The past two seasons Jackson is 0-3 against Waverly, even though all three contests have been close. In last year's playoffs, Jackson lost 26-20 in overtime. The Tigers ambushed the Ironmen 17-16 two years ago, and rallied to win 28-21 in week two of last year’s campaign.
Friday, the Ironmen will get another crack at star QB Trevor Walls (left) and the Tigers.
For the Jackson High School football team, that is indeed on the mind this week, as the Ironmen welcome the much-heralded Waverly Tigers to Alumni Stadium.
And, besides being a payback game, the Ironmen are out for another upset victory — something they have made a habit of each of the past three seasons.
After upstaging Cincinnati Withrow (36-35 in 2004 Division II playoffs), Ironton (17-7 in 2005) and Chillicothe (42-15 in 2006), the Ironmen will have another opportunity on Friday night.
“In previous years, it’s almost like we’ve had to wait for a little while to have a chance to prove ourselves,” said Jackson coach Shane Wolford. “This year, and I’m sure we’ll have our hands full with Waverly, but we have an opportunity here to really get this thing going in the right direction. I think our kids know that this is an opportunity for people to start talking about us.”
As for the past two seasons, the Ironmen are 0-3 against the Tigers, even though all three contests have been close. The last of which came in last year’s Division III, Region 12 playoffs, in which Jackson lost a heartbreaker — 26-20 — in overtime.
In the two regular-season matchups, the Tigers ambushed the Ironmen 17-16 two years ago, and rallied to win 28-21 in week two of last year’s campaign.
For the Ironmen, viewed by many as an overwhelming underdog on Friday, they feel they owe the talented Tigers one.
“Our seniors have never beaten Waverly at the varsity level. When they were sophomores, we got beat and then they beat us twice last year,” said Wolford. “Like I told those seniors, this is their last chance. I know that we’re all sick of losing this game.”
Waverly coach Rusty Wright, last year’s Division III Southeast District Coach of the Year, concurred.
“We were blessed to have won in the last three meetings,” Wright told The Pike County News-Watchman. “It’s Waverly and Jackson. It is down to the wire every time. They have great football tradition over there and would love to get us.”
Last week, the Ironmen were pitching a shutout against Wellston until the Golden Rockets scored with 2:23 remaining. The Red and White allowed just 121 yards of total offense, and forced three first-half turnovers en route to the 56-6 blowout.
“Our kids came out ready to play, they played hard all night and did the things that we coached them to do last week,” said Wolford. “We were able to run about four or five plays all night, and we had near perfect execution on a couple of them all night. I was pretty pleased with the kids.”
Both Wellston and Waverly run a spread-type of offense, often featuring four-or-five wide receiver sets, a single back in the backfield and the quarterback operating out of the shotgun.
But, while Wellston is a team that is new to the spread and heavy in sophomores and inexperience, Waverly is a team loaded with seniors and coming off its best season in school history.
The Tigers tallied an 11-1 record last year, including a perfect 10-0 regular campaign, their first-ever undefeated fall.
Last week, Waverly extended its regular-season winning streak to 14 games with a 49-8 trampling of Zane Trace.
Twenty-one seniors return for the Tigers, including second-team Division III all-Ohio quarterback Trevor Walls.
Walls threw for a massive 2,052 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior, and stands six-feet six-inches tall while weighing 215 pounds. He was intercepted just five times.
Walls’ top target from a year ago— senior Casey Williams — also returns, having amassed 700 yards receiving en route to Division III first-team all-district honors.
In the rout of Zane Trace, Walls only played for a half, completing 6-of-9 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior fullback Josh Obetz caught a 42-yard touchdown pass, junior tight end Ryan Robertson was the receiver on a 23-yarder, and three other receivers caught at least one pass apiece while collecting at least 26 yards.
“Their speed is just phenomenal, they are a very athletic team and they like to spread you out and get you one-on-one in space,” said Wolford of Waverly. “With them, the quarterback (Walls) is so good, you almost have to play a lot more different packages than what you’re used to playing. All eyes are on him of course, everyone knows how good he is. He can throw the ball deep, he’s very accurate. But he has good players on the outside, too. All of them can catch and all of them can run.”
In addition, at least four Waverly rushers had at least four carries and 32 yards apiece.
Junior tailback Kevin Malone had two rushing touchdowns, Obetz added a 15-yard run and Robertson returned an interception for a score.
And, while Williams did not catch a pass, he did return a punt 55 yards to paydirt just 3:16 into the game.
Needless to say, but the Tigers put on a clinic against the Pioneers.
The Tigers did graduate some of their top weapons from last season, but do return the majority.
Despite the losses of all-district players Jeremy Holsinger (nose guard), Justin Hilton (receiver/safety), Alex Obetz (receiver), Andy Trimble (offensive lineman) and Paul Lett (fullback), the Tigers return a handful as well.
They include seniors Ramone Conley (tight end/linebacker), Dalton Scott (first-team offensive lineman), Myles Deacon (second-team lineman), Ian Colegrove (Honorable Mention lineman/linebacker) and Trent Noble (Honorable Mention wide receiver/defensive back).
Deacon and Colegrove were first-team all Southern Ohio Conference linebackers, and Conley was the SOC Division II Defensive Player of the Year.
Other key seniors include wide receiver and placekicker Mason Good and wide receivers Adam Pettay and Trevor Arnett. Arnett was considered one of the Tigers’ top threats last preseason, until he tore his ACL and missed the entire year.
As for the Ironmen slowing down the Tiger attack, they can likely utilize last year’s game film and game plan against Chillicothe.
The Cavalier offense, with a speed and athleticism advantage over last year’s Ironmen defenders, were kept off the field for all but 25 plays from scrimmage.
Jackson, meanwhile, dominated in time of possession, sustained lengthy, ball-control drives and crushed Chillicothe 42-15.
Perhaps keeping Walls and the Waverly offense on the sidelines is Jackson’s best defense.
“That’s what we’ve talked about,” said Wolford. “We’re going to have to run the football, use that clock, keep the ball, march the ball down the field and keep their offense off the field. Then we have to capitalize when we get down near the end zone. We can’t have any mistakes down there, and we have to go ahead and score. We can’t go three-and-out a couple of times. They’re just a big play offense that can strike at any time. It’s hard to contain them, so we want to keep their offense off the field.”
Although, Waverly’s defense is not bad, either.
Like Wellston against Jackson, Zane Trace did not score until the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.
Waverly was already ahead 49-0 and, like Jackson, racked up all 49 points through the first three quarters. Both teams led comfortably 42-0 at halftime.
Last season, the stingy Tigers allowed an average of only 9.3 points per game. The Ironmen exceeded that mark with 21 and 20 points respectively.
It’s no secret what the Red and White would like to do — that being playing keep away from Waverly with the running game.
According to Wright, his team must overcome the size and ability of the Ironmen offensive line.
“They’re huge every year,” said Wright. “Their offensive line looks like a college line and they’re better up front than last year.”
Running behind that line is senior fullback Bruce Smith, junior tailback Cody Huff and junior quarterback Josh Brown.
All three backs rushed for at least 100 yards and eight carries last week, en route to 440 rushing yards on 55 tries as a team. Smith scored three times and Huff twice.
“We have to be prepared to stop the run,” said Wright. “They’re a great team. They’re not known as a passing team, but they will throw it during their long drives. We have to make sure they don’t gain momentum in those drives. They will load it up and come at us.”
Whomever emerges victorious is guaranteed to have bragging rights for a year.
Since Waverly dropped from Division III to Division IV, and Jackson climbed from Division III to Division II, there is no chance for a payback until at least next season.
Hence, the Ironmen aim to make the most of their opportunity on Friday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.