Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — Makya Matthews shook his head when he asked whether or not he was happy with Friday’s final score.
Matthews’ Pirates had just beaten Southern Ohio Conference rival Waverly by a 42-28 final, in a game that some doubted them to win, and Matthews had rushed for 264 yards and three scores.
But still, it wasn’t enough to make the senior smile.
“I’m not happy with it,” Matthews said, after ending a postgame interview with the local radio station. “Our defense gave up 28 points. We won, but I’m not happy. We’ve got things to fix.”
If that doesn’t sum up the Pirates’ mindset right now, there’s not much else that will.
The win allows Wheelersburg to not only improve to 5-3 this season, but it also gives the program sole possession of first place in the SOC II, marks the Pirates’ third straight victory, and of course, keeps bragging rights nice and cozy at Ed Miller Stadium.
“Our guys are playing at a high level right now,” Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward said. “Our best defense is our offense right now. We have to make sure that we control the football and that we are successful each and every time we get down [into the red zone]. I can’t say enough about Evan Horsley, Makya Matthews and Hunter Ruby. All three of them just really worked the ball in there. The offensive line kept the pressure on [Waverly] the entire time.”
The Pirates (5-3, 3-0 SOC II) planned on possessing the football and that’s exactly what they did, holding the ball for 36:27, compared to Waverly’s 11:02. But still, the Tigers (6-2, 2-1 SOC II) used their trademark quick-strike offense to stay within a touchdown all night long.
On Waverly’s first play from scrimmage, Wheelersburg forced and recovered a fumble at the Tigers’ 39-yard line. The end result was an 18-yard touchdown pass from Horsley to Ruby, putting the Pirates ahead 7-0 early.
Waverly quickly answered with a 7-play, 66-yard drive that took just 1:32 as Payton Shoemaker capped it off with a 1-yard touchdown run.
With 10:13 left in the second quarter, Matthews broke free for a seven-yard touchdown run before Shoemaker, again, provided an answer with 9:48 left, to the tune of a 75-yard score.
At 14-14, Matthews countered with a 49-yard run, capping a 7-play, 80-yard drive, giving the Pirates a 21-14 lead … which was the halftime score.
“I love the way our stats have played out. We have multiple guys who are racking up yards and that’s what we want to continue to see,” Woodward said. “That’s been kind of the staple of our offense over the last few years. I thought we did a great job of that.”
Per Woodward’s thoughts, the Pirates opened the second half with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown run from Carson Williams, making it 28-14.
Not to be outdone, 1:11 later at the 5:42 mark in the third quarter, Waverly scored on a 40-yard run from Shoemaker to cut the lead back to seven at 28-21. On the ensuing possession, the Pirates embarked on a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive that took 6:53 off the game clock. Ruby ended it with a three-yard touchdown run, making it 35-21 at the 10:49 mark in the fourth.
Again down two scores, Shoemaker scored 42 seconds later on a three-yard run, making it 35-28. From there, the two traded possessions with neither reaching the end zone for the better part of the fourth quarter.
Strangely enough, in an offensively-dominated game, maybe the most important series of the night belonged to Wheelersburg’s defense. After the Pirates missed a 37-yard field goal with 4:39 left to play, Waverly took over possession with a chance to tie the game.
But six plays later, after the Tigers had driven 28 yards to midfield, Wheelersburg’s defense forced a turnover on downs. That led to the final dagger when Matthews scored from 42 yards out to seal the deal.
“Our number one goal is to win the SOC and the seniors knew that,” Matthews said. “We came out and did what we needed to do. We just have to keep working in practice and keep up the energy when we come into games. We need the next two wins [to win the SOC title]. Those two teams [Valley and West] want it just as bad as we do. We just have to come out fighting.”
Matthews ended the night with 31 carries for 264 yards and three scores while Ruby had 85 yards rushing, 66 receiving and two touchdowns. Horsley completed 7-of-12 passes for 91 yards alongside a touchdown while also rushing for 90 yards.
Shoemaker led the Tigers statistically, tallying 201 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries. Quarterback Haydn’ Shanks was 9-of-17 through the air for 155 yards and Will Futhey caught six passes for 119 yards.
The Pirates rushed for a total of 466 yards, consistently moving the chains while keeping Waverly’s defense on its heels. All in all, Wheelersburg put up 557 yards of total offense, compared to the Tigers’ mark of 331.
The Pirates’ next test comes in the form of a trip to Valley next Friday while Waverly hosts Minford.
“Our kids are figuring out where they fit best within our system,” Woodward said. “We’re getting healthy, too. The performance of our kids, outside of just playing football, the things they do to prepare themselves … our practices are so intense. So to prepare themselves at a high level, it’s really something we’ve gotten better at each year. So we’re playing the way we’re supposed to be playing at the end of the season.”