Jackson Falls to Wheelersburg in Battle of Unbeatens

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Alumni Stadium was rocking on Friday night.

The crowd packed the stadium to its capacity well before kickoff for a chance to see the Jackson Ironmen host the Wheelersburg Pirates in a matchup of Southeastern Ohio football powerhouses.

For at least one half, the Jackson (4-1) fans believed that 2017 could change the course of a rivalry that has been dominated by Wheelersburg (5-0) since its beginnings in 2012.

Behind a great showing from the Iron Curtain defense, the Ironmen went into halftime down just seven, but the offensive might of the Pirates prevailed in the second half with Wheelersburg pulling away to win 38-14 to win its 30th consecutive regular season game.

Both teams started the game with three and outs on first possession. Wheelersburg picked up the game’s first first down midway through the first quarter on a fourth down conversion at midfield. The Pirates would cap off that drive five plays later when Xander Charmichael punched it in from three yards out to give Wheelersburg a 7-0 lead with just over five minutes to play in the first.

The Ironmen drove the ball down the field on their ensuing possession, but turned the ball over on downs in the redzone. However, on the first play of the Pirates next possession, the Jackson defense forced a fumble and took over right where their last drive ended.

Four plays later Caleb Storms powered into the endzone to tie the game at seven two minutes into the second quarter.

Wheelersburg responded with a ten play, 80-yard drive that ended with the Pirates best QB-WR connection finding the endzone. Tanner Holden hauled in an eight-yard touchdown pass from Trent Salyers. The touchdown was their 13th connection for six in the first five games of the season.

After the Ironmen had their next possession fizzle out and were forced to punt, Wheelersburg was able to capitalize on Jackson’s biggest mistake of the night.

Jackson punter Michael Benson mishandled a low snap and was late to get off a punt attempt, giving Wheelersburg’s Eli Ruby enough time to bust through the line and take the ball off Benson’s foot.

Ruby was able to run into the endzone to make the Pirate lead 21-7 with 4:27 to play in the second.

The Ironmen would not go quietly however.

On the first play of their next drive, Blake McCoy took a toss sweep around the left end, but pulled back to pass at the last minute. He hit a streaking Peyton Speakman in stride for a 76-yard touchdown to draw the Ironmen back within seven. The 21-14 Pirate lead would stand until the half.

The second half was all Wheelersburg.

Salyers pushed the lead back to 14 points with his legs early in the third quarter, scoring on a 12-yard run. Jalen Miller extended the lead to 31-14 five minutes later when he connected on a 23-yard field goal and Evan Horsley scored on a one-yard touchdown run with 9:34 to play in the game to get the score to get to the eventual final of 38-14

Salyers led the way for Wheelersburg in the air and on the ground. The junior quarterback finished the game with 103 rushing yards and a score on just nine carries while throwing for 190 yards and a score. Holden finished the game with 98 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Jackson was able to stay in the game in the first half thanks to its defense. They held the Pirates to just 172 yards in the first half while their offense racked up 182. However in the second half, the Ironmen were overwhelmed. Wheelersburg outgained the Ironmen 262-56 on their way to a 24-point win.

McCoy was hemmed in for the first time in 2017, rushing for just 68 yards on 15 attempts. The senior was also held out of the endzone. Storms tried to pick up some of the slack in the Jackson rushing attack, but was also held in check, rushing for just 59 yards.

Jackson will have a chance to bounce back next Friday when they travel to face Washington Court House (2-3) in both team’s Frontier Athletic Conference opener.