Pirates, Fighting Tigers ready for another epic battle

Pirates, Fighting Tigers ready for another epic battle



Photo’s by Kent Sanborn & Tim Gearhart


When there’s almost 40 pages of Internet message board chatter, and it’s still 48 hours from kickoff, then you REALLY have one hyped-up football game.

Such is the case for Friday night’s 2019 lid-lifter between the Wheelersburg Pirates and Ironton Fighting Tigers, which once again renew their annual season-opening rivalry.

And, while Wheelersburg’s winningest senior class in school history has graduated, Ironton’s optimism is indeed high that its highly-touted and talented team is primed to snap the Fighting Tigers’ eight-game losing streak to the Pirates.

Still, the Pirates – with a roster of 69 strong – are reloading for what could be another strong season for them.

The winner will obviously be off to a great start, as kickoff inside what should be an overflow and electric Tanks Memorial Stadium in Ironton is set for 7 p.m.

Wheelersburg enters off six consecutive seasons of no worse than as a regional runner-up, including the Division V state championship two years ago and the Division V state semifinals last year.

Those six straight seasons coincide with a victory over Ironton, including a pair of 38-7 routs in the 2014 and 2015 playoffs for eight total triumphs.

In addition, Ironton has only averaged 7.875 points against the Pirates in those eight matchups, including a touchdown or less in the last six.

The Fighting Tigers took the previous four meetings (2009 thru 2012) before that, as Ironton actually leads the all-time series 17-13.

The two tradition-rich and proud programs have opened their seasons against each other every year for the past two decades.

For the Fighting Tigers, amid much ballyhoo in head coach Trevon Pendleton’s second season, it’s an excellent opportunity to not only narrow what has become a growing gap on the scoreboard with the Pirates, but capture what would arguably be the program’s most important victory in recent memory.

“We know all about Wheelersburg and what their kids have accomplished, especially that senior class that just graduated,” said Pendleton. 

Head Coach Trevon Pendleton

Current Team
Past Teams
Portsmouth West
“They’ve been an unbelievably strong program and are always well-coached. These kids have played a lot of snaps against them the last few years and they know what’s at stake this time around. We are going to work hard, not let Wheelersburg outwork us, and put ourselves in position to win the game.”

The Fighting Tigers are actually returning more overall experience than the Pirates, including their entire starting backfield, which has attracted interest from several colleges.

All three are returning first-team all-Southeast District selections from a year ago – senior Gage Salyers (6-1, 205) at quarterback, junior Reid Carrico at tailback (6-3, 225) and senior Seth Fosson (6-1, 235) at fullback.


Salyers has verbally committed to Youngstown State, but it’s Carrico collecting offers from most of the major college football factories in the country.

The 16-year-old’s list of pursuers includes Ohio State, Notre Dame, Clemson, Alabama, Texas, Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Kentucky and Marshall.

As a linebacker, he is listed as the 11th-best by Rivals and 34th nationally, including first in Ohio.

Reid Carrico
Current Team
2019, 2020
Carrico is the third-highest rated overall prospect in the Buckeye State by 247Sports.

“Ironton is a rivalry game and we certainly uphold with respect any rivalry game that we have,” said Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodard. “Games like this and players like whom Ironton has make us take the talent that we have and challenge it.”

The Pirates are entering this rivalry affair with a newer cast of characters, but the coach said his club is doing what needs done to carry on the Wheelersburg banner.

Head Coach Rob Woodard

Current Team
“I’ve been really pleased with the senior class leadership that we’ve had,” said Woodward, entering his 12th year heading up the Pirates. “They continue to do what they can do and have the ability to do, and that is be competitive and strong and fast and have themselves ready to go out and play the game of football. We’ve got some holes to fill, but one thing our assistant coaches do such a great job of is developing players.”

One of those holes is replacing the quarterback position, as Trent Salyers graduated as a two-time first-team Division V all-Ohio signal caller.

Salyers is either first or second in several Wheelersburg offensive records, including second in career total yards (6,945) and touchdowns (82) – and first in career passing yards (6,219), career passing touchdowns (66) and career pass completions (376-of-590 for 63.7-percent completion rating).

“Our offense is one that allows us to place an athlete at quarterback, and decide whether we want to be more of a power team or more elusive in terms of misdirection or spread. It’s a multiple-formation, multiple-style offense,” said Woodward. “We can really adapt to what we have.”

This season, there are four quarterbacks listed on the roster, while Woodward said five have worked out under center in preseason camp, including senior Makya Matthews (5-9, 175, Sr.).

Matthews is a first-team all-district all-purpose performer, and first-team all-Ohio wide receiver.


“Makya (Matthews) is such a versatile running back, but he understands the offense where we can put him at quarterback and make our team that much more successful,” said Woodward. “He is absolutely electric offensively, and is that guy that can take it to the house at any time. Defensively, he is lights out breaking on the ball. Special teams, he is lights out when he fields a good punt or kickoff. He makes that big play, whether it is running, receiving or returning, but his private discipline is unmatched.”

The Pirates’ third all-Ohio first-teamer from last season – linebacker Evan Dahm – also graduated, along with second-team all-staters Tanner Holden (wide receiver) and Baylen Haywood (offensive lineman).

In last season’s state semifinal against Johnstown-Monroe, which the Pirates lost 32-14 and only scored on the second play from scrimmage and again late in the game, the Johnnies succeeded by being physical up front – and dominated Wheelersburg with running the ball right at them.

Look for the Fighting Tigers to try and play physical as well, with Fosson – a first-team all-district end – anchoring Ironton’s defense.

Ironton did graduate linebacker Ethan Duncan, who shared the Southeast District Division V Defensive Player of the Year award with Dahm.

Regardless of the outcome, one of two streaks will in fact continue for the Pirates.

Wheelersburg will win its ninth consecutive contest against Ironton, or will lose its second straight game overall – such a streak that last occurred in 2011, when Wheelersburg went 7-3, lost its final two games and last failed to qualify for the playoffs.

That streak stretched to three thanks to the Tigers’ triumph in the 2012 season opener – Ironton’s most recent victory over the Pirates.


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