Ironton hosts Wheelersburg
IRONTON -- When putting together an opening night defensive game plan, Ironton football coach Mark Vass drilled one Wheelersburg player's number and name into the minds of his players.
Wheelersburg visits Ironton for a Friday, 7:30 p.m., game in Tanks Memorial Stadium and Wheelersburg No. 12, quarterback Eddie Miller, is the focus. As the senior goes, so goes the offense for the Pirates.
"It all starts with their quarterback," Vass said. "Eddie Miller's one of the best we'll face this year."
The showdown between U.S. 52 rivals is one of the headliners on opening weekend in the Buckeye state.
"There's tradition," Vass said. "It's the first game and both sides are excited. It's two good programs ready to go at it. The atmosphere is something else. We'll find out what we're made of early on."
The Fighting Tigers have won four straight in the series for a 17-5 lead overall. Wheelersburg's last win came in 2008, 23-22 at home. However, Vass knows the experience the Pirates have and the youth Ironton has is cause for concern.
"We're young and still learning," Vass said. "Wheelersburg's got experience. They've got good skill kids and they're bigger up front. That's a challenge for any defense."
Miller is one of seven starters back on Wheelersburg's explosive offense. A year ago, the Pirates set school records for yards per game (378.4), passing yards (2,251), total receptions (178) and receiving TDs (24). Miller's numbers: total offense, 3,109; passing yards, 2,208; TDs, 24; rushing yards, 901; TDs, 15. He rushed for 93 yards and three scores and threw for 218 yards and one TD in the 32-27 loss to Ironton in the 2012 opener at home.
Wheelersburg went 8-3 in 2012 and made the Ohio Division V playoffs for the 24th time in school history.
On the receiving end of Miller's passes are seniors Tyler Claxon and Dylan Miller. Claxon caught a school-record 67 passes for 880 yards and 10 TDs last season. Miller had 59 receptions for 751 yards and nine scores.
On defense, the Pirates have eight starters back. Senior end Cam Parsley led the charge with 73 tackles and 10 sacks in 2012.
Ironton traveled to Coal Grove last week for its final scrimmage. On its opening drive, Coal Grove went 65 yards, all runs, for a score and ran 7:23 off the clock.
"Coal Grove's big and physical up front," Vass said. "We're young and getting our assignments down. We're getting better every week."
The Fighting Tigers capitalized on two big plays to pull even with the Hornets at halftime. The first was a 69-yard TD run by sophomore Jake Long in the first period and a long TD pass from Tristan Cox to Long in the second.
"Jake's got talent and speed," Vass said. "He's done a good job so far. The offense is starting to click. We have to take care of the ball."
Adam Webb (315 pounds) and Isaac Sherman (300) lead the Fighting Tigers up front at tackles. On defense, two key players are end Joe Bowling and linebacker Jeremy Bodmer.
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Tanks Memorial Stadium
Radio: WIRO 1230-AM, WTCR 1420-AM