WILLOW WOOD, Ohio – Wednesday was a long day for Symmes Valley head football coach Rusty Webb.
His day began at 6 a.m. with about a 170-mile trip north to the Wheeling area where he picked up playoff tickets for Saturday’s OHSAA Division VII, Region 27 quarterfinal high school football game between Webb’s Symmes Valley Vikings and the host Shadyside Tigers.
Webb returned to Symmes Valley High School with the Vikings’ share of playoff tickets shortly before his team’s 3 p.m. practice that afternoon.
“It was a long trip,” said Webb, whose Vikings are making the school’s first playoff appearance since 2014.
Kickoff for the game is 7 p.m. Saturday with tickets on sale for $8 plus a $3 fee for parking. Symmes Valley and Shadyside (7-3) have met in the playoffs twice before; in 1989 and more recently in 2005 when the Tigers also hosted that game and won 38-0.
“We have a very powerful region. In fact, there’s been many times that the state runner-up has come from our region,” Webb said.
Shadyside, located approximately eight miles south of Wheeling, has won two state titles and is making its 20th appearance in the playoffs. The Tigers posted a 7-3 record on the regular season and secured the No. 3 spot in the region.
Symmes Valley (9-1) was rated ninth in the OHSAA playoff ratings coming into Friday’s game against Northwest.
Webb, who made the state playoffs for the first time as an assistant coach at Sciotoville (formerly Portsmouth) East in 1991, was well versed in the Ohio rating system so that he knew a win against the Mohawks would put Symmes Valley among the region’s eight teams to qualify for the playoffs.
The No. 6-seeded Vikings celebrated on Northwest’s field both a playoff win and a Southern Ohio Conference crown as Symmes Valley fans stormed the field.
“We knew coming into the game if we won we were going to be in,” junior running back and cornerback Josh Ferguson said.
“It was a win-or-go-home game.”
The Vikings jumped to a 14-0 lead only to see the Mohawks come back.
Senior quarterback Jack Leith connected on a pass to his younger brother Luke for the score that put set the final at 22-16.
“That was really special,” Jack Leith said. “That was really special to all of our family. It was a great moment.”
“We knew that was the drive for the season. If we lost that drive we’d come home with nothing.”
When the players arrived at school Monday a fresh-painted “19” had been added to the digits on the base of the press box and locker room signifying the school’s conference titles and playoff years.
Ferguson said preparing for the playoffs seems as if it were any other week. Webb prefers it that way so his team won’t let nerves creep in before the big game.
While the playoffs are new for this squad of Vikings, for Webb is in his 29th season and used to the postseason.
“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Webb said. “We have tried to pass along our experience with how you prepare and stuff like that. We talk to our older kids with the way you’re supposed to handle things. Hopefully, they’ll listen.”
Webb said Shadyside is one of the more-disciplined teams he has seen.
“You have to be very, very balanced because they can run and pass the ball,” Webb said.
“They do all the little things. They’re usually a very experienced team so this is nothing new to them.”
In fact, Shadyside is making its 20th appearance in Ohio’s playoffs and has an all-time record of 31-20.
Symmes Valley is making the school’s 11th appearance in the playoffs and has a 3-11 all-time record since the school was founded in 1961.