Brock Netter, Staff Writer
Southern Ohio Sports Authority is presented by OhioHealth.
WHEELERSBURG — After Friday’s matchup between Jackson and Wheelersburg, Ironmen coach Andy Hall let out a big sigh of relief.
Then he greeted his dad with a huge hug, celebrated in the postgame huddle with his team and said, ‘I’ve got question. Who said we couldn’t beat ‘Burg at The ‘Burg,'” which was answered by a round of cheers from a jubilant squad.
Hall’s Ironmen scored 13 of their 20 points in Friday’s fourth quarter, rallying to erase a 9-0 deficit before pulling out a 20-12 win over the Pirates.
“We were flat-out warriors tonight. What guts we showed,” Hall said. “I did such a poor job in the first half. I tried to do too many things and got too cute, and I think it led to a lot of confusion. Our guys didn’t know what to do and that was my fault. We got back to doing what we do best in the second half, and our guys made plays.”
The final 14 minutes is when all of the action truly began to ramp up.
After Connor Estep kicked his third field goal of the game, a 41-yarder to put Wheelersburg ahead 9-0, Jackson decided enough was enough.
The Ironmen pieced together a nine-play, 83-yard drive that included two huge completions from Jacob Winters to Braydon Stapleton and Bo Landrum. The drive ended with Nolan Johnson scoring the game’s first touchdown from two yards out, cutting the deficit to 9-7.
The Pirates went right back to work with a physical running attack that looked like it was ready to answer.
‘Burg came out with back-to-back runs from Eli Jones and Derrick Lattimore that set the offense up in Jackson territory. Yet, the Ironmen’ defense held firm and made the Pirates settle again as Estep notched his fourth field goal for a 12-7 lead.
The tide, however, was just about to turn for good.
On the first play of the Ironmen’ next drive, Winters connected with Cade Wolford, who dodged a would-be tackler and sprinted 80 yards up the sideline to put them ahead 13-12.
“We talked about running that play at halftime,” Wolford said. “I got around the outside linebacker and Jacob threw a great ball that I got a hand on and took it to the end zone.”
Wheeelersburg thought it had a perfect answer on the next drive.
After an incompletion, Eli Jones threw a perfect pop pass to Caleb Arthur, who had nothing but turf in front of him. However, Jackson ripped the ball out of Arthur’s hands as he was falling and recovered the loose ball.
That shifted all momentum, but the Ironmen knew they had to capitalize on the opportunity.
Facing a fourth down, they gambled by taking a shot down field and Winters hit Jacob Wood, who snagged the ball with one hand in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown to give Jackson a 20-12 advantage.
“It’s all for my team. Everything that I do is for them,” Wood said. “I’m glad they put it on my shoulders and trust me to make that play and execute in that moment.”
All game long, Jackson had played with a ‘bend but don’t break’ defense and it needed to come through one more time. The Pirates faced fourth and a yard in Jackson territory, but Jackson’s defense managed to bullrush and make a stop to regain possession with 5:46 remaining.
“Our defense absolutely played their tails off all game long. They made stop after stop to keep us in the game and give us a chance,” Hall said. “Giving up just four field goals in a game almost never happens. But credit to our defensive staff who came up with a great game plan and challenged our guys all week to make plays.”
On two different occasions on the game-sealing drive, Jackson faced 3rd and 13, and both times, it trusted Jacob Winters to keep the ball.
Winters came through, picking up both first downs to keep the drives alive, which allowed time to run off the clock as the Ironmen slabbed icing on the victory.
“When it comes down to it, if my number is called, then there’s no excuses and no going back. You just have to get the job done,” Winters said. “The offensive line did such a great job of getting those blocks and opening some lanes for me to go through. Great two plays we executed.”
Winters finished 8-of-14 passing for 210 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Johnson had eight carries for 53 yards and a score, and Wolford and Wood each had a touchdown catch.
For Wheelersburg, Estep connected on four field goals.
Jackson opens up FAC play on Friday at McClain, while Wheelersburg enters SOC II play at Minford.
“It’s hard to get up every week for these games, especially with the schedule we play. It takes a lot out of you mentality and physically, but our guys continue to rise to the challenge every week,” Hall said. “This is only the second time in the last 20 or so years that we’ve come to Wheelersburg and left with a win, so it’s incredible and I’m so proud of them.”