WAVERLY, Ohio — More in common than you realize.
The Gallia Academy football program will begin its 12th playoff run in school history this Saturday night when the sixth seeded Blue Devils take on third seeded Waverly at historic Raidiger Field in a Division IV, Region 15 quarterfinal contest in Pike County.
The visiting Blue Devils (9-1) will be making their second consecutive postseason appearance against a Waverly (8-2) program that is making its fourth consecutive playoff appearance, as well as the program’s eighth playoff run in school history.
WHS is 3-7 all-time in playoff contests, and the Orange and Black haven’t won a postseason contest since defeating Union Local 27-21 in the opening round of the 2007 playoffs.
That win, along with a 26-20 overtime decision over Jackson in the first round of the 2006 postseason, are the only victories that Waverly has ever celebrated at Raidiger Field.
The Tigers also went 1-1 in a pair of road contests during their inaugural playoff season back in 1989.
Gallia Academy, on the other hand, is 6-11 all-time in its previous 11 postseason runs — which dates back to the 1985 campaign. The Blue Devils have also won at least one postseason game in three of their last four playoff appearances.
GAHS last won a playoff game in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs with a 37-35 decision over Archbishop McNicholas at Memorial Field. The Blue Devils last opened the playoffs with a road win back in 2006 following a 14-9 decision at Fairfield Union.
Both teams enter Saturday’s matchup averaging exactly 35.3 points per game offensively. The Blue Devils are outscoring opponents by a 353-173 overall margin, while the Tigers have outscored the opposition by a 353-208 clip.
Gallia Academy has posted three shutout victories this season and has also been shutout once. Waverly has not recorded a defensive shutout this year and has also scored in all 10 of its regular season outings.
Both teams went 4-1 at home this year, with WHS dropping a 41-14 decision to Unioto while GAHS fell 52-0 against visiting Ironton. The Tigers also dropped a 42-28 decision at Wheelersburg late in the regular season.
Although some of the pieces are quite different, third year GAHS coach Alex Penrod believes that Saturday night’s contest could end up looking like a reflection in one big mirror.
And, as he noted, it just heightens the amount of focus that falls on being fundamental.
“There are a lot of similarities between us and Waverly. They want to push the tempo offensively and be aggressive defensively, same as what we want to do. Both teams have very good kickers and special team units. It’s a special game because both teams are similarly matched on paper and you have two communities that really live for high school football,” Penrod said. “I think it’s a special matchup because, no matter what, one team from southeast Ohio is moving on to Week 12 in this region. I also think that both fan bases are going to provide a truly unique environment there on Saturday. It’s really going to come down to who makes more plays over the course of four quarters.”
Waverly has outgained opponents by a 3,999-3,167 overall margin in total yards of offense, which includes a balanced attack that churns out 223.4 rushing yards and 176.5 passing yards per contest. The hosts are also allowing 205.8 rushing yards and 110.9 passing yards as a defensive per outing.
The Tigers are plus-7 in turnover differential on the season and have converted 27-of-40 chances in the red zone this season, with roughly 60 percent of those drives (24) resulting in touchdowns.
WHS has outscored opponents by a sizable 126-35 margin in the first quarter this fall, as well as holding point advantages in the other three quarters as well.
Senior Payton Shoemaker (5-foot-9, 155 pounds) leads the offensive attack with 2,039 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns on 258 carries, but has only seven catches for 74 yards — sixth-best among the wideouts.
Senior Hunter Ward (5-9, 145) is next on the ground with 206 yards and two scores on 16 carries.
Junior quarterback Haydn’ Shanks (6-3, 190) has completed 115-of-185 pass attempts for 1,652 yards, including 16 touchdowns to go with just three interceptions.
Sophomore tight end/receiver Will Futhey (6-5, 195) is one of four WHS wideouts with at least double-digit catches and over 100 yards on the season, leading the way with 43 grabs for 872 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Junior Phoenix Wolfe (6-3, 175) is next with 36 catches for 356 yards and a score. Freshman Penn Morrison (6-1, 160) also has 14 catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns.
Senior kicker Greyson Deiner (6-3, 155) has converted 4-of-7 field goal attempts this year — including a season-long 39-yarder against Lucasville Valley — and is 41-of-44 on point-after tries. Diener also has 15 punts for an average of 32.7 yards, including three inside the 20-yard line.
Junior linebacker Zeke Brown (6-3, 200) leads the Waverly defense with 62.5 tackles, with fellow linebackers J.T. Barnett (5-10, 170) and Wyatt Crabtree (6-2, 165) following close behind with 55 and 50.5 stops respectively.
Barnett leads WHS with 15 tackles for loss and four sacks. Shoemaker and Morrison have also picked off four passes apiece.
“Waverly is simple in what they do … but they are also very good at what they do. They are always trying to gain leverage on you by putting your team in bad positions. They have some special athletes that can beat you in a variety of ways, both inside and out. It’s going to be a tough task for our kids, no doubt,” Penrod said. “I think it’s going to come down to who makes more defensive stops, or maybe even the last defensive stop. It’s has the potential to be one of those games and it’s going to take everybody doing their part to get out of there on top.”
Gallia Academy has outgained opponents by a 3,486-2,447 margin in total yards of offense, including a sizable 2,326-1,498 advantage in the rushing category.
The guests are averaging 232.6 rushing yards and 116 passing yards per game and are allowing 149.8 rushing yards and 94.9 passing yards per contest. The Blue Devils are also plus-7 in turnover differential this fall.
Penrod acknowledges that all of the offseason work, as well as the work put in during the regular season, is paying off right now for his troops.
But, as the 2018 Ohio Division IV Coach of the Year mentioned, Saturday is not about anything that has happened before. It will be all about the here and now.
“This was one of our goals at the beginning of the season, to get back to the playoffs … and here we are,” Penrod said. “We are blessed to have young men that have worked hard for this moment and we have some experience in this type of atmosphere from last year, so it is an exciting time for us as we try to restore some of the glory back to our program. Our kids are excited for the moment, but now it’s about continuing the season … not making the playoffs. The next goal is making it to Week 12 … and that starts Saturday night.”
Kickoff at Raidiger Field is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday evening.
Sports editor Julie Billings of the Pike County News Watchman contributed to this report.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.