CHILLICOTHE — Xander Carmichael set up the Wheelersburg High School football team for a trip to its second state semifinal in three seasons.
On the second play from scrimmage, Carmichael’s interception gave the top-seeded Pirates early momentum in a 34-7 win over third-seeded Johnstown-Monroe on Nov. 17 in the Division V, Region 19 final.
Ranked third in the final state poll, the Pirates improved to 13-0 and will play Middletown Madison in a state semifinal Nov. 24 at Chillicothe. Madison (11-2) defeated previously unbeaten West Jefferson 42-7 on Nov. 17.
Carmichael, a senior linebacker, had a hunch that a pass would be on its way. Running back Bryce Barasch took the pitch and lofted up a pass on second-and 9 into the waiting arms of Carmichael as Wheelersburg took over at the Johnnies’ 31-yard line.
“I dropped back in coverage and Evan Dahm rushed (Barasch) and made him throw too soon,” Carmichael said. “I just ran in and caught it to get the ball for us.
“We have a good running and passing game, but we played great on defense as well. We played tough, aggressive defense, and that’s helped make us successful.”
The interception set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Dominic Reyes, who finished with 94 yards on 17 carries.
Defensive back Avery Donini pounced on a fumbled exchange by Johnstown quarterback Caden Calhoun at the Wheelersburg 16-yard line only minutes into the second quarter. It was the only scoring threat by the Johnnies until the fourth quarter.
Nine plays later, Tanner Holden caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trent Salyers to give Wheelersburg a 21-0 lead with 7 minutes, 38 seconds left in the first half.
The two also hooked up on a 10-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Salyers completed 16 of 22 passes for 245 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Holden had seven receptions for 134 yards.
“We made the plays when we had to on both sides of the ball,” Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward said. “We would get 1-2-3 hats to the ball against a good running football team.”
Barasch had 126 yards rushing on 15 carries for the Johnnies, who scored in the fourth quarter when Jared Orders caught an 18-yard pass from Jason Walters.
“You can’t have turnovers at this level against a team like that,” Johnstown coach Mike Carter said. “We were down, but our kids never quit. They kept playing for each other.”
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final JOHNSTOWN-MONROE 0 0 0 7 7 WHEELERSBURG
14 14 0 6 34
W—Reyes 5 run (Miller kick)
W—Holden 10 pass from Salyers (Miller kick)
W—Holden 16 pass from Salyers (Miller kick)
W—Horsley 1 run (Miller kick)
W—Matthews 12 run (kick failed)
J—Orders 18 pass from Walters (Jenney kick)