LOGAN -- Last week in opening round Ohio High School Athletic Association football playoff action, the Ridgewood High Generals used a late first half touchdown to spark a hard fought 13-10 victory over Harrison Central.
On Friday night, the tables were turned on the Generals by top-seeded Wheelersburg en route to a 42-21 victory in Division V, Region 17 semifinal action at Logan Chieftain Stadium.
RHS, which entered a decided underdog to the unbeaten Pirates who began the night with a perfect 11-0 record, quickly jumped out to a 14-0 lead with a pair of first quarter touchdowns.
Ridgewood's first touchdown of the night came with junior QB Jhett Slusser hitting senior Billy Bailey with a 15-yard TD pass early in the second quarter to pull within 14-7.
The Generals used a spirited rally to tie the contest at 14-14 with 1:04 left in the opening half with junior Trent Harrison scoring on a nine-yard TD run to convert a Wheelersburg fumble into points.
RHS freshman Keith Claxon then booted the PAT kick to pull the Generals even at 14-14.
With momentum squarely on its side, RHS appeared ready to carry that 'mo' into the locker room at the intermission...but instead it was Wheerlersburg which was able to tack on the key touchdown in the closing seconds to retake the lead at 21-14 at the break.
"That was just a devastating score we gave up to close the first half," Ridgewood coach John Slusser commented. "It was just an absolute killer. We had battled back and had all the momentum on our side when we tied the game up, and then instead of going to the locker room tied at 14-14 we were right back behind again by a touchdown."
After the ensuing kick-off, Wheelersburg took possession at its 20-yard line with 1:04 left and chose to go on the offensive instead of settling for the halftime tie by running out the clock.
Pirate QB Kyle Davis completed back-to-back long pass plays to quickly move Wheelersburg down the field to the RHS 15-yard line. Davis connected with Cameron Howard on a 43-yard play on first down, and then followed up with a 22-yard strike to Xander Carmichael to move the Pirates into the "red zone".
Following an incomplete pass, Davis took the second down play and called his number with a 12-yard run to the Generals' three-yard line to set up a first-and-goal situation for the Pirates with time winding down.
"They got by us one-on-one and their quarterback made a good throw," Slusser offered. "I thought we had decent coverage, but obviously you can't let a guy get behind you with one minute left. They made a couple big pass plays and we didn't respond"
Keaton Newsome then plowed his way into the end zone from three-yards out for the pivotal touchdown with just 12 seconds left in the opening half, and Daylor Lewis tacked on the PAT to give Wheelersburg a 21-14 lead.
To open the second half, Wheelersburg began to take control with back-to-back scores in the third period to extend the lead to 35-14 entering the fourth quarter.
Howard tacked on the first Wheelersburg TD with a three-yard run at the 8:45 mark for a 28-14 lead, with Davis then going back to the air to hook up with Tanner Bivens on a huge 66-yard touchdown pass to extend the Pirates' lead to 35-14 with 5:58 left to go in the third stanza.
"Those were two big touchdowns the put up in the third quarter," Slusser explained, "but hey, that's what good teams do and Wheelersburg is a good team."
Ridgewood continued to battle and was able to score midway through the fourth period with a 13-play, 60-yard scoring march, with Bailey scoring the TD on a two-yard run with 4:12 left in the game.
Claxon added his third PAT kick to pull RHS within 35-21.
"A lot of teams would've packed it in against a team like Wheelersburg," Slusser noted, "but it was typical of the way our kids have played all year, they battled all the way until the end and I'm very proud of them."
Wheelersburg then closed out the scoring with Howard tacking on his third rushing touchdown of the contest on a nine-yard run with 1:22 left for the final margin of 42-21.
Harrison led the Generals' ground game with 105 yards on 20 carries, with senior Brice Hammond adding 32 yards in eight attempts. Slusser hit on 5-of-12 passing attempts for 37 yards with a TD pass, with Bailey hauling in three receptions for 31 yards for the Generals.
Davis enjoyed a good night throwing the pigskin for Wheelersburg by connecting on 6-of-12 passes for 166 yards with one TD pass. Howard led the Pirates' rushing attack with 110 yards on 21 carries with three TDs.
Ridgewood closes a fine season with an impressive 10-2 mark and provided many fond memories for the Orange and Black fans.
"Tonight we are hurting, of course," Slusser offered, "but when I look back at the season, I feel it is one of the best in RHS history.. This team accomplished a lot and I'm a very, very proud coach."
Losing seven seniors to graduation this season, Slusser feels more and maybe better things are coming for his Generals.
"We have a lot of kids coming back next year," Slusser related. "We will return almost our entire offense and defensive teams...just a lot of talent coming back. I would say the Ridgewood Generals' football future looks very bright."
Wheelersburg improves to a perfect 12-0 and will meet Zane Trace, which defeated Albany Alexander 34-21 in the other Region 17 semifinal contest, on Friday.