Eli Jones
Derrick Webb

Derrick Webb

Derrick is SOSA's chief content coordinator and has worked for the Chillicothe Gazette, the Portsmouth Daily Times and Eleven Warriors. He's a 13-time award-winning journalist, a self-proclaimed baseball purist, a suffering Bengals fan and has never met a stranger.

Wheelersburg erases early deficit, knocks out Ironton to advance into regional final

Wheelersburg will now meet with Harvest Prep in a regional final.

Derrick Webb, Staff Writer

PORTSMOUTH — 13 weeks ago, Wheelersburg traveled to Ironton and took a 34-point loss on the chin.

Wheelersburg’s Josh Clark celebrates after the Pirates put away a 17-14 win over Ironton on Saturday at Portsmouth’s Trojan Coliseum.
CREDIT: Derrick Webb/SOSA

The Pirates never forgot that. They’ve been chewing on that season-opening loss since it happened. But after Saturday’s result, that disappointment seems like a lifetime ago.

After digging an early double-digit hole, Wheelersburg dug in and fought back to top their neighboring rival by a 17-14 score in a Division V, Region 19 semifinal at Portsmouth’s Trojan Coliseum. 

When it mattered the most, the Pirates rose the victory flag.

My oh my, how a season’s worth of experience can change the course of history.

“The difference is our heart,” Wheelersburg’s Eli Swords said. “In Week 1, we took that as a lesson. We all left there and, not only did we lose, but we were embarrassed. It was the biggest loss of our season. We got together as a team after that, we didn’t back down and tonight, it showed.”

Wheelersburg (10-3) got on the scoreboard first after forcing and recovering a fumble deep in Ironton territory. Four plays later, Braxton Sammons nailed a 28-yard field goal to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead.

But Ironton (11-2) countered with a right hook.

On their next drive, and on a 3rd & 3 snap, the Tigers handed the ball to Jaquez Keyes and the hard-running junior did the rest. With 7:22 left in the first quarter, Keyes found a hole, broke two tackles and raced 47 yards to the end zone to put Ironton ahead 7-3.

Less than a minute later, Ironton forced and recovered a fumble of its own. Then, on the first play of their third possession, Landen Wilson gave the Tigers a 14-3 lead with a weaving 19-yard touchdown run.

In a three-minute period, Wheelersburg went from a three-point lead to an 11-point hole. But the Pirates never budged.

“The thing I’m most proud of is just the patience in our kids and patience in our coaching staff,” Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward said. “They continued to battle and came through. They knew we just had to chip away. I told the kids if they do things right, good things will happen. It’s a process that continues to develop these young men.”

After a 39-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left, Ironton took possession tucked deep into its own territory. That’s when disaster struck. 


PHOTOS: Images from Wheelersburg’s win over Ironton


Wheelersburg’s Carson Williams stepped in front of a screen pass and ran the interception back to the Tigers’ two-yard line. Three plays later, Wheelersburg’s Eli Jones pile-drived his way into the end zone to cut Ironton’s lead to 14-10 — the eventual halftime score.

“We just trusted in our coaches,” Jones said. “They put the ball in our hands. We knew we were wearing them down all game and we were finally figuring it out. And we have a bunch of leaders. They’re amazing.”

The entire second half resembled a chess match between Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton and Woodward. After each team made halftime adjustments, defense took center stage.

But with less than seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Pirates grabbed momentum and flipped the script for good.

Wheelersburg’s defense got pressure on Ironton quarterback Jon Wylie, forcing an errant throw. Casey Doerr was in the right place at the right time, snagged an interception and gave his teammates a chance to take the lead.

The Pirates took advantage of that opportunity with a four-plus minute drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run from Ethan Glover, giving ‘Burg a 17-14 lead with 1:57 remaining.

On Ironton’s next drive, and its final effort to score, Swords pounded the nails in the coffin. The senior jumped a route and came down in bounds with the football, allowing his offense to proceed in victory formation to put the game on ice.

“Our guys are having fun right now,” Woodward said.” When you get a group of 15, 16, 17, 18-year-old young men together that are with each other this long of a time and keep them having fun and keep them mentally and physically pushing the limits, that’s the whole key to it. We’ve been able to do that. Our kids are having fun embracing the challenges. They wanted this opportunity tonight. I’m just so proud of them.”

While Ironton’s season comes to a screeching halt, Wheelersburg advances to a Division V, Region 19 final. The Pirates will meet with Harvest Prep at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Waverly’s Raidiger Field. The Warriors advanced to that point with a 41-0 win over Columbus Academy.

Harvest Prep will enter that matchup at 11-2 — the two losses coming to Licking Heights and Bishop Hartley.

“This will be only the third time in school history that we’ve played in a Week 14 game,” Woodward said. “We’ve played in a state championship twice. The first was in a Week 14 game. So this is a lengthy process to work through. But we’ve worked to prepare ourselves mentally and physically. Our kids are getting better and better each week.”

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