do that, then postseason play sets up pretty well. There would be a really good chance we would have a home playoff game in a better region for us. Our next two weeks are very important for us to go out and play well,” said Crabtree. “It would be nice if our eight seniors get to play a playoff game here and be able to play as many as we can.”
The same goes for the Falcons, which can climb back into the top four of Region 19 with a win.
But Ruby said playoff possibilities take care of themselves – as long as they play against the Tigers like they did against Wheelersburg and unlike Oak Hill.
Truth be told, it’s the perfect time for a Falcon bounce back.
“We need to treat this game in the same way we did for the Wheelersburg game. Waverly’s team is similar to Wheelersburg, and they will be just as challenging when it comes to scoring on them and defending them,” said Ruby. “It is a game in which we need to play to the best of our ability.”