The Waverly Tigers gave themselves a chance Friday night.
With the undefeated Wheelersburg Pirates coming to face the undefeated Tigers at Raidiger Field, the outcome of the football game wasn’t determined until the final minutes. It ultimately ended in a defeat for the home team, as the Tigers lost 24-13, but they left the field as winners in the eyes of their fans. The Tigers walked off the field to the applause of the crowd, many of whom were telling them they were proud of them and to hold their heads high.
“The excitement is in the air. I told our guys that we have a lot to be proud of,” said Waverly coach Chris Crabtree. “We wanted to go out and play for our community and our town. Against good teams, you can’t leave opportunities on the field and you can’t turn the ball over. Unfortunately, we had a few of those. The kids fought through some adversity and fought back..”
The contest lived up to its billing for much of the way. The Tigers were close on many occasions to stealing the momentum, but the Pirates were able to make the plays to negate them. Waverly ultimately lost the turnover battle 3-1. Wheelersburg was able to recover its only fumble.
The defenses for both teams had their way on the opening drives. Wheelersburg drove to the 30-yard line before stalling out. On first down, Waverly linebacker Drew Harris provided a tackle for a loss of four yards. Two plays later, a Pirate fumble forced by Waverly’s Garrett Moore pushed them back farther. Wheelersburg ultimately recovered the fumble. However, Mack Dyer’s pass to the end zone fell incomplete.
The Tigers responded by driving all the way to their own 23-yard line with Waverly quarterback Clayton Howell completing passes to Cade Marquez and Garrett Moore. Marquez picked up 14 on the first pass play. Then first reception by Moore gained 29 yards and put Waverly in Wheelersburg territory. He was limited to a yard on the next play. The drive stalled there. After two incomplete passes, Easton Wolf had a fourth-down catch, but couldn’t gain enough yards for the first down, handing the ball back on the Wheelersburg 19-yard line with 7:20 left in the first quarter.
The Pirates scored on their next drive, keeping the ball on the ground and using nearly four minutes of clock. Dyer capped the drive by going to the air and connecting with Tanner Bivens from nine yards out. Daylor Lewis connected on the kick to make it 7-0 with 2:42 left in the opening quarter.
The Tigers looked to answer, but could only pick up one first down on the drive with a 10-yard rush from Harris. He picked up another six with a second-down run. However, Howell was sacked for a 14-yard loss on third down, forcing the punt.
Wheelersburg’s offense didn’t keep the ball for long. Wolf made a leaping interception along the Pirate sideline to get the ball back for the Tigers early in the second quarter.
The Tigers began the drive on their own 42-yard line. Harris ran for 13 yards to get into Wheelersburg territory. Howell then connected with Garrett Moore, who made it 19 yards before having the ball knocked away by Pirate Taylor Doerr. The Pirates started their next drive on their own 26-yard line.
Wheelersburg drove all the way to the Waverly 12-yard line where the Tigers stiffened their defense. Harris provided another tackle for a loss of four yards. Dyer’s second down pass was incomplete. Moore deflected a potential touchdown pass on third and 12, holding the Pirates to a field goal. Lewis connected on the 34-yard kick to make the lead 10-0 with seven minutes left in the half.
Waverly had a quick answer this time. On the fourth play of the drive, Harris broke a 65-yard touchdown run by weaving his way around defenders to an open lane. Darby Teeters connected on the kick, pulling Waverly within three with 5:55 left in the half, 10-7.
The Pirates put together a final scoring drive to end the half. Wheelersburg mixed runs between four different backs. Dyer ultimately capped the 12-play 73-yard drive with a one-yard keeper. Lewis connected on the point-after to make the lead 10 again, 17-7.
It didn’t take long for the Tigers to answer. Waverly had the ball to start the third quarter and wasted little time. Harris had three carries that gained 21 yards and put Waverly at midfield. On the next handoff, Drew Kritzwiser did the rest. Kritzwiser made a couple of quick moves and broke a 49-yard run to the end zone, making the score 17-13 just one minute and three seconds into the half.
From there, it was a battle of field position and who could get the edge. Waverly’s defense provided a fourth-down stop on Wheelersburg’s next drive, using key tackles from Lummer, Harris, Moore, Wolf and Johnny Thompson. Moore provided a tackle for loss on third down. Harris and Lummer combined for the fourth-down tackle, giving the ball back to the Waverly offense on the Tigers’ 40-yard line.
Offensively, the Tigers couldn’t get anything going and had to punt the ball back to the Pirates. Once again, the Waverly defense was up to the task, limiting the Pirates to a 3-and-out with Xander Carmichael punting the ball back to Waverly.
The Tigers started moving the ball with the passing game. Waverly pushed to midfield, only to see a tipped pass come down in the hands of Pirate Keaton Newsome. Wheelersburg took over on offense, but once again, the Tigers had an answer.
Waverly gave up just one first down on the drive before forcing a punt situation on fourth-and-10. The Pirates attempted a fake, only to see the Waverly defense sniff it out with Garrett Moore and Tate Evans making the tackle to get the ball back for Waverly with 2:16 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers started the drive on their own 43-yard line and began to move the ball with a mix of runs from Harris and Kritzwiser. Kayne Jordan also secured a pass from Howell for a gain of 10 yards midway through the drive. Waverly pushed all the way to the Wheelersburg 8-yard line. Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, Harris took the ball all the way to the one-yard line. Harris looked to get the direct snap on the next play, but the snap was off-line and Harris had to recover it at the 13-yard line. On the next play, he was tackled for a loss of one yard. Howell’s fourth-down pass intended for Cade Marquez was incomplete after Marquez tripped from being tangled with a Wheelersburg defender. The Pirates took over on downs with 10:03 left in regulation.
“We had an opportunity to score late and got into a bad situation there,” said Crabtree. “I probably could have made a better decision on the call there. But we had confidence in our guys and it just didn’t happen there.”
With the clock in their favor, Wheelersburg worked the ball up the field by mixing runs between Dyer, Carmichael, Newsome and Bivens. Carmichael eventually capped the 13-play, 84-yard drive with a one yard run. Lewis’ kick made the lead 24-13. Wheelersburg had used 7:17 of clock, leaving Waverly with 2:51 to try and answer.
Waverly’s offense worked quickly with Howell completing multiple passes to Jordan and Tariq Gilbert. The final pass to Gilbert covered 19 yards and had Waverly on Wheelersburg’s 21-yard line. The next pass was picked off by Doerr in the end zone, ultimately sealing the game for the Pirates.
“You don’t want to have to lose to learn, but this is a great learning experience for our guys to be able to fight through this type of game. Most of our kids haven’t been in a game of this caliber and this magnitude,” said Crabtree. “We have to move on now. We have to take the next few weeks and play hard.”
Wheelersburg finished with 438 yards of offense, while the Tigers had 374. Harris finished with 19 carries for 153 rushing yards and a touchdown. Kritzwiser added seven carries for 71 yards and a touchdown.
“Offensively, our guys up front are as good as any we’ve had here in a long time with Jordan Belt, Kaleb Anderson and Gunnar Robinson. Macayne Bock was also out there tonight and Tariq Gilbert is our tight end.
“I’m proud of my staff. We had a great game plan and great preparation. The kids were prepared,” said Crabtree. “It is never any fun to come up on the losing end. We just need to refocus and get back at it.”
Waverly (6-1) will remain home this week and will face the Portsmouth West Senators. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Raidiger Field.