Fighting Tigers tangle in grudge match with Tomcats

Ashland KY vs Ironton



 Photo by Roger Trammell Exphotos & Restoration


IRONTON – Indeed, it’s always good to pass a road test.

This week, the undefeated Ironton Fighting Tigers are preparing to take their first such for this year.

However, despite what some educated observers – and even Internet message board posters – may suggest, Friday night’s exam isn’t at all easy.

In fact, it is what many believe to be the Fighting Tigers’ most difficult challenge to date – a short trek across the Ohio River into Kentucky and the annual week-four grudge match with arch-rival Ashland.

Ironton is 3-0 while the host Tomcats are 3-1, but Ashland is coming off a heartbreaking 34-33 overtime defeat at Wheelersburg – and likely is angry after that outcome.

The Fighting Tigers try to avoid an Ashland trip-up like what Wheelersburg did to the Tomcats, as kickoff inside Ashland’s Putnam Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m.

It’s a highly-touted affair involving neighboring rivals, and there are already plenty of subplots as the Internet chatter increases – and even intensifies.

What could have been another storyline entering Friday evaporated, though, as then 0-2 Wheelersburg – which Ironton rolled 30-6 in the season opener – knocked off the previously-undefeated Tomcats in overtime.

Ashland escaped Knox County with a 21-12 triumph in its opener, then had its way with Boyd County (53-7) and George Washington (49-16) in back-to-back weeks.

Against the Pirates, the Tomcats scored the opening 13 points prior to Wheelersburg scoring the next 21 over the next two quarters.

In the fourth quarter, Wheelersburg kicker Braxton Sammons booted a pair of field goals – including the 45-yarder with nine seconds remaining to force the 27-27 tie and the extra period.

In the overtime, the Tomcats scored first, but Wheelersburg standout Makya Matthews – who was injured against Ironton and didn’t play in the Pirates’ 44-6 loss to Columbus Hartley – had the winning touchdown run with Sammons kicking the extra point.

 Meanwhile, the Fighting Tigers wrapped up their third consecutive home tilt to open the season – a 49-7 victory over Fairland in the Ohio Valley Conference opener.

 The Dragons scored on the game’s opening play, an 83-yard pass from quarterback Max Ward to Gavin Hunt, but then Ironton answered with the final 49 points – following an interception and return of 38 yards by Gage Salyers of his counterpart Ward.

 Salyers then completed a big-play pass of his own for a score, as he hooked up with Reid Carrico for a 78-yard reception that put the Fighting Tigers in front for good.

 This week, Ironton invades Ashland – and will need to make more plays on both sides of the ball.

 While the Fighting Tigers are ranked second in the initial Associated Press Division V Ohio high school football poll, the Tomcats are ranked fifth in Class 3A in Kentucky – having dropped down in class from a year ago.

 Last season, Ashland escaped Ironton with a 14-7 win, extending to four its winning streak over the Fighting Tigers – part of seven victories in the last 10 meetings in the series.

 While the Tomcats’ all-time yardage leader – quarterback Braxton Ratliff – has gradated, don’t tell them that their talent pool has run dry.

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 This season’s signal-caller is 5-8, 165-pound Jake Gregg, who has completed 30-of-46 passes for 411 yards and three touchdowns.

 But the Tomcats have evolved into a running team this year, with Blake Hester (5-11, 175, Sr.) rushing for 579 yards and nine TD on 82 carries, while Keontae Pittman posts 361 yards and six scores on 61 attempts.

 Both have at least three catches for 46 yards, while junior J.T. Garrett is the leading receiver with six receptions for 96 yards.

 All three stand at least five-feet 11-inches tall and weigh 175 pounds.

 An experienced group of offensive linemen await the talented Tiger defense, which has allowed only two touchdowns all season – including Matthews’ 72-yard scamper in the opener.

 The Tomcat starters up front all stand at least six-feet tall and weigh at least 245 pounds.

 A matchup to eye involves Ironton’s defensive front against Ashland’s offensive line, as former Tomcat Junior Jones will be going against his former teammates.

 Jones transferred from Ashland to Ironton this season, and has made a major impact in the Tigers’ defensive success.

 The winner will also set itself up for a plethora of playoff points, particularly the Fighting Tigers, which are already the top-rated team in the unofficial Division V Region 19 computer ratings.

 Ironton’s average is 7.5667, with 14 Level 1 points and a whopping 29 precious Level 2 points.

 The Fighting Tigers, besides beating Wheelersburg and 2-1 Fairland, also own a 10-0 shutout over 3-1 Russell (Ky.).

 While Wheelersburg and Fairland are Division V with Russell being a Division IV equivalent, the Tomcats are the equivalent of an OHSAA Division III program.

 Ashland is the final non-league foe for the Fighting Tigers, which return to OVC action next week for the remainder of the regular season.

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