PORTSMOUTH Everything was different Saturday night compared to the first meeting between Wheelersburg and Ironton in August.
Rather than a hot and muggy night, it was blustery and cold as the duo met at Trojan Coliseum in the Division V, Region 19 semifinals.
But the time of year and the climate was far from the only significant difference in the matchup as there was another key feature that stood out: the result.
After falling to Ironton 40-6 in the first game of the season, the Pirates avenged that loss in the best possible way with a 17-14 win over Ironton.
“Big difference from Game 1,” Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward said. “We were healthy. We were an experienced team in terms of that we had growth. Our guys have stuck with the mindset of going out and getting better each and every week, staying focused on facing challenges, responding to those challenges and stepping up where they needed to.”
The Pirates faced adversity early after the Fighting Tigers cashed in on back-to-back scoring drives for a 14-3 lead after one quarter. The 14 first-quarter points, however, were all the Tigers scored and Woodward credited his defense that bent but never broke down the stretch.
“They were conditioned and healthy and were ready to go physically and mentally and went out and won that football game,” Woodward said.
Two Wheelersburg drives demonstrated how dominant the Pirates were in the second half. The first started with 17 seconds to play in the third quarter and ended 7:45 later on a turnover on downs at the Ironton 32. The second came after the second of three interceptions thrown by Ironton quarterback Jon Wylie that set the Pirates up at the Tigers’ 37.
Wheelersburg methodically stomped its way to paydirt in 11 plays that consumed 5:09, with Ethan Glover’s 3-yard dive putting the Pirates back in front.
“Obviously when your defense is on the field that much, they are going to tend to break or do something,” Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton said. “Our defense was on the field quite a bit. They played great and they fought their guts out and I’m proud of each and every one of them.”
The Tigers defense found itself with its back against the wall only two plays into the contest after a fumble set the Pirates up at the Ironton 16. Wheelersburg had to settle for a Braxton Sammons 28-yard field goal but found several opportunities to cash in on Tigers miscues later.
Altogether, Ironton tallied four fumbles — two lost to Wheelersburg — and three interceptions. The first two Pirates picks led to touchdowns and the final led to a Wheelersburg victory formation.
“Bottom line is turnovers and missed opportunities,” Pendleton said. “They will bite you in the butt every time and they did tonight.”
Woodward agreed with Pendleton’s take.
“We were able to capitalize,” Woodward said. “We might not have scored off all those turnovers, but we gained yards and we established field position. We made it hard for them to drive back down. Our defense is a tough defense and I think that wore on their team and ultimately boded well for our team.”
Eli Jones led the Pirates with 67 rushing yards while throwing for 28 more and even caught a pass for 6 yards. Wheelersburg had only 42 yards of offense at the half and was limited to 100 in the second half but found the recipe for a win down the stretch.
“We hit some passes tonight when we needed to and I thought Eli Jones did a fabulous job running the football, along with Ethan Glover,” Woodward said. “Our offensive line just grinded it out.”
Glover had 35 yards and a score on 17 totes. Jones capped off a short drive after Carson Williams’s interception return set the Pirates up with a goal-to-go situation from the Tigers 2. Casey Doerr snagged the second interception and Eli Swords snatched the final Tigers heave in front of their bench to clinch the win and send the fans across the way into a frenzy of celebration, led by shaking milk jugs filled with rocks.
Jaquez Keyes paced Ironton with 133 yards on 19 carries. He gave the Tigers a 7-3 lead after breaking a tackle at the line of scrimmage and streaking 53 yards to the house. One minute later, Landen Wilson dashed 19 yards into the end zone on the first play after a Pirates fumble.
“We had chances to put the game away and didn’t do it,” Pendleton said. “(We) didn’t capitalize and they were able to force some turnovers and do some things and that’s the difference in the ball game.”
Wheelersburg had lost the previous two meetings with Ironton but has won the last three contests in the postseason (2014 and ’15 before Saturday).
Wheelersburg advances to the region final next Saturday against Canal Winchester Harvest Prep.
WHEELERSBURG 3 7 0 7 — 17
IRONTON 14 0 0 0 — 14
W—Braxton Sammons 28 field goal, 8:52
I—Jaquez Keyes 53 run (Matt Sheridan kick), 7:22
I—Landen Wilson 19 run (Sheridan kick), 6:20
W—Eli Jones 1 run (Sammons kick), 9:24
W—Ethan Glover 3 run (Sammons kick), 1:57
First Downs 10 11
Rushes-Yards 40-108 42-234
Comp-Att-Int 7-11-0 1-11-3
Passing Yards 34 16
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 4-2
Punts-Avg. 4-42.3 2-25.5
Penalties-Yards 4-35 4-25
Wheelersburg rushing: Jones 16-67, Glover 17-35, Lattimore 2-6, Creed 1-0, Team 4-0.
Ironton rushing: Keyes 19-133, Howard 4-53, Wilson 9-49, Wylie 9-16, Team 1-(minus 17).
Wheelersburg passing: Jones 6 of 10 for 28 yards; Thomas 1 of 1 for 6 yards.
Ironton passing: Wylie 1 of 10 for 16 yards, 3 interceptions; Freeman 0 of 1 for 0 yards.
Wheelersburg receiving: Clark 5-20, Williams 1-8, Jones 1-6.
Ironton receiving: Wilson 1-16.