Week 10 Game Previews

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I was a bit behind the curve last week, and my sincerest apologies for that. If you got to read my predictions for Week nine, I was pleasantly surprised by the outcomes considering how close the slate projected to be. I picked Sheridan, and the Scotties made me pay for that. Outside of that miss, it was a good week of game picks. Ironton escaped another close clash with Gallia Academy, Vinton County won a defensive slugfest, and Unioto shockingly routed Paint Valley. This week, the Senators will look to secure a second consecutive SOC-II title over Wheelersburg, Nelsonville-York looks to dash Athens’ playoff hopes, Gallia Academy seeks to do the same to South Point, West Muskingum looks to secure home-field advantage with a victory over Meadowbrook, and Hillsboro aims to continue an impressive year in FAC with a final win at the expense of a desperate McClain squad. There’s just one more week between Gridiron Glory and the postseason. I hope you will stick with us on the journey! 

(8-1, 5-0) Portsmouth West @ (5-3, 4-0) Wheelersburg  

Senators @ Pirates 

Easy Verdict: Pirates steal back the SOC-II crown 

Two of the deepest backfields. The undisputed kings of the conference. A rivalry clash. I could spend a long time describing exactly how important this game is to both teams, but for these iterations of the teams, all that matters was last year’s 14-7 victory for Portsmouth West. The victory gave the Senators their first SOC-II title in 14 years, and it was just the second loss for Wheelersburg to a SOC-II opponent in a decade. Portsmouth West’s victory last year changed the narrative around the conference. Now, the Pirates get to host the title fight with revenge on their minds. How do they shape up against Portsmouth West? 

The Pirates are a three-headed monster at running back, something they have used to great effect this season. Owen Gambill, Landon Hutchinson, and Jake Darling are a deadly trio for opposing defenses. At quarterback, sophomore Braylon Rucker has taken the reigns and proven up to the task of guiding a young Wheelersburg squad. That youth is a unique aspect for the Pirates this season, and on a roster of 70 players, Wheelersburg has just 12 seniors. One of those seniors is the aforementioned Landon Hutchinson, the heart and soul of the Pirates’ defense. Hutchinson was the leading tackler for Wheelersburg last year, and he has formed an unstoppable force at linebacker with Kolton Sayers, another returning linebacker. The duo has formed a unit to suffocate opposing running attacks. The only running back that has been able to put a dent in the unit was arguably the best running back in our coverage, Cade Wolfard. Wheelersburg also has a solid receiver corps anchored by Devon Lattimore and jack-of-all-trades Creed Warren. Their offensive line is the envy of the conference with Landon Evans and Noah Clausing highlighting a stout unit.  

The most impressive part of this team has been their response to adversity. The Pirates dropped two of their first three games, but after that lackluster start, they have rallied to win four of their last five games. Their only loss in that time was to Harvest Prep, a top-five team in the entirety of Division Five. In their four wins during this hot streak, the Pirates surrendered a combined seven points. That’s seven points across four different games. Even in their losses, Wheelersburg’s defense has been a force. The Pirates have allowed over 30 points a single time, the loss to Harvest Prep, and over 20 points just two times including Harvest Prep and their loss to Jackson. That dominant unit has allowed just 12.6 points per game, and they will face their toughest in-conference test from another run-focused unit, the Portsmouth West Senators.  

The Senators are like a hydra. If you stop one running back, two more take his place. Even beyond running back, Portsmouth West is capable of running the ball effectively with their receivers and quarterback. At running back, the Senators boast the talents of Mason Parker and Anthony Bishop, a duo that has given opposing defenses fits throughout this season. Cole Tipton strengthens their ability to run at quarterback and has surprising quickness to match good downfield instincts. At receiver, Portsmouth West boasts the envy of the SOC-II. Jeffrey Bishop has been on a campaign to put the SOC-II on notice with his combination of explosive downfield plays, whether that comes in the running game or passing attack, and putting receivers on an island on defense. Against Waverly, a team that has an All-Ohio caliber receiver Kody Sword, Jeffrey Bishop had four interceptions. That includes a last-second interception to seal the Senators’ victory and keep their hopes of a SOC-II crown intact. This Portsmouth West offensive line is the definition of an unstoppable force. Anchored by all-Ohio and SOC-II lineman of the year Kade Woods, the line returns many of the starters from the previous year, including Jack Geier and Nichol Rapp. They have been imposing their will throughout the regular season, propelling the Senators to nearly 40 points per game.  

Final Analysis: It is going to be a slugfest. While the Pirates boast the best defense in the SOC-II and 13th best in Division Five, the Senators have the best offense in the SOC-II and 10th best in Division Five. As Ayden Crowley said early this week, something has to give. Because it is quite difficult to assess the actual difference between their units, it seems as if this game might come down to home-field advantage. Talking to players on both sides, they both know what energy will be present at Ed Miller Stadium. For that reason, I expect the narrow victory to go to the home team for the second time in this series.  


(7-2, 4-1) Nelsonville-York @ (5-4, 4-1) Athens  

Buckeyes @ Bulldogs 

Easy Verdict: Bulldogs end their TVC-Ohio schedule on a high note.  

The last time that I was writing about Athens, it seemed like their season was on life support. Even after it seemed like things could not get any worse, the Bulldogs entered the fourth quarter down 14-6. After that point, Athens rattled off 24 fourth-quarter points and four straight wins to breathe life back into the Bulldogs’ playoff hopes. Nelsonville-York stands in the way, and they just took the football equivalent of a gut punch. After winning seven consecutive games, and dominating the TVC during that stretch, the Buckeyes found themselves in a defensive brawl that they could not escape. Vinton County had Makhi Williams locked down all night, forcing one of the worst performances of his career. Athens was able to secure a playoff birth due to a tie-breaker over 18th-seeded Chillicothe.  

The Bulldogs have the same conference loss as the Buckeyes, falling 35-13 to Vinton County. The Vikings were the final loss of the season for Athens, and the Bulldogs’ offense has been firing on all cylinders since that rout, scoring 45 points per game. That offensive attack has been spearheaded by Alex Pero, the team’s leading rusher with 1,017 rushing yards on the season and 16 touchdowns. At quarterback, Braeden Young has captained a resurgent passing game. Young has 1,137 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season and four interceptions. Athens has a solid receiving corps to support that passing game. Kaiden Bycofski and Leo Martin have combined to give TVC-Ohio secondaries fits. Bycofski has 20 receptions for 284 yards and three touchdowns, and Martin has posted 38 catches for 501 yards and four touchdowns. This impressive unit will have to contend with the most well-rounded unit in the conference.  

Nelsonville-York relies heavily on their ground game, something that they will likely rely on more after last week’s rough performance through the air versus Vinton County. The Buckeyes can count on three runners to test the Bulldogs at the line of scrimmage. Their leading rusher is Gavin Richards, but quarterback Makhi Williams and running back Tommy Mitchell have contributed significantly to that side of the ball. Richards has also been potent in the passing game, but Landon Inman leads the way in receiving yards and touchdowns. Behind a stout linebacking corps, the Buckeyes will be keyed on Athens’ running attack all night.  

Final Analysis: The Bulldogs’ defense has been dancing through the raindrops this season with Athens surviving games when their defense surrendered 27 points twice. Despite that fact, the book is out on how to counter the Buckeyes, and Nelsonville-York does not have the same stakes that the Bulldogs do. Athens needs this victory to earn their first victory over the Buckeyes since 2018. The Buckeyes are already dancing, so I expect Athens to be firing out of the gate to secure a higher seed in Region 11.  


(7-2, 4-2) Gallia Academy @ (5-4, 3-3) South Point  

Blue Devils @ Pointers 

Easy Verdict: Gallia Academy puts South Point’s playoff hopes in jeopardy  

Speaking of playoff droughts, the Pointers have been working on a streak that will live in infamy. South Point has not made the playoffs since, excluding their COVID year, 1991. That 32-year streak is the longest streak in OVC, and the Pointers find themselves in control of their own destiny. With a win, South Point secures their playoff birth and can even grab the eighth seed in Region 19. With a loss, the Pointers can fall from the 11th seed all the way out of the playoffs. Unfortunately for South Point, securing their path into the playoffs comes against the highest caliber of the OVC. The Pointers have not defeated the Blue Devils since 1996, yet another streak of futility for South Point. If there was ever a time for the Pointers to jump this monumental hurdle, it would be with this squad.  

South Point has made short work of the struggling teams of the OVC, defeating Coal Grove by a score of 33-20, routing Rock Hill 53-20, and taking care of business against Chesapeake 38-20. The Pointers have put their offense on the massive shoulders of Eli Wilburn and Blaine Freeman who have flattened opponents in the running game. That performance was on full display against Chesapeake. Freeman finished the night with 97 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns, and Wilburn thrashed the Tigers with 17 carries, 247 yards and four touchdowns. Corey Oztenberger and Owen Fredrick have contributed to the ground game as well, and all four of the running backs have contributed to the Pointers’ limited passing game. Ethan Hunt has been a limited but efficient passer for South Point.  

I have recapped the strength of this Gallia Academy team several times, but it is worth mentioning how greatly the two squads contrast. The Blue Devils last missed the playoffs in 2017, and they can greatly improve their playoff positioning in Region 15 with a win and some help ahead of them. Bray Rathburn has been a superb passer, Hunter Shamblin has been his favorite target and Hudson Shamblin has dominated opponents on the ground. That trio has left opponents flummoxed, and Gallia Academy’s only losses have come at the hands of the best team in Division Five, Ironton, and Fairland by just five points. That loss against Ironton was just by ten points, and while that is not quite a nail-biter, the Tigers’ reputation as top dogs back up the Blue Devils’ reputation in the OVC.  

Final Analysis: Gallia Academy has the star power, but the Pointers have desperation on their side. South Point might shock the Blue Devils out of the gate, yet I still believe in Gallia Academy. The Pointers will acquit themselves admirably; however, it will be just short of clinching a playoff berth. I hope South Point will be able to get help from the rest of Region 19.  


(4-5, 1-3) Meadowbrook @ (8-1, 4-0) West Muskingum 

Colts @ Tornadoes 

Easy Verdict: West Muskingum clinches home playoff game 

Through five weeks, these two squads were in the same position as both were at 4-1, but since Week Six, there could not be any more divergent squads. The Tornadoes have carved through the MVL Small-School Division with the exception of last week’s scare against Coshocton. That 57-56 firework display was the highest-scoring game for the Tornadoes since 1975 against River View. It had been quite a minute since the West Muskingum faithful had seen that type of performance, and the same could be said for this season. The Tornadoes have reclaimed the MVL Small-School Division after narrowly losing to New Lexington last year, and West Muskingum has turned their program into a burgeoning powerhouse in the conference and Division Five. Meadowbrook has experienced those heights recently, winning four playoff games between 2020-21. The Colts will need some help to make the postseason this year as they currently find themselves on the outside looking in. Meadowbrook currently sits at the 21st seed in Region 19, and while it would be a tall task to get that help, the most difficult part might be defeating the Tornadoes.  

West Muskingum is built around the foundational pillar of Rashid Sesay as a running back. The Tornadoes rusher, through eight weeks, has been on a historic pace in terms of finding the endzone. Sesay has totaled over 1,500 total yards and 33 touchdowns. He has been a part of a prolific running attack with Jake Anton. The passing attack has been spearheaded by the aforementioned Jake Anton who has just over 1,000 yards, 10 touchdowns, and four interceptions. Sesay has been Anton’s favorite target, but Conner Hill and Carter Smith have been excellent receivers to complement the passing attack. Anton leads the Tornadoes in interceptions, and he is tied for second place for interceptions in the conference. This offense has thrashed their conference opponents, finishing third behind the MVL Big-Schools powerhouses Sheridan and Tri-Valley. West Muskingum has also proven to be a solid defensive unit, being fourth in the conference in total yards allowed.  

Meadowbrook has also built the basis of their offensive philosophy around the run game. Daylin Rivera has put together a litany of impressive performances, but the Colts have struggled to find that form from early in the season. Week Nine was the best performance for Meadowbrook as they put together a 26-point game, but Morgan countered their efforts with 69 points of their own. From Weeks Six to Eight, Meadowbrook scored just 13 points per game, and they fell all the way to six points when they encountered the stout defense of John Glenn. The Colts will need to regain that form.  

Final Analysis: Outside of a rough outing against the Coshocton offense last week, West Muskingum has hardly skipped a beat through the course of their six-game winning streak. The Tornadoes are the class of the conference on offense, and Meadowbrook has been reeling over their four-game losing streak. It will be West Muskingum who walks away with the victory.  


(5-4, 3-1) Hillsboro @ (5-4, 1-3) McClain 

Indians @ Tigers 

Easy Verdict: Hillsboro knocks McClain out of the playoff 

The Tigers look to make history. Excluding their bid in the COVID year, McClain has never cracked the postseason. That looked like a real possibility early in the season, as the Tigers won four of their first five games. Once McClain entered the heart of their conference schedule, the Tigers dropped three of their next four to bring their season to a head at home against Hillsboro. Hillsboro has experienced the opposite trajectory to McClain, dropping three of their first four games, but since that moment, Hillsboro has won four of their next five games with their only loss coming courtesy of FAC top dog Jackson. McClain will have to reverse the fortunes of both teams in order to make history.  

Hillsboro and McClain boast two of the best running backs in the FAC. Starting with Hillsboro, Austin Barrett epitomizes the phrase men amongst boys. After an All-Ohio honorable mention, Barrett has been on a mission to earn that spot in this campaign, but he has proven to be an invaluable asset on the defensive side of the ball as well. Jeven Hochstuhl has been an integral piece of that running game, functioning as an important change-of-pace running back. That thunder-and-lightning duo will have to match the ultimate rumbling back in the FAC. Andrew Potts has been an imposing force, functioning in a similar capacity to Barrett. Potts has been lauded for his rumbling running style, but I would be remiss to not mention his abilities as a linebacker. Both running backs have surpassed 1,000 yards, but Barrett is the leading rusher. He has totaled over 1,700 yards according to the Highland County Press. Despite a disappointing 4-7 campaign last year, Hillsboro defeated the Tigers 42-21 to crack the playoffs.  

Final Analysis: McClain has been in a tailspin for the past few weeks, and Hillsboro has been riding high on their way to the playoffs. The Tigers will be left out of the playoffs, but this season represents a major milestone for McClain. There is no shame for the Tigers, win or lose. McClain is on the right path.