The Pirates are one game away from a perfect season and they are one game away from claiming the outright SOC II championship. However, that one game is against a rival where anything can happen.
“It’s all about focus,” Pirates coach Rob Woodward said. “Focus on the goals. Focus on what we set out to accomplish in the very beginning, which was to work to compete for that conference championship.”
That rival is West (4-5, 2-1) who is looking to steal a win at Ed Miller Stadium and claim a share of the SOC II crown. The Senators are also still alive in the playoff race (mathematically) but postseason aspirations are an after thought for a team looking to end an undefeated streak and stake claim to a conference crown.
“We’re trying to finish strong,” Senators coach Ben Johnson said. “We’ve won three out of our last four games. It’s been a lot better the second half of the year. And we’ve still got a chance to share the SOC and even an outside chance to get enough points to sneak into the playoffs.
“We’re highly motivated, and trying to continue to get better and keep improving, and hopefully we can go out and play the best game that we’ve had so far, and see what happens.”
Wheelersburg (9-0, 3-0) is also aware of the Senators’ situation.
“We understand the implications that West has a possibility at the playoffs,” Woodward said. “West has a shot at the SOC II title. Our kids recognize that. They understand that. The thing I love about our football players is they show the passion for the game of football. They show it the respect it deserves every day when they come out and practice.”
The Pirates have been the class of southern Ohio this season, scoring 354 points while only allowing 50 points in nine contests. Wheelersburg hasn’t allowed more than 13 points in a single game and that came a week ago against archival Valley.
“They’ve just got a lot of talent all over the field in all phases,” Johnson said. “They do a lot of different things offensively. They can throw the ball if they need too, but they can also lineup in a double-tight full house and run it down your throat if they need too.
“On defense, I think two touchdowns is the most they’ve given up all year. They’ve just been dominant. It starts up front on both sides of the ball. They’ve got outstanding lineman and their skilled guys are very talented. They’re just a great overall team.”
Facing a balanced Pirate offensive attack, West will focus on stopping the run then limiting the big plays in the passing game.
“You start with stopping the run because a team can control the game if they are running the ball,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to start with that, we’ve got to slow down the run. We’ve done pretty well with that all year, even against some pretty good opponents, but our pass defense as kind of been our Achilles heel. But we have improved …
“You start with the run and then try not to give up big plays in the passing game.”
West has been opportunistic on defense the last two games, recording five interceptions while also achieving it’s best offensive performances of the season.
“We’ve been improving,” Johnson said. “We’ve put up our two highest point totals the last two weeks, so we’re starting to put something’s together. We finally got some continuity with some of our guys. For several weeks, we were replacing different guys because of injuries. The last couple of weeks, we were able to put the same lineup out there for a couple of games in a row.”
Woodward knows the Senator offense will run through tailback Job Swords.
“They’ve done a very good job of getting (Swords) the ball,” Woodward said. “Running the football is something I know they’ve always hung their hat on. Our focus is to recognize all the different players they’ve got in different positions and to put our players in the best possible position to be successful.”
After bottling up an explosive Indian offense last week, Woodward isn’t worried about a possible let down from his squad.
“Our kids have played nine regular-season games and two scrimmages before that at a very psychical, heightened level,” Woodward said. “They have had a letdown at any point in time. I know our senior leadership will not allow that … “
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday night at Ed Miller Stadium.
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.