Fighting Tigers turn page to Red Devils
Photo by Kent Sanborn
IRONTON – Well, with Wheelersburg officially out of the way, welcome to another colossal contest for the Ironton Fighting Tigers.
And, while this one certainly doesn’t have the hype of last week’s standing-room-only season-opener – or even the still ongoing debate over just how many tickets were sold and just how many fans filled Tanks Memorial Stadium in attendance – it’s just as important for Ironton.
That’s because the Fighting Tigers play host to the rival Russell (Ky.) Red Devils on Friday night, as kickoff inside Tanks Memorial Stadium is set for 7 p.m.
Russell crosses the bridge with a 2-0 record, having rolled Mason County 49-13 in its season opener, before blanking and routing Raceland 41-0 in the Rail Cities Bowl on Saturday night.
For the Fighting Tigers, although observers are deeming them the favorite to defeat the Red Devils, they are indeed on letdown alert after downing Wheelersburg for the first time in eight meetings.
Ironton pulled away from the Pirates in the second half, turning a 3-0 halftime advantage into a 30-6 runaway win.
The Fighting Tigers’ defense dominated, allowing only a 72-yard touchdown run by Pirate quarterback Makya Matthews in the third quarter – as he finished with 165 rushing yards before suffering a shoulder injury and leaving the game.
Ironton intercepted Matthews and his replacement Aaron Masters once apiece.
Ironton, also often the beneficiary of short fields for its offense, allowed only 223 total yards to the Pirates.
The Fighting Tigers took two kickoffs deep into Wheelersburg territory, one by Reid Carrico, who finished with 151 rushing yards and a hat trick of touchdowns on 26 attempts.
Truth be told, the Fighting Tigers put a tremendous amount of energy and effort into defeating Wheelersburg, given their recent lack of success against the Pirates.
Prior to Friday night, Ironton had last defeated their week-one rival in 2012 – when Mark Vass made his head coaching debut.
It also snapped last season’s three-game losing streak to end the Orange and Black’s year at 6-5.
This week, for second-year Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton and his assistants, it’s been about getting the Fighting Tigers to turn the page – and focus on a quality Russell squad.
The Red Devils – the equivalent of a Division IV program in Ohio – are 2-0 for the first time in three years, following back-to-back campaigns of opening 0-3.
The Red Devils’ spread attack is highlighted by a lot of length with some size, and also experience.
Against Raceland, Russell running back Nathan Conley collected 139 yards on 19 attempts with two touchdowns, while Malakai Anderson added 62 yards and three TD on 16 totes.
Russell rushed 53 times for 263 yards, as all but one of its six touchdowns came on short scoring runs of seven yards or less.
Its quarterback, junior Charlie Jachimczuk, completed both of his pass attempts for 75 yards – one being a 33-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Similar to Ironton against Wheelersburg, the Red Devils’ defense and special teams played major roles against the Rams – along with an injury to the starting signal-caller.
The Red Devils recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff, scored only a minute-and-a-half in, and knocked Raceland QB Jake Heighton out in the first quarter with a shoulder injury.
Russell stymied Raceland to only 61 total yards after Heighton’s departure, as the Rams gained 59 yards on their first possession with him.
The Red Devils’ linebacking corps leads them defensively, as Ironton must establish Carrico – a regular key for the Fighting Tigers’ success.
Most of the Fighting Tigers – including Carrico – return from last season’s matchup, which was a 16-7 Ironton triumph which gave Pendleton his first career coaching victory.
Carrico certainly was the star of last year’s tilt, posting two big scoring plays after Ironton trailed 7-2.
He blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to give Ironton the lead, then turned a Russell lost fumble at the Ironton 20-yard line into a 74-yard scamper sealing the win.
The Fighting Tigers are 8-2 over the last decade against the Red Devils, with their only losses being close defensive encounters (18-14 in 2015 and 13-6 in 2016) four and three years ago.
The greater focus for this week, though, is Ironton’s emotional level coming off such an important victory.
It can easily be argued that the win over Wheelersburg was the biggest for the Tigers since the last time they defeated the Pirates.
But this too, however, is yet another colossal contest.
If Ironton earns a victory on Friday, it will pick up precious playoff points (Level 2) for every win the Red Devils get going forward.
That’s because Russell is projected to have a strong season as well – in addition to being the equivalent of one division larger than Ironton (Division V).
Another even larger Kentucky opponent, undefeated archrival Ashland (2-0), is awaiting Ironton in two weeks (Sept. 20).
The Tomcats are the equivalent of an OHSAA Division III program.
But, with Wheelersburg now in the rear-view mirror, the first focus is on defeating the Red Devils.