Brock Netter, Staff Writer
IRONTON — Players come and go, uniforms are given makeovers every few years and there’s always questions to answer heading into a new season.
But despite the changes that habitually take place, Wheelersburg and Ironton’s football programs have endured them with, seemingly, ease.
Both programs have a storied history, both are perennial playoff contenders and both bring a sense of pride and tradition to the table. Thankfully for fans, all that is put together annually as the Pirates and Tigers lock horns year after year.
|2018 (28-6)||Last Series Win||2012 (32-27)|
|38-28||All-Time Postseason Record||45-32|
|2 (2017, 1989)||State Championships||2 (1989, 1979)|
|13-17||All-Time Series Record||17-13|
If you’re wondering, Wheelersburg has walked away victorious in six straight regular season contests. However, considering who the Pirates lost to graduation and who Ironton returns, that winning streak could be in jeopardy.
Both teams square off again in a battle of bullies this Friday at Ironton’s Tanks Memorial Stadium, officially kicking off their 2019 seasons.
Here’s a preview of SOSA’s Game of the Week:
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
- Mayka Matthews (QB), Evan Horsley (RB/LB), Hunter Ruby (WR)
It’s no secret that Wheelersburg lost a lot of production from last year’s group. Names like Tanner Holden, Trent Salyers, Evan Dahm, Ashton Clevenger, Chase Stidham, etc.
Salyers threw for 2,630 and 30 touchdowns last fall while Holden caught 55 passes for 1,014 yards and 13 scores, which turned out to be about 70 percent of the team’s offense.
However, losing and replacing that level of production is something Wheelersburg is accustomed to. If you need any proof, take the program’s 52-4 record over the past four years as testament.
Matthews, who was the team’s second-leading receiver with 924 yards and 11 touchdowns, is now the team’s signal caller while Horsley, who led the team with eight rushing touchdowns, is back at running back.
With Matthews now throwing the ball instead of catching it, that leaves Ruby as the team’s leading returning receiver with 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season.
After that, it’s a bit of a mystery who else steps to the forefront and becomes the team’s next dynamic playmakers.
But it won’t be a mystery for very long.
Coach Rob Woodward says this could be the fastest team he’s ever coached, and coming from a coach who is 117-22 with a state title under his belt, that’s a scary thought.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Put simply, Wheelersburg has one of the best … if not the best … non-conference schedules in the region. After facing Ironton, the Pirates will host Bishop Hartley and Ashland (Ky.) in back-to-back weeks before road dates at Greenup County (Ky.) and Jackson.
What that means is that any gained momentum will be imperative going into Week 2. Including Ironton, Wheelersburg’s non-conference opponents had a combined record of 37-18 last season and all clinched playoff berths.
‘Burg ended its season in the Division V state semifinal last fall with a 32-14 loss to Johnstown-Monroe … The Pirates had eight players named All-Ohio in 2018, six of which graduated … Woodward has coached Wheelersburg to six SOC titles, three regional crowns and a state championship in 2017 … The Pirates’ opponents’ combined record last season was 105-53
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
- Gage Salyers (QB), Reid Carrico (RB/LB), Seth Fosson (FB/LB)
While Wheelersburg has holes that need filling, the names at the top of Ironton’s depth chart look awfully familiar.
That starts with quarterback Gage Salyers, who committed to Youngstown State back in June after a first-team All-Southeast District and special-mention All-Ohio season last fall. He threw for 917 yards and 12 touchdowns while running for eight touchdowns as well.
But as good as Salyers is, it’s his backfield teammate who garners most of the attention … locally, and nationally.
Reid Carrico, just a junior, is ranked by 247sports as the No. 1 linebacker in the state of Ohio and the nation’s No. 3 ranked linebacker in his class. He holds offer from Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma and Alabama, among many other power five schools.
Unsurprisingly, he’s coming off first-team All-Southeast District and first-team All-Ohio selections. He’s lethal at the linebacker spot, but he’s not just a defensive bulldozer … he ran for 1,376 yards and 18 touchdowns last year.
Likewise, senior captain Seth Fosson figures to have a major role as the team’s fullback and linebacker alongside Carrico, forming one of the top linebacker duos in the state.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
In Trevon Pendleton’s first game as Ironton’s head coach, it’ll be important for the Tigers to get out to a fast start. From 2009 to 2012, Ironton had Wheelersburg’s number, beating the Pirates in four straight contests.
But the tide has since changed. Pendleton would love nothing more than to coach Ironton to victory and swing bragging rights back into the Tigers’ favor.
After slipping into the playoffs last season as a No. 8 seed, Ironton fell to Johnstown-Monroe by a 15-7 final … Each of the team’s five losses in 2018 came to teams with records above .500 … Just four of Ironton’s opponents last season had a losing record … Tanks Memorial Stadium was built in 1926
BOTTOM LINE …
There’s no better way to start the season than this Division V clash in a legendary setting. Both teams are coming off playoff campaigns and show no signs of slowing down. This game, like the others in the historic series, has all the making to be an instant classic.