PDT Sports Editor
A new season brings hope and a renewed sense of optimism, but a new campaign is also a good time to exact revenge on “bad” losses the team might have suffered during the previous year.
During the opening contest for Wheelersburg in 2013, the Pirates hope revenge will be on their side as they travel to Tank Stadium to square off against Ironton.
“Our defense played well last year,” Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward said. “We had a break down on one series (defensively) and they returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.”
Last season, with a senior-loaded squad, the Fighting Tigers visited newly-renovated Ed Miller Stadium and left with a 32-27 victory.
“We had break downs last year that cost us,” Woodward said.
Ironton lost 21 seniors after last season but Woodward is well aware of the returning talent.
“They’ve got two senior tackles back,” Woodward said. “They are two big guys who excel at coming off the ball. They have a sophomore running back (Jake) Long who has a lot of speed. He can turn the tables quickly, he makes big plays on special teams.”
Woodward said special teams could play the deciding factor in the outcome of tonight’s game.
“We want to be successful on special teams,” Woodward said. “If we can put ourselves in good field position, that’s a major step.”
With so many unknown variables on Ironton’s sidelines, Wheelersburg’s coaching staff is preparing for everything.
“They want to try to pound the ball behind the tackles,” Woodward said. “They have a big fullback. They are probably going to run the fullback in the ‘C’ gap and run Long outside. We are going to try to be prepared. With so many seniors lost, we are going to resort back to their coaching style.”
The Pirates return most of their starters, a group that guided Wheelerburg to a 9-2 campaign in 2012. For Ironton’s coach Mark Vass said tonight will be a good test for his team.
“The scrimmage games are over. We play for keeps from here on out and it’s going to be a challenge for our young guys,” Vass said. “Wheelersburg is one of the better teams we’ll play, and that’s saying something because we have such a tough schedule. They have size, speed and a lot of experience and those are all things you can’t teach.”
Wheelersburg is lead by senior quarterback Eddie Miller, who is the reigning Division V Southeast District Offensive Player of the Year.
In last year’s game against Ironton, Miller went 22-for-31 for 199 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. On the ground, Miller led the way with 21 carries for 108 yards and three scores in the losing effort.
“Miller makes a lot of decisions in this offense,” Woodward said. “We just try to guide him.”
Helping Miller orchestrate the Pirates offense will be Dylan Miller and Tyler Claxon. Both are running backs by trade, but line up on the outside the majority of the time. In 2012, Dylan Miller led the team with 67 receptions while Claxon ranked second with 59 catches.
Woodward has identified three areas that will be crucial for the Pirates success — win the turnover margin, play sound special teams and out-hit the opponent.
During the pregame speech, Woodward has a simple message for his team.
“Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, have fun and play relaxed,” Woodward said.
The Ironton Tribune contributed to this report.
Chris Slone can be reached at 353-1301, ext 298, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking sports news, follow Chris on Twitter @crslone.