Wheelersburg’s offense needed little time to excite the packed house as on the first play from scrimmage quarterback Drew Spradlin found senior wide receiver Dustin Cook who made an outstanding one-handed grab for a 35-yard pass play. This astounding pass-and-catch sparked a nine play, 80-yard drive that was capped off by Wheelersburg’s newly added formation that includes moving Spradlin out wide and sophomore signal caller Tyler Lang under center. Lang called his own number in the goal-to-go situation and found the end zone to put his Pirates on the board. The Craig Stamper PAT was good to give the Burg the early 7-0 advantage.
“I thought the first drive – the first play in particular from Dustin (Cook) – really set the tone for the night,” said Wheelersburg head coach Tony Lewis of his team’s fast start that was sparked by the one-hand grab from his senior wide receiver. “I was pleased with the way we played up front this evening. I thought our line did a nice job opening up some running room for our backs, and they also gave Drew (Spradlin) time to throw it as well.”
Sandwiched in between Waverly’s first two three-and-out possessions was a Stamper 26-yard FG, and when Walls and Waverly were forced to three snaps and a punt for a third straight times Wheelersburg was ready to threaten again. With the Pirate offense starting the drive in Tiger territory, it only took a big 38-yard run from senior running back Matt Jenkins to have Wheelersburg back in the red zone. This put Spradlin back out wide and Lang back under center, and following a hard fullback dive from junior Bryan White to convert a fourth down situation, Lang took the next snap and went right behind his center Zach Frownie to find the end zone. The Stamper PAT capped off a dominate opening-quarter performance that would prove to be too deep of hole for Waverly to climb out of in this battle of playoff bound rivals.
“We just made too many mistakes early in the game,” said Waverly head coach Rusty Wright. “We had some drops that would have moved the chains and we made some other costly mistakes to kill drives and you obviously cannot do that on the road against a great team like Wheelersburg.”
Waverly did put together a solid second-quarter drive which saw Walls hookup with three different receivers (Ryan Robertson, Derek Roback, Mason Good) for first down completions; however, Waverly would self-destruct when a bubble screen took a little too long to develop resulting in a backwards pass consequently becoming a fumble that was recovered by Wheelersburg with just under three-minutes remaining in the opening half.
Spradlin and the offense went to work looking to cap off a near perfect half. The senior captain connected with Cook and J.T. Conley for key pass plays, and with less than a minute to go in the half the Pirates were inside the ten threatening to score, and again, it was time for Lang to go to work. Lang found the end zone completing the first-half hat trick and following the Stamper PAT the two teams head in intermission with the defending SOC champs trailing 24-0.
“We have just started in the past couple of weeks to use Tyler (Lang) in that situation,” said Lewis in response to using a second quarterback deep in the red zone. “He’s such a great athlete and we just feel like we have to get him the ball somehow. We are able to utilize some option down on the goal line and give our opponents a different look.”
Waverly did show some life in the third quarter, and on more than one occasion looked as if it were going to get back in the game. Following a Walls to Mason Good touchdown pass, Waverly’s defense forced a turnover on a Myles Deacon interception and a Wheelersburg three-and-out giving the Tiger offense two chances to start in Wheelersburg territory, but in both cases Walls converted multiple first down completions only to have passes intercepted in the end zone each time by Cook and Lang to prevent a Waverly comeback.
The Wheelersburg ground game took over the game’s final quarter. The Pirates used a mixture of Jenkins, Stamper, White, and Jordan Schankweiler to milk the clock and with just a few ticks under the two-minute mark it was Spradlin that got a chance to do some of his own running in the red zone as the senior stretched his big 6’5” frame across the goal line for the game’s final score. The Stamper PAT capped off the 31-7 victory.
“We had a tough go of it earlier this year,” said Lewis of his team’s three straight losses early this season to teams that have a combined 21-2 record entering week nine. “Our seniors have remained positive and they have continued to lead this football team. They have come a long way over the past couple of years. We know we still have some work to do against some really good teams, but I am proud of how these kids have continued to work hard throughout the year.”
Playing with a depleted core of running backs and without one of his favorite targets in Casey Williams, who was forced to only the defensive side of the ball due to a cast on his right hand, Walls still racked up his usual big night in yardage as the senior tallied over 200 yards and a touchdown; however, the All-Ohioan was under constant pressure from Wheelersburg’s front seven and he did throw the two costly third-quarter picks.
“We just have to get ourselves healthy,” said Wright. “We still have a lot in front of us to play for and if we can get some guys back to full strength, I really think this team will bounce back and finish the year strong.”
The final week has Wheelersburg (6-3, 4-0) staying at home to try to wrap-up the outright title against Portsmouth West and Waverly (8-1, 3-1) – who is still a near lock for the postseason and still in contention for a week 11 home game – will return home to play McDermott Northwest.