That’s because Zaler, a standout two-way lineman for the Valley Indians.. Inks with Fairmont State University

LUCASVILLE — Mason Zaler admitted the past two years —off the football field anyway —were some trying times.

However, he said his official signing on Wednesday has already brought him happiness he has been wanting — and anticipates the next four years continuing to do so.

That’s because Zaler, a standout two-way lineman for the Valley Indians, officially announced his intention to play college football for Fairmont State University —an NCAA Division II program located in Fairmont, W. Va.

Zaler — at his signing ceremony inside the Valley High School gymnasium — was flanked by his parents, Matt and Claudia Zaler; Valley High School head football coach and athletic director Darren Crabtree; several of his Indian teammates; and other family members and friends.

Zaler’s signing was one of four involving Scioto County football players on Wednesday —as part of the annual National Signing Day across the country.

Zaler, recruited to the Falcons as a defensive lineman —mainly at tackle but also an end —spoke candidly of what his signing meant to his well-being.

He has endured the passing of two grandparents in the past two years, and so with the ink drying on his official national Letter-of-Intent —perhaps some shed tears will dry up as well.

“This is one of the best things to ever happen in my life,” said Zaler. “I’ve had a lot of disappointments and loss in the past couple of years. Something like this has almost brought me out of a depression kind-of-thing. I lost my grandfather when I was a sophomore and then I lost my grandmother when I was a junior. It’s really brought a lot more happiness.”

And being happy with his college choice, aside from playing football, that meant choosing an institution where education was of the utmost importance.

The six-foot, six-inch, 255-pounder picked Fairmont State over offers he received from Wittenberg University, Thomas More College and Lake Erie College, because “as a person, at Fairmont State, I feel better.”

“I had to look at this from where if I wasn’t going to go play football, I would have to stay there all four years and get a degree. I felt Fairmont State was the best fit for me. They have a winning program, they have a great coaching staff and great facilities. I feel like I can be the best player I can be there,” said Zaler.

The Falcons are coached by Jason Woodman, a native of Fairmont, who is entering his eighth season in 2020.

The program is a member of the Mountain East Conference, having won multiple conference championships in the past — and coming off a 5-5 season in 2019, but having won its final four games.

“They bring in some of the best players throughout the nation to come play for a Division II school, and they can all play at Division I (Football Bowl Subdivision),” said Zaler.

The MEC consists of primarily schools from West Virginia, although Urbana University is a member — as fellow two-way Scioto County lineman Joe Igaz of Portsmouth West announced on Wednesday his intention to play there (see related story), along with former Sciotoville East standout Grant Gifford.

The Falcons’ five losses were by a combined 33 points, including a 41-34 defeat to Frostburg State in double overtime.

The Falcons surrendered some points on the defensive of the ball, but not yards against the run, according to Zaler.

He said he should fit in well with the Falcons’ four-man front, featuring two ends and two tackles.

Sometimes, he said, they shift to a “50” —or five-man —front.

“They like to get a lot of pressure with the defensive line. They like to play nickel with their linebackers, but bring a lot of pressure,” said Zaler. “And they want to stop the run. They held teams to an average of 77 rushing yards per game last year. They like to stop the run and hit the quarterback.”

Zaler was an offensive tackle on that side, but said he prefers to play defense, as he was selected as an all-Southeast District Division VI first-team lineman his senior season.

He made 60 total tackles, including 26 solo, along with a fumble recovery and three sacks.

“Mason provided a ton of leadership on both sides of the ball this year. He had a tremendous year, and really came on the second half of the season as a defensive lineman. He made a number of big plays for us. It was nice to see him grow from where he was as a freshman to his ability and strength and different things this past year,” said Crabtree. “It gave him the opportunity where he has the ability to go play at the next level.”

Zaler was a four-year player for the Indians, and a two-year starter.

“I just like playing defense better. I always like to hit people and play physical. I just love playing physical” he said.

But being more physical at the collegiate level requires more strength, as Zaler said he plans to put on at least 15 to 20 pounds prior to leaving for Fairmont —and improve his overall upper-body.

Zaler said he and his family have hired a personal trainer, “so we can train all throughout the spring and summer before we go up for team camp”.

“Definitely upper-body strength I need to work on. My bench press isn’t the greatest. Maybe a little bit of foot speed, quickness and agility, stuff like that,” he said. “My goal when I go up there is to be about 270 or 275 (pounds). Put on about 15 or 20 pounds of muscle.”

Crabtree commented on Zaler’s strengths that will aid him in making the jump to the much-faster college game.

“Mason has great lateral movement and reads things very well. He has an aggressive personality where he makes a lot of plays just running to the football. He will have his work cut out for him coming from a small school like Valley to go to a Division II school, but the opportunity presented itself, and he knows what it takes to get himself ready to go at the next level,” said the coach. “I think he will be able to do that.”

Fairmont State is also Crabtree’s alma mater, as he believes Zaler “will represent Valley very well there”.

Zaler discussed the family-like atmosphere the Indian program provided him.

“To play for Coach Crabtree was really special. When my dad was a sophomore in high school, it was Coach Crabtree’s first year. (Valley assistant) Coach (Jason) Fell’s son, Connor, is in my graduating class. We’ve been best friends since first or second grade. All of the assistant coaches just accepted me in and made me the best player I could be,” he said. “It felt like family.”

Zaler said he plans to major in nursing, and —in his opinion — his signing provides some daylight at the end of a personal dark tunnel.

“There have been some tough times recently, but I am really excited about this,” he said.

Pirates’ Matthews inks with Oilers

‘Burg standout signs with D-II Findlay

By Paul Boggs



WHEELERSBURG — For Makya Matthews, his wardrobe won’t change too much.

That’s because Matthews, the Wheelersburg High School all-purpose standout, will remain in Orange and Black, but made it official on Wednesday with his announcement to play college football for the University of Findlay.

Matthews, a soft-spoken senior whose outstanding performances on the football field did his talking, was flanked at his signing ceremony by his mother Sara Fry; several other family members; Wheelersburg High School head football coach Rob Woodward and almost the entire Pirate team — of which he was the most recognized from the 2019 campaign.

Matthews was one of 32 recruits from Ohio which signed to play for Findlay, according to a university press release on Wednesday — in conjunction with the annual National Signing Day all across the country.

Matthews — who played and can play almost any and all of the skilled positions — moves on to play for the Oilers, an NCAA Division II school located in Findlay and a member of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.

The Oilers are coached by Jason Keys, who is entering his 10th season leading the program.

For Matthews, in the Wheelersburg High School foyer full of enthusiastic supporters, he simply yet politely replied “yes sir” when asked about his excitement of playing college football.

He said Findlay was his first official visit, and he “just loved the coaching staff and talked to a few players and they liked it a lot too”.

“It was pretty much Findlay all the way for me,” said Matthews. “Their offense is very similar to ours. It’s an RPO (run-pass option) style. I’ll play the slot and hopefully contribute.”

Matthews said he was being recruited to Findlay for the wide receiver position, primarily the slot spot, although on his biographical information in the press release it lists him as a five-foot nine-inch, 172-pound running back.

But no worries, Pirate and Findlay fans, for Matthews is indeed your truly defined all-purpose player.

In fact, he was a three-time all-Southeast District Division V first-team honoree —at three different positions.

As a sophomore, as part of the Pirates’ 2017 Division V state championship squad, he made all-district as a defensive back —but landed on the list on the offensive side for his final two seasons, as an all-purpose pick as a junior and as a running back as a senior.

While making first-team all-district automatically earned him Special Mention all-Ohio accolades, he was a first-team all-state selection in 2018 and again in 2019.

Following up the undefeated 15-0 state championship year, the Pirates went 13-1 and reached the state semifinals again —before rallying from a 2-3 start last year by sweeping through the Southern Ohio Conference Division II again and advancing to the regional semifinals.

Matthews had a large hand in the success of all three seasons.

“Makya has been a special player in our varsity program, but even before that at the younger levels, he was always a hard worker with the group that he has come through with. People have recognized his talent,” said Woodward. “As he came in as a freshman, I remember recognizing he had a special ability and his hand-eye coordination with the ball was something that was extremely explosive. And the group of guys he had around him, they all just had a hunger and a drive to work towards excellence. Makya was really a catalyst for all of that. While he doesn’t say a lot, his hard work on and off the field is infectious to everyone he is around.”

For those into career statistics, Matthews’ are astonishing in all three phases.

Defensively, in actually twice being named the SOC Division II Defensive Player of the Year (2018 and 2019), he made 147 tackles and 12 pass deflections with 10 interceptions —two of which he returned for touchdowns.

He also forced five fumbles and made one recovery, as Woodward went on to say that “he made plays on balls his sophomore year that we hadn’t seen from a free safety in a number of years.”

Matthews made headway with his offensive production that same season — to the point where he became a major impact player.

So much so that he had the game-tying touchdown in the state championship game against Pemberville Eastwood.

He caught 105 passes for 1,791 yards and 20 touchdowns, and averaged exactly 17 yards per reception, while also carrying the football 213 times for 1,436 yards — and scoring 21 rushing touchdowns while averaging 6.7 yards per carry.

He also developed a knack for special special teams returns, amassing 611 yards on 24 kickoffs for an average of 25-and-a-half yards, while taking back three punts to the house —part of 55 returns for 804 yards and 14.7 yards per return.

Including his interception returns, and his four pass completions for 96 yards and one TD, Matthews was responsible for 47 touchdowns in his decorated Wheelersburg career.

He finished with 4,738 all-purpose yards, which —with his interception return yardage —is only 52 yards shy of 5,000.

“I liked playing wide receiver, but that and running back are really close,” said Matthews. “It’s a different feeling running with the ball down the field, but I also like catching it.”

In the storied tradition of Wheelersburg football, he is only the third Pirate in school history to be a two-time first-team all-Ohioan — and only the fifth player to be named a two-time winner of the Andy Hopkins Most Valuable Player Award.

His three punt returns for touchdowns are a Wheelersburg career record, as he is fourth all-time in career receiving yards (1,791) and receiving touchdowns (20), fourth all-time in career all-purpose yards (4,738), and fifth all-time in career TDs (47).

“Makya took on greater roles on offense over his last two years while continuing to play and excel on defense. Then he came on even more in special teams with the skill sets that he has,” said Woodward. “He is just an outstanding young man, both on the field and in the classroom. He works extremely hard and is gifted with intelligence and work ethic. It’s really going to carry him on through his college career.”

Matthews said his four years as a Pirate prepared him well to be an Oiler.

“Being here at Wheelersburg was honestly great preparation for college,” he said. “Just the work we put in and the style that we do everything. It proves that success comes with all that hard work.”

But Matthews is also quite talented, and intelligent, too.

He said he plans to major in pharmacy, while wide receiver and/or running back he can play both, Woodward expects him to make a serious special teams impact.

“I think Findlay will find he is really gifted and will help give them depth as a return specialist. Both kickoffs and punts. Receiver or running back, he is great about catching the ball behind the line of scrimmage, which a lot of times is just an outside run for teams in today’s offenses,” said the coach. “We are very excited about him going on to the next level and we think Findlay has picked up a great player in Makya, both for football and academically.”

One thing is for sure for Matthews at Findlay — he won’t have to trade in any Orange and Black.

State Championship Recap: Fighting Tigers fall 17-7 to Kirtland for D-V title



State runners-up…again

Fighting Tigers fall 17-7 to Kirtland for D-V title

By Paul Boggs


CANTON — Mason Sullivan was the Hornets’ workhorse, but Kirtland’s Gage Sullivan was a play-making, pass-catching Fighting Tiger killer.

As a result, and swarmed under all evening by Kirtland’s dominant defense that was as good as advertised, Ironton was headed home late Saturday night with a silver Ohio High School Athletic Association trophy — instead of the coveted gold.

Gage Sullivan made three impactful receptions, Mason Sullivan rushed for 101 yards on 25 carries, and the undefeated Hornets held the Fighting Tigers’ usually-strong rushing attack to only 47 yards as Kirtland captured the Division V state championship 17-7 inside Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

For the Fighting Tigers, which went 13-2 with their only other loss at archrival Ashland in overtime (16-10), Saturday’s state runner-up is the storied program’s seventh all-time — as Ironton’s other two state championship tilt appearances produced its two titles in 1979 and 1989.

Their most recent appearance in the state final before Saturday was in 1999 — which of course remains bitter to this day because of the controversial nature of that 16-14 loss against Sandusky Perkins.

Ironton, including this season, was making its 35th all-time OHSAA state playoff appearance — which tied it with Cincinnati Moeller and trails only Newark Catholic (36) by one for the most.

The Fighting Tigers, with a victory on Saturday night, would have won their 50th all-time tournament game.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

In the postgame press conference, despite what the scoreboard read, Ironton head coach Trevon Pendleton — the 27-year-old completing his second season in charge — said his Fighting Tigers “are state champs as far as I’m concerned.”

“We fought and we clawed,” said Pendleton. “Just so proud of these guys, and I told them in the locker room that they’ve changed the course of Ironton Fighting Tiger football history. It’s where it needs to be again, and these guys are a testament to that.”

But while Ironton indeed enjoyed its run to the state championship bout, the Hornets and head coach Tiger LaVerde — in front of an announced crowd of 4,881 — only added to their expanding and impressive legacy.

Kirtland claimed its fifth all-time state title, including its second consecutive, and with all five occurring in the past decade.

The Hornets were appearing in their third straight state championship game, their eighth in the last nine years — and extended the state’s longest winning streak to 30 games, going undefeated in the past two seasons.

Kirtland’s last loss was the 2017 Division VI state championship bout to Marion Local, as it won the Division VI title last year — but moved back up to Division V this campaign for the first time since 2011 (state champion) and 2012 (state runner-up).

The Hornets finished as the Associated Press Division V poll champions as well, but validated that wire-to-wire ranking by taming the Fighting Tigers on Saturday night.

Kirtland was allowing just six points per game entering the state final — and it took a 77-yard touchdown pass from second-team all-Ohio quarterback Gage Salyers to fellow senior Jordan Grizzle with a minute remaining in the third quarter to finally get on the board.

But the fast and aggressive Hornets held Ironton down in its desired run game, as the dual-threat Salyers was under pressure all night — and had just six yards on a dozen carries.

Reid Carrico, who had rushed for 1,545 yards entering the state final following his 18-carry, 234-yard eruption in the state semifinal, could only muster 38 yards on 12 tries.

LaVerde said that although Ironton’s “impressive” size was a concern, his Hornets simply relied on their speed and swarming to the football.

Prior to the Fighting Tiger touchdown, the Hornets had forced Ironton to punt on its opening two possessions, an Avery Book missed field goal, two turnovers on downs — and a massive goal-line stop on the first half’s final play that was ultimately the most important snap.

“They’re (Fighting Tigers) a big, physical team,” said LaVerde. “Their size is impressive, and (Carrico’s) a big dude, and their fullbacks, (Seth Fosson) and (Junior Jones), are big dudes. They want to line up and run the ball right at you. I was worried about that, but I’ve been worried about it all year, and these guys rose to the challenge. They just do what they’re coached to do; they use leverage and strength and quickness.”

Ironton rushed for 47 yards on 28 carries, as Salyers — forced to throw after Ironton got behind 17-0 midway through the third quarter — completed 7-of-18 passes for 205 yards.

Of course, 77 of those went to Grizzle on the one score — simply known now as “Vermont Switch”.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Salyers went deep downfield to Grizzle, who made the catch of the perfect dime drop in stride along the right hashmarks and raced to the end zone.

“They were playing Cover-3 all game,” said Salyers. “The receivers switch, look off the safety, and he bit on the left side, and then I threw a pass to Grizzle. It was a good play call, good catch, good throw. Just executed the play well.”

Book kicked the extra point to make it 17-7, but the Tigers needed the ball back — and in a hurry.

Kirtland, a usually run-heavy team, kept the ball for eight plays and the next five minutes and 22 seconds — before the Hornets’ Mike Alfieri punted to Ironton at its own 8-yard-line with 7:34 to play.

After an incomplete pass and a Salyers short run to the 10, he completed a pass to Carrico for 32 yards — but the drive stalled out after four more incompletions.

“Your emphasis is always trying to execute better,” said Pendleton. “Problem was, we just ran out of time and had to start doing things a little different than we would like to, if we had been able to stay balanced a little bit.”

The Hornets held the football for the final six minutes and 10 seconds, forcing the Fighting Tigers to take all of their remaining timeouts — as the game ended with four victory-formation kneel-downs by Kirtland quarterback Liam Powers.

Speaking of executing better, the Fighting Tigers would love to have the final 40 seconds of the opening half back.

Trailing 10-0 and with 52 seconds showing, Ironton got its biggest gainer of the first half — when Salyers went deep to Grizzle for 60 yards down to the Hornet 2-yard-line.

Out of timeouts after that, Carrico carried a yard, but then the Hornets were whistled for being offside.

Still, Ironton was out of timeouts — and Salyers’ sneak from the 1, or actually closer to the six-inch line, on the final play was ruled down right smack at the goal line and did NOT break the plane.

Kirtland ran off the field for the halftime in definite celebration, but the officials decided to review the play using the video replay system, which was implemented by the OHSAA this year for the state finals.

After about a five-minute review, the call was upheld — and Salyers’ sneak was ruled short of the plane.

In the press conference, Pendleton preferred Salyers not answer a reporter’s question about the play and it’s enormous impact — simply stating instead that “they (Hornets) made a great play right there and Salyers was fighting tooth and nail (to score).”

LaVerde discussed it, however, as senior defensive end Mike Rus was the one who made the initial tackle on Salyers.

“We sold out right there,” he said. “There was 13 seconds left, so if they would’ve run a power pass, we’d have had nobody guarding the tight end. They chose to just run it, we got penetration. “This little guy (Rus) is a defensive tackle. He is 5-9, 165-pounds. I don’t know how he got in there.”

Had Ironton got in the end zone there — and had Book made his 44-yard field-goal attempt with 5:09 to play in the second quarter — it could have been, would have been, even should have been tied 10-10 at halftime.

Instead, the Hornets seized upon that momentum — and scored their second touchdown after receiving the second-half kickoff.

Following the return of 22 yards to their own 39, they drove nine plays in four-and-a-half minutes and picked up four first downs — scoring on an 18-yard pass from Liam Powers to Gage Sullivan to make it 17-0 with Mario Rodin’s extra-point kick.

On the touchdown toss, Powers put it up to where only the six-foot, four-inch sophomore Sullivan could catch it — in the front corner of the end zone and up and over two Fighting Tiger defenders.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

“We said if we can get it (the margin) to 17, that’s three scores and that’s big,” said LaVerde. “We got it to 17-0, and then we’re just trying to run out the clock the rest of the game.”

It was the last in a series of great plays by Sullivan, who actually took a toss sweep on the opening play of that series for 19 yards into Ironton territory.

The Hornets also executed a double-reverse pass on 4th-and-6 to keep the series alive — as Joey Grazia threw back to Powers for seven yards.

Sullivan started his eye-popping big game on the very first Hornet play — after Ironton went three-and-out.

From his own 26, Powers put one up for Sullivan against Ironton’s one-on-one coverage — as Sullivan secured it incredibly with one hand and made the catch for 47 yards.

On the next play, from the Fighting Tiger 27, Mason Sullivan scampered straight up the middle for the touchdown run — right at the 10:19 mark and just 16 seconds after Kirtland took possession.

Rodin’s extra-point kick quickly made it 7-0, as Pendleton’s preview interview discussed plays in the passing game as a possible “X” factor.

“Yes we talked about that. But credit Kirtland for making those plays. They have good athletes and it comes down to making plays. They made that one, they made more plays than we did,” he said. “You have two very good football teams playing at a high level. They capitalized on their opportunities.”

The game indeed was an anticipated defensive slugfest and low-scoring affair, as Ironton held the football for the next four minutes and 12 seconds, but it punted after nine plays and near midfield — with Rus sacking Salyers for a six-yard loss to the Fighting Tigers’ 42 to stall the drive out.

Kirtland then maintained possession for 14 plays and the final six minutes of the opening quarter — and the opening minute and 36 seconds of the second.

The Hornets, following a Cameron Deere sack of Powers for an eight-yard loss back to the Kirtland 8-yard-line, then faced 3rd-and-19 — but leave it to Gage Sullivan to go up and high point the Powers pass near the sideline and make the reception for 20 yards and a first down.

The Hornets had four of their 14 first downs on the series, as Powers later completed a 29-yard pass to Anthony DeMarco — moving the ball to the Ironton 11.

Rodin registered the first points in 12 minutes, successfully kicking a 21-yard field goal only a minute-and-a-half into the second stanza to make it 10-0.

The Fighting Tigers tried to answer, and actually drove eight plays in five minutes and eight seconds from their own 30 to the red zone, but another sack on Salyers resulted in a 12-yard loss — thus impacting Book on his field-goal try that missed short and originally appeared to be tipped.

Ironton had three possessions of at least four minutes and eight plays, including in the third quarter trailing 17-0, but none produced points.

That was despite the Fighting Tigers slightly outgaining the Hornets (252-246), as Kirtland combined 125 rushing yards with 121 passing.

Powers passed five times and completed four, three of which went to Gage Sullivan for 85 yards — and each made a major impact.

Indeed, while Mason Sullivan was the Hornets’ workhorse, it was Gage Sullivan — and a dominant defense — that was the Fighting Tigers’ killer.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Saturday night’s affair marked the final for the Ironton seniors, which didn’t qualify for the playoffs as sophomores — and went just 6-5 with a regional quarterfinal loss at Division V state runner-up Johnstown-Monroe last year.

While the Fighting Tigers’ “Mission 15” for 2019 didn’t produce a desired state championship, Pendleton said order was restored in Ironton football this season.

“These seniors, all of them, are the ones that are responsible for us getting here. I can’t say enough about them and about this team,” he said. “This isn’t the outcome we wanted tonight, and you never want to send a good group off or see it end, but that doesn’t take away what this team did this year.”

* * *

Kirtland 17, Ironton 7

Kirtland 7 3 7 0— 17

Ironton 0 0 7 0— 7

K — Mason Sullivan, 27-yard run (Mario Rodin kick), 10:19, 1st (7-0 K)

K — Mario Rodin, 21-yard field goal, 10:24, 2nd (10-0 K)

K — Gage Sullivan, 18-yard pass from Liam Powers (Mario Rodin kick), 7:33, 3rd (17-0 K)

I — Jordan Grizzle, 77-yard pass from Gage Salyers (Avery Book kick), 1:02, 3rd (17-7 K)

Team Statistics


First downs 14 11

Plays from scrimmage 53 46

Rushes-yards 46-125 28-47

Passing yards 121 205

Total yards 246 252

Cmp-Att-Int. 5-7-0 7-18-0

Fumbles-lost 3-0 1-0

Penalties-yards 4-35 2-10

Punts-average 4-36.75 2-39.5


Individual Leaders

RUSHING —Kirtland: Mason Sullivan 25-101 TD, Liam Powers 9-8, Luke Gardner 3-9, Gage Sullivan 2-20, Anthony DeMarco 3-2, Team 4-(-15); Ironton: Reid Carrico 12-38, Gage Salyers 12-6, Seth Fosson 2-3, Cameron Deere 1-3, Jordan Grizzle 1-(-3)

PASSING — Kirtland: Liam Powers 4-5-0-114 TD, Joey Grazia 1-1-0-7, Mason Sullivan 0-1-0-0; Ironton: Gage Salyers 7-18-0-205 TD

RECEIVING — Kirtland: Gage Sullivan 3-85 TD, Anthony DeMarco 1-29, Liam Powers 1-7; Ironton: Jordan Grizzle 2-137 TD, Kyle Howell 3-27, Reid Carrico 1-32, Trent Hacker 1-9


Final Stats 

2019 Passing Stats

1Gage Salyers20206-01205761585157817
2Kyle Howell20215-10170140260
3Tayden Carpenter20235-1117514090

2019 Rushing Stats

RankPlayerPositionHeightWeightATTRUYDSTDRush YPC
1Reid Carrico20216-032252081581237.6
2Gage Salyers20206-01205132872136.6
3Seth Fosson20206-012355739166.9
4Cameron Deere20215-111854330127.0
5Trevor Carter20236-0118523232410.1
6Kameron Browning20225-111702013526.8
7Kyle Howell20215-10170126705.6
8Jordan Grizzle20205-10190444011.0
9Caleb Murphy20226-02175223011.5
10Beau Brownstead20206-0022061702.8
11Gunnar Crawford20215-1022531505.0
12Tayden Carpenter20235-1117541303.3
13Junior Jones20206-002405921.8
14Avery Book20205-111802904.5
15DeAngelo Weekly20235-101751606.0
16Dalton Crabtree20215-101901505.0
17Jacob Sloan20226-001801303.0

2019 Receiving Stats

RankPlayerPositionHeightWeightRECREYDSTDREC YPC
1Reid Carrico20216-0322517393423.1
2Jordan Grizzle20205-1019012375431.3
3Trent Hacker20216-0217510228222.8
4Kyle Howell20215-1017015214214.3
5Colin Freeman20206-001707188326.9
6Ashton Duncan20226-0220510134013.4
7Gage Salyers20206-01205126026.0
8Cameron Deere20215-11185121021.0
9Junior Jones20206-00240110010.0
10Braxton Pringle20226-011751909.0
11Gunnar Crawford20215-102251606.0


Sacks Tackles INT FGM FGA


7Gage Salyers718020511260000
10Trent Hacker00000000190
20Kyle Howell000000003270
28Reid Carrico00000123801320
29Jordan Grizzle000001-3021371
30Cameron Deere00000130000
44Seth Fosson00000230000
# Defense Sacks Tackles INT FGM FGA


Date Time League Season
December 7, 2019 8:00 pm SEO 2019


1835 Harrison Ave NW, Canton, OH 44708

Mission 15, All In: Fighting Tigers to play for state title

Kirtland vs Ironton

Fighting Tigers to play for state title

It’s Ironton vs. Kirtland for D-V trophy

By Paul Boggs

Photo’s by Kent Sanborn 


IRONTON — They say to save your best for last.

Well, Ironton Fighting Tigers, here is your last game for the 2019 football season — so make it your best one yet.

Because, if Ironton indeed does play its best game in this the Fighting Tigers’ 15th and final for the year, the Orange and Black will officially be back as a three-time state champion.

In THE final football game for the Ohio High School Athletic Association in 2019, the 13-1 Fighting Tigers take on undefeated and powerhouse Kirtland (14-0) in the Division V state championship tilt — set for Saturday night at 8 p.m. inside spectacular Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

All seven state championships will be televised live on Spectrum News 1, and be broadcast along the OHSAA Radio Network to its 63 affiliates statewide.

That’s right.

Ironton and Kirtland cap off the season with a state title on the line, which would be the Fighting Tigers’ third all-time — along with championships in 1979 and 1989.

The Fighting Tigers are playing in their ninth all-time state title bout, as they have been the runners-up six times (1973, 1982, 1988, 1992, 1993 and 1999)— the last of which was the controversial 16-14 loss in 1999 to Sandusky Perkins.

That season was the first for the OHSAA’s expanded playoffs, which remains in place today with eight teams in each region qualifying for the postseason.

Speaking of eight teams, Ironton and Kirtland were the top-seeded squads in their respective regions, as Ironton won its 12th all-time regional title by taking Region 19 — while the Hornets, a four-time state champion (2011, 2013, 2015 and 2018) and three-time state runner-up (2012, 2014 and 2017) and all within the past decade, swept through Region 17.

In fact, the Hornets have the longest current active winning streak in the entire state of ANY school — having won 29 consecutive contests dating back to the 2017 Division VI state championship game against Marion Local.

Kirtland — last season’s Division VI state champion but moved back up to Division V this year — was also the Division V Associated Press poll champion, having been voted as the top-ranked team in all seven of the weekly polls.

Ironton, in that same poll, appeared all seven times as well — and ended up finishing fifth on the list.

But this week, polls — and past and recent history — don’t matter.

The Fighting Tigers, as head coach Trevon Pendleton completes his second season, are excited about the opportunity to finish what they started — which is hashtagged as #Mission15.

If Ironton wins on Saturday night, not only do the Fighting Tigers take back home a third state championship, but also their 50th all-time tournament triumph.

Head Coach Trevon Pendleton

Current Team
Past Teams
Portsmouth West
“We’re trying to treat it just as any other week, but our kids understand what’s at stake. They are looking forward to it. It’s an exciting experience that very few people ever get to experience and they are taking it all in. But at the same time, they are not getting caught up in the glitz and glamour of it,” said Pendleton, in an interview on Tuesday inside historic Tanks Memorial Stadium in Ironton. “At the end of the day, they know they have to play a football game, and they are looking forward to that more than anything. If your kids aren’t amped-up for this, they are not going to be amped-up for anything.”

The Fighting Tigers, truth be told, had in Pendleton’s own words “Kirtland on the clock” following the 49-21 state semifinal steamrolling of West Jefferson.

Ironton is on a roll with its winning streak now at 10 — its only loss a 16-10 overtime defeat at archrival Ashland (Ky.) on Sept. 20.

At the time, Pendleton said that setback “might be the best thing to happen” to his Fighting Tigers — and it’s been hard to argue against since.

If anything, Ironton is in fact playing its best football for the season, especially the last two weeks — with wins over Ridgewood (24-14) in the Region 19 championship and West Jefferson (49-21) in the state semi.

Pendleton pointed that out, and said that the Fighting Tigers are in a rhythm and a routine — now having played Saturday night games for four weeks straight going on five.

“Playing this game Saturday night keeps us in the same routine and we don’t have to change up a ton of things. The kids are comfortable with it because we’ve done it for the last month. It definitely helps. And I still don’t think we’ve played our best game or our most complete football game yet,” said Pendleton. “We’ve played well in the playoffs, probably played our best two games so far the last two weeks, but we’re still looking forward to playing our best game. Hopefully, everything comes together and the stars align this week and we are able to accomplish that. I think the sky is the limit for this football team, I really do.”

The sky might be the limit, but don’t expect to see — if both clubs are left to their own devices — too many footballs flying through the air.

The Hornets especially almost exclusively run the football 45 times or more per game, and although they graduated a large offensive line last year and are nowhere near as big this season, they are very quick and aggressive.

Ironton has played primarily running teams in Amanda-Clearcreek (Region 19 semifinals) and West Jefferson (state semifinal), but nothing like these run-heavy Hornets.

The Hornets had just three starters return off last year’s state title team, but 21 letterwinners returned, despite the program’s moveup back to Division V for the first time since 2012.

Kirtland averages 41 points per game, along with 321 yards and a seven-and-a-half yards per carry average.

The top two Hornet runners are Mason Sullivan (6-1, 193, Jr.) and Luke Gardner (5-9, 176, Sr.), as Sullivan is two yards shy of exactly 1,800 on 216 carries — with 30 touchdowns and an average yards per carry of 8.3.

Gardner has scored 23 times with an 11.2 yards per carry average, rushing 137 times for 1,535 yards.

The quarterback is Liam Powers (5-10, 180, Jr.), who has rushed 54 times for 249 yards — having completed 34 passes on 58 attempts for 721 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Hornets, however, hang their hat with the ground-and-pound attack — despite facing eight or even nine-man boxes all year.

Sullivan and Gardner were named Division V first team and third team all-Ohio running backs respectively, while the leading linemen are first-teamer Mike Alfieri (6-0, 225, Sr.) and second-teamer Kristian Grman (5-7, 201, Jr.).

“They definitely love to run the football. They are comfortable with taking three or four or five yards and just chewing up the clock and playing real good defense,” said Pendleton. “They run double-wing or stacked-I, and they do a lot of gap-schemes where they down-block a lot. They like to run some tosses too, but they pin and pull on those.”

Pendleton said scheme-wise the Hornets are similar to Chesapeake, but Kirtland is also similar to Ironton “in a lot of regards”.

“They are not overly big, but they have a lot of kids that are scrappy and get after it,” he said. “They are quick and athletic, and a lot of their kids wrestle, so they are going to be strong kids. You can tell in their bodies and physiques and the way that they move that’s the type of kids that they are. It’s not the biggest line we’ve seen, but we haven’t been the biggest line in every game this year either. When you get to this level, there’s no surprises. You are going to be playing teams that are physical, take care of the football and tackle well. You’re playing a good football team no matter what.”

The Fighting Tigers have definitely taken on a run-first identity throughout the playoffs, having rushed for at least 45 times and at least 270 yards in each of the last three games.

They attempted 57 rushes against Amanda-Clearcreek, while amassing 403 rushing yards against West Jefferson.

Reid Carrico
Current Team
2019, 2020
Reid Carrico, of course, has been the 1,545-yard featured back — going off for 234 yards on 18 carries in the state semifinal, two of which were touchdown runs of 70 and 72 yards.

Carrico has carried 179 times and scored 25 touchdowns, and is also the leading receiver with 17 receptions for 372 yards and four scores.

Both Ironton and Kirtland’s defenses are two of the best in the entire state, as the Hornets have allowed just 86 points all season — an average of just six which includes seven regular-season shutouts.

Pendleton said the Hornets show several defensive fronts — from five-men to four-men to three-men “with a 30-stack look”.

“They give you a lot of looks and bring a lot of different pressures. But our guys have handled a lot of different fronts this year. I mean I think we’ve faced about every front you can imagine,” said the coach. “We’ve been able to adjust and handle it pretty well, and our depth up front helps us. We go about seven or eight guys deep, and we’re able to wear on teams and our guys are in really good shape. They love to assert themselves and grind out a game and take over a game late.”

Ironton, on the other hand, has had only four games all season in which its talented and highly-touted first-team unit has allowed more than one touchdown.

One was at Ashland, with two others occurring against Ridgewood and West Jefferson, as the Tigers have given up just 104 points all year.

The Hornets had four defensive players named to the Division V all-Ohio top three teams — first-team linebacker Kaleb Stephenson (6-3, 165, Sr.), second-team lineman Mike Rus (5-9, 165, Sr.), second-team linebacker Louie Loncar (5-11, 200, Sr.) and third-team defensive back Joey Grazia (5-10, 155, Sr.).

The Fighting Tigers’ defense is anchored by the six-foot, three-inch, 225-pound inside linebacker Carrico, who was named on Monday as the all-Ohio Division V Defensive Player of the Year.

Joining him are first-team lineman Seth Fosson (6-1, 235, Sr.), third-team lineman Junior Jones (6-0, 240, Sr.) and defensive back Gage Salyers (6-1, 205, Sr.), who actually made the all-Ohio squad as a second-team quarterback.

Seth Fosson
Current Team
Junior Jones
Current Team
Gage Salyers
Current Team

For old-school football enthusiasts, and on an anticipated cold night in Canton, it’s the perfect formula for winning a championship — run the football and play outstanding defense.

Ironton, in fact, has not allowed more than 21 points in any game all season — and it might take the first team to hit 21 to be the winner.

If Ironton lacks an advantage, it’s obviously the lack of experience — compared to Kirtland — of even playing, let alone winning, beyond the regional quarterfinals in the past decade-plus.

The regional championship was Ironton’s initial appearance of playing in the Elite Eight since 2009 and 2010, as the Hornets are playing in their eighth state final in the past nine years — with only 2016 ending up as regional runner-up.

Since the start of the 2006 season, only in 2009 did the Hornets fail to make the playoffs, as they were regional runners-up in 2008 and 2010 — prior to their only Division V state championship and runner-up effort in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Still, what matters is what happens on Saturday night — from field position to turnovers and penalties and overall execution.

“It’s a matter of what we can take care of. If we can come out and play the best football game that we can play, we’re going to be just fine,” said Pendleton. “You’re dealing with two very good football teams that are playing at very high levels. We’ve faced good teams all year, and our kids have just been comfortable in these big games and environments all year.”

Now, it’s up to the Fighting Tigers to save their best for last.

An Ironton triumph would mean a second Division V state championship for the Southeast District in the past three seasons, as Wheelersburg won it all two years ago — defeating Pemberville Eastwood 21-14 in overtime to capture that crown.

“We’re going to leave it all out there. You go home as a champion or a runner-up. Anything that we have at our disposal, we’re going to use,” said Pendleton. “We’re going to play 48 minutes of extremely hard and disciplined football. We have a great group of kids that have done everything we’ve asked of them. It’s great to see them reap the benefits of that. It’s going to be hard, win or lose on Saturday night, to see it end. Hopefully, we make more plays and score more points than Kirtland does and can bring home a gold championship trophy.”

Fighting Tigers rough up Roughriders in state semi, on to Canton


West Jefferson770721Loss

Ironton on to Canton:

Fighting Tigers rough up Roughriders in state semi

By Paul Boggs

Photo’s by Kent Sanborn southernohiosportsphotos

CHILLICOTHE — Forgive Trevon Pendleton for already being ready to play the Division V state championship game — just mere minutes after Saturday night’s state semifinal tilt.

Because, to be honest, it would be — and should be — fair enough to take one night at least…and party like it’s 1999.

For the first time in two decades, the proud and tradition-rich Ironton Fighting Tigers will play for an Ohio High School Athletic Association state football championship — this time being for the Division V title on Saturday night, Dec. 7.

That’s because, in the state semifinal inside rain-soaked Herrnstein Field in Chillicothe, the Fighting Tigers simply took it right at — and directly to — the West Jefferson Roughriders, running roughshod in the second half for an impressive 49-21 victory in the two storied programs’ first-ever meeting.

Both clubs entered the contest at 12-1, but Ironton — after winning its first regional championship since 1999 for its 12th all-time — obliterated the Roughriders over a 24-minute stretch to punch its ticket to the state championship game.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

The Fighting Tigers broke a 14-14 tie just 15 minutes in by scoring the next 35 points over the next 21 minutes and 20 seconds, and even put the OHSAA’s running-clock rule into effect for the first six minutes of the final quarter.

As a result, Ironton advances to its ninth all-time state championship bout, but the first since 1999 — when the Fighting Tigers lost in controversial fashion to Sandusky Perkins for their sixth all-time state runner-up.

The Fighting Tigers take on undefeated and powerhouse Kirtland, a four-time state champion and the defending Division VI winner from a season ago.

All four of the Hornets’ state titles are within the past 10 years, as Kirtland — the Associated Press poll champion for Division V — doubled up third-ranked Oak Harbor 28-14 in the other Saturday semifinal.

The final (Division V AP) fifth-ranked Fighting Tigers will face the Hornets this Saturday night — inside spectacular Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton at 8 p.m.

For Pendleton, already now 4-for-4 in Saturday night games this playoff campaign, was ready for more Saturday night football — just two-and-a-half hours following kickoff against West Jefferson.

But who can blame him?

“I’m excited, but I wish next week was here right now. I’m ready to go,” said an overjoyed Pendleton, in a media interview following the semifinal win. “Our kids have earned this and have worked all year. We use the word ‘earn’ a lot in our program. Everything is earned and nothing is given. Our kids have this opportunity, so we are excited and can’t wait to play for the state championship.”

The Fighting Tigers earned that state title tilt appearance with one of the most dominating second halves in the illustrious history of Ironton football — or by any team at any time truth be told.

Defensively, after only allowing 30 total yards on 22 plays and forcing three punts in the first 24 minutes, Ironton allowed only 96 yards on 26 plays and forced a pair of punts in the second.

They also converted a Roughrider turnover in each half into points, and amassed 224 yards and 28 second-half points on only 20 rushes — doing so in just a matter of seven minutes and 27 seconds and without attempting a single pass.

In addition to the two second-half punts, the Roughriders turned the ball over on downs following four plays halfway through the third quarter — before Ironton standout Reid Carrico made the defensive play of the game, intercepting West Jefferson quarterback Tyler Buescher on the opening play of the fourth quarter and returning it 54 yards to the 2-yard-line.

The Roughriders finally ended an almost 28-minute scoring drought when Gabe Jones — the standout senior running back who set several West Jefferson school rushing records including over 2,600 yards this season entering Saturday night — scored on a 9-yard run with 5:46 remaining.

Jones finished with 116 yards and two rushing touchdowns on 28 carries, as 53 of those yards came on that final nine-play, 68-yard, six-minute scoring drive.

But that only stopped the running clock, and did not stop the Fighting Tigers from more importantly running out the clock — including Avery Book successfully converting a fake punt by running for 14 yards and picking up a first down with under four minutes remaining.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Book punted just twice in the first half, successfully kicked all seven of Ironton’s extra points, and executed each time sky-ball kickoffs which West Jefferson was forced to fair catch and couldn’t return.

For the second consecutive game, the Fighting Tigers looked rock-solid in all three phases.

“Guys just played extremely well and extremely hard. Their played their responsibilities great,” said Pendleton. “Defensively, we were aggressive and swarmed to the ball well and we knew once again what we wanted to take away. My brother (Jerrod Pendleton) is our defensive coordinator and has done a great job all year with these guys. We got two turnovers and converted them into points off short fields, and any time you do that, you are in good shape. Offensively, I told our guys to just keep pounding and keep pounding and keep pounding and things will eventually pop. And they did. We condition ourselves hard and we prepare for four-quarter games all the time. We’re happy to see it pay off.”

The Fighting Tigers and Roughriders stood tied at 14-14, thanks to Jones returning a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown just three minutes into the second quarter.

But after an exchange of three-and-out possessions, it was all Fighting Tigers from there — as Ironton got the “pop” it finally needed when Carrico broke off a 72-yard touchdown run on an extremely well-executed option pitch.

Book booted the extra point at the 5:46 mark to make it 21-14, and the Fighting Tigers were just warming up.

West Jefferson punted on its next possession from midfield, and its next series ended the half — but with Buescher being tackled for a 12-yard loss from the 50-yard-line.

The Roughriders’ first second-half series produced another punt from midfield, as Ironton then went up 28-14 with 7:11 left in the third quarter — following a quick five-play, 79-yard drive that culminated with Carrico carrying the final 12 yards to paydirt.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

All five plays, in fact, went for at least a dozen yards on that march — starting with wide receiver Jordan Grizzle going in motion and picking up 19 yards on a jet sweep.

Gage Salyers, the quarterback who rushed for 69 yards on 10 carries and completed two first-half passes including one to Carrico for eight, scampered for 16 and 14 yards — while Carrico gained 13 before his 12-yard TD sprint.

The Fighting Tigers then forced the Roughriders’ four-play turnover on downs, as Seth Fosson first got things going with a 10-yard sack of Buescher.

Buescher — often under duress from the Fighting Tigers’ front seven — finished with six carries for minus-35 yards, having completed seven of 15 passes for 54 yards.

Speaking of 54, the Tigers then drove that many yards in four plays and two minutes — as Carrico carried for eight and 11 yards before Salyers escaped pressure for 17 and 18 yards, as his 18-yarder was a touchdown dart that made it 35-14 with 3:47 remaining in the third.

The Roughriders then went three-and-out and only gained a yard, as Carrico — standing six-foot three-inches tall and weighing 225 pounds — dashed directly up the middle on the first play following for a 70-yard touchdown run to make it 42-14 only a minute and 11 seconds after Ironton’s last score.

For Carrico, it was arguably his best game of his junior season — and definitely was offensively for the Southeast District Division V Defensive Player of the Year.

He carried 18 times, 13 of which were in the opening half, for a massive 234 yards and his hat trick of TDs.

Aside from his 72 and 70-yard scoring runs, he had four other double-digit gains of 13, twos 12s and an 11.

Ironton ended up with 403 rushing yards on 45 attempts, as Grizzle — on that change-of-pace in-motion jet sweep — gained 47 yards on three tries.

Trevor Carter carried five times for seven yards, including Ironton’s final TD — a 2-yard plunge just 16 seconds into the fourth quarter for a 49-14 advantage.

That immediately followed Carrico’s pickoff of Buescher, as perhaps more impressive was his burning 54-yard return.

That was the second turnover which West Jefferson committed, as the first was a lost fumble — which ultimately tied the game at 7-7 with a single solitary second left in the opening quarter.

The Fighting Tigers had driven a dozen plays before Book punted from the Roughrider 35 down to the 6, as Jones — who carried five times for 17 yards and scored on a 2-yard run following an Ironton interception and 24-yard return by Blade Wolfe — fumbled from the 10-yard-line and backwards.

Dalton Crabtree recovered for the Fighting Tigers at the 6, and Fosson found the end zone off the left side just six seconds later.

Pendleton said that sudden-change situation flipped not only the field, but the Fighting Tigers’ switch.

“That was a huge play and touchdown to get for momentum and get things going our way,” he said. “We got the turnover, we got great field position, got the touchdown and got our entire team going.”

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

That it did, as the Roughriders went three-and-out on their next possession to start the second quarter — and Ironton needed just five plays, 42 yards and a minute and 20 seconds to take the lead.

Grizzle gained 20 on a jet sweep, Fosson bulled his way for 13 yards, and finally Salyers snuck in from a yard out at the 9:16 mark to make it 14-7.

And, although Jones took the ensuring kickoff 94 yards to the house for the 14-14 tie, West Jefferson — competing in its second state semifinal under 18-year head coach and Southeast Ohio native Shawn Buescher — didn’t do anything of ANY significance after that.

But speaking of significance, the Fighting Tigers are now indeed aiming for their third state championship in school history.

And while perhaps — for one night only — the enormous and enthusiastic Ironton fan base was partying like it was 1999, Pendleton pretty much put the Hornets on notice already.

“We got one more. On to Canton. Kirtland is on the clock,” he said.

* * *

Ironton 49, West Jefferson 21

West Jefferson 7 7 0 7— 21

Ironton 7 14 21 7— 49

WJ — Gabe Jones, 2-yard run (Mason Cordetti kick), 7:38, 1st (7-0 WJ)

I — Seth Fosson, 6-yard run (Avery Book kick), :01, 1st (7-7 tie)

I — Gage Salyers, 1-yard run (Avery Book kick), 9:16, 2nd (14-7 I)

WJ — Gabe Jones, 94-yard kickoff return (Mason Cordetti kick), 9:04, 2nd (14-14 tie)

I — Reid Carrico, 72-yard run (Avery Book kick), 5:46, 2nd (21-14 I)

I — Reid Carrico, 12-yard run (Avery Book kick), 7;11, 3rd (28-14 I)

I — Gage Salyers, 18-yard run (Avery Book kick), 3:47, 3rd (35-14 I)

I — Reid Carrico, 70-yard run (Avery Book kick), 2:38, 3rd (42-14 I)

I — Trevor Carter, 18-yard run (Avery Book kick), 11:44, 4th (49-14 I)

WJ — Gabe Jones, 9-yard run (Mason Cordetti kick), 5:46, 4th (49-21 I)

Team Statistics


First downs 9 20

Plays from scrimmage 49 53

Rushes-yards 34-81 45-403

Passing yards 54 10

Total yards 135 413

Cmp-Att-Int. 7-15-1 2-8-1

Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-0

Penalties-yards 5-42 9-65

Punts-average 5-30 2-33


Individual Leaders

RUSHING —West Jefferson: Gabe Jones 28-116 2TD, Tyler Buescher 6-(-35); Ironton: Reid Carrico 18-234 3TD, Gage Salyers 10-69 2TD, Jordan Grizzle 3-47, Seth Fosson 3-23 TD, Trevor Carter 5-7 TD, Avery Book 1-14, Tayden Carpenter 1-6, Cameron Deere 1-4, Kameron Browning 1-3, Team 2-(-4)

PASSING — West Jefferson: Tyler Buescher 7-15-1-54; Ironton: Gage Salyers 2-8-1-10

RECEIVING — West Jefferson: Kyle Scott 3-18, Tyler Oberle 2-22, Gabe Jones 1-10, Justin Hooker 1-4; Ironton: Reid Carrico 1-8, Ashton Duncan 1-2


7Gage Salyers28110010692000
8Tayden Carpenter00000160000
12Avery Book000001140000
24Ashton Duncan00000000120
28Reid Carrico00000182343180
28Trevor Carter00000571000
29Jordan Grizzle000003470000
30Cameron Deere00000140000
31Kameron Browning00000130000
44Seth Fosson000003231000
# Defense Sacks Tackles INT FGM FGA

West Jefferson

Sacks Tackles INT FGM FGA


Date Time League Season
November 30, 2019 7:00 pm Playoffs 2019

Final Four, Fighting Tigers face Roughriders in state semi

Ironton in D-5’s Final 4
Fighting Tigers face Roughriders in state semi

By Paul Boggs

Photos by Kent Sanborn

Ironton vs West Jefferson

IRONTON — Once again, although for the first time in two decades, the Ironton Fighting Tigers — yes that famed Fighting Tiger Orange and Black — are practicing football on Black Friday.

But to them, there’s only one ultimate early Christmas gift.

That is the Fighting Tigers still playing actual, and official, Ohio High School Athletic Association football games on the final day of November — and into December.

One of those goals in Ironton’s ultimate mission has been met — that being the Fighting Tigers captured their first regional championship in the sport since 1999.

The other, of course, can be accomplished and checked off the “rain-bucket” list on Saturday night — when Ironton (12-1) and the fellow 12-1 West Jefferson Roughriders square off in one of two Division V state semifinals, which is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff inside Herrnstein Field in Chillicothe.

Ironton — after its 24-14 victory over previously-undefeated Ridgewood — is the Region 19 champion, while West Jefferson — after avenging its only loss of the season — is the champion of Region 20.

For the Fighting Tigers (48-32 all-time in playoffs), a win over the Roughriders means their first appearance in a state championship game since 1999 — and their would-be ninth overall as they have two titles in 1979 and 1989.

The Fighting Tigers-Roughriders winner will meet the winner of the other Division V state semifinal — which features a battle of undefeateds in Oak Harbor (13-0) and Kirtland (13-0).

While that semi in Strongsville occupies the attention of northern Ohio, all eyes of the Southeast and Central Districts in Division V will be on Chillicothe — and two of the most proud and tradition-rich programs in all of the Buckeye State.

In an interview on Tuesday, at historic Tanks Memorial Stadium in Ironton, second-year Fighting Tiger coach Trevon Pendleton summarized his club’s journey to the Final Four.

Only a 16-10 overtime loss at arch-rival Ashland has prevented a perfect season, but Ironton opened by rolling rival Wheelersburg and defeating the Pirates for the first time since 2012 — a stretch that included two playoff tilts.

The Fighting Tigers tore through the Ohio Valley Conference, then won over Wellston (Region 19 quarterfinals), Amanda-Clearcreek (Region 19 semifinals) and Ridgewood (Region 19 finals) en route to this state semi.

Pendleton, prior to Tuesday’s practice and two days prior to Thanksgiving Day, was a man counting his blessings.

Head Coach Trevon Pendleton

Current Team
Past Teams
Portsmouth West
“It sounds like a year’s worth of hard work,” he said. “Our kids, going all the way back to the off-season, have put in the time and effort to make this dream of theirs become a reality. We’re truly thankful for all the work our kids have put in. Our coaching staff puts in long hours, and I know I say this every week, but I am so thankful for all of my assistants. We’re 14 weeks into this thing now, and our kids are still loving and wanting to play football as if it’s week one. It’s refreshing to see a group of kids come through like this. It starts with our team leadership and just trickles right down throughout the entire team. It’s exciting, our kids are really enjoying the moment and it’s a special group to be a part of.”

Speaking of special groups, the Fighting Tiger first-team defense has allowed only 83 points all season, surrendered more than one touchdown in a game only three times, and grounded Ridgewood to only 225 total yards and 14 points.

As guessed, those were season-lows for the Generals, given they averaged almost 50 points and 450 yards per game prior to the regional final. Spearheaded by its talented and highly-touted line putting pressure on General quarterback Gabe Tingle, the East District Co-Offensive Player of the Year, the Tigers’ defense only allowed 145 yards of total offense — after Ridgewood scored on its opening series.

“Ironton is very good, especially defensively. Exceptional actually. They are extremely physical and the best thing they do is run to the football,” said West Jefferson coach Shawn Buescher. “I’m very impressed with their front. They get after the ball. They are relentless in their pursuit. Their linebackers seem to be very good. Their back half of the defense does an excellent job in the passing game, so they are everything you’d think they’d be in a great defense.”

Pendleton praised his defense — anchored by the Southeast District Division V Defensive Player of the Year in inside linebacker Reid Carrico, who has verbally committed to Ohio State.

He and fellow junior linebacker Cameron Deere were first-team all-Southeast District defensive players, as were senior linemen Seth Fosson (end) and Junior Jones (tackle).

Ironton is allowing an average of only 108 rushing yards per game, and an even better 76 yards passing per game.
The Fighting Tigers have 15 interceptions, paced by safety Gage Salyers with four — as Salyers is a first-team all-district quarterback who was also strongly considered for that list as a defensive back.

Include the likes of junior ends Gunnar Crawford and Dalton Crabtree, defensive tackle Nate Cochran, and senior cover corners Collin Freeman and Jordan Grizzle — and Ironton offers an iron wall against its opponents.

The Generals presented the toughest test to the Fighting Tigers to date, and Ironton almost aced that exam with close to flying colors.
“It’s about being physical, but also being aggressive but disciplined, and everyone understanding leverage and where they fit it and getting multiple hats to the football,” said Pendleton. “Last week, we did a very good job of being disciplined and aggressive. It was a testament to the many hours we spend in the film room. Then understanding who we are playing and what we like to take away.”

What West Jefferson will do, said Pendleton — despite Buescher’s son and sophomore quarterback Tyler Buescher (5-11, 150 pounds) throwing for 32 touchdowns and 2,635 yards on 145-of-196 passing for a 74-percent completion rate — is run the ball.

The Fighting Tigers have yet to see an offensive line of the Roughriders’ size, as West Jefferson sports five seniors up front — with only left tackle Josh Hart (6-2, 250) not weighing at least 285-to-290 pounds.

“We start five seniors on the offensive line, and we’ve been very good up front which allows us to run the football at a high level,” said Coach Buescher. “We’ve been most successful in our playoff run here because we’ve been able to run behind our offensive line.”
Carrying the football has been 5-11, 175-pound senior running back Gabe Jones — who has amassed an eye-popping and jaw-dropping 2,606 yards and 39 touchdowns on 246 carries.

That’s good for almost 11 (10.6) yards per carry, as Jones — with a massive 287 yards and five touchdowns on a hefty 29 attempts — and the Roughriders ran roughshod over West Liberty-Salem in the Region 20 final.

West Jefferson pitched a 34-0 blowout shutout in that regional championship, and avenged its only defeat— a 42-39 shootout loss at West Liberty-Salem on Oct. 18.

Jones also has 21 receptions and six scores for 445 yards out of the backfield, as the Roughriders’ receiving leaders are juniors Tyler Oberle (5-10, 160) and Kyle Scott (5-10, 150).

Both Oberle and Scott have 38 receptions apiece, as Oberle has 911 yards with 11 TDs — while Scott has 602 yards and six trips to paydirt.
Pendleton said when West Jefferson does throw the ball, it’s a vertical style.

“They go some spread, but they will go double wings and try to give you a six-man or seven-man surface up front. They like to remove people out of the box, depending on what coverage they are getting. They like to run the ball and get numbers at the point of attack and use their size to their advantage,” said the coach. “They are very big up front and they like to hang their hat on running the ball. The quarterback is the coach’s son and is definitely a capable thrower. He is very good at play-action and when they throw, they like to take deep shots downfield. They try to take the lid off the coverage. We have to play disciplined and aggressive and it’s another offense that you have to stop before they can get started.”

The coach said the same thing about Ridgewood’s offense, but said West Jefferson focuses first on running the ball — whereas Ridgewood relies more on its passing attack.

“It’s completely different (from Ridgewood). They are not a team that wants to go out and throw the ball all over the yard. They like to run the ball and run the ball downhill. Not so much East and West running as opposed to North and South,” said Pendleton. “They are good up front, they have a very good back in the (Gabe) Jones kid, and they have some playmakers.”

Both coaches also said certain downs must be won — with Pendleton pointing to first down while Buescher said the third-down battle is paramount.

“Our number-one key is winning on first down and getting them into second-and-long, not second-and-manageable. If we can accomplish that and get them off-track in their play-calling and what they want to do, I think we’re gonna have success,” said Pendleton.

“We can’t give a team like Ironton, that does a great job in the run game with several running backs that run hard and can change at the line of scrimmage so well, any extra possessions or snaps,” said Buescher. “We have to win third down and get off the field defensively and get our offense back out there. When we face third down, we need to convert and keep the ball. We have to take care of the football first, but keeping it and picking up first downs on third downs is going to be crucial in this game.”

Buescher knows a thing or two about winning, as he has been at West Jefferson for 18 seasons — having completely turned around and rebuilt the program into a stronghold after it fell on hard times in the 1990s.

He hails from Wellston originally and graduated from the University of Rio Grande, after transferring to Westfall as a senior — when Wellston was forced to resort to its infamous “pay-to-participate” football season of 1991.

He served as an assistant at Oak Hill, Chillicothe and Wellston — before taking over at West Jefferson in 2002.

The rest, as they say, is history — with the Roughriders winning eight conference championships and qualifying for the state playoffs 10 times.

Buescher is 138-71 in his 18 seasons so far, as his Roughriders from Madison County have seven regional runner-ups — and one other regional championship in 2013.

While Ironton now owns a dozen regional championships, the Region 20 title was West Jefferson’s fifth all-time (1976, 1977, 1982 and 2013)— as the Roughriders are in the playoffs for the 22nd campaign, with a record of 26-19.

The Roughriders also own two state titles — in 1976 and 1982.

Buescher has never faced Ironton, at any level, before Saturday night.

However, he holds the Fighting Tiger program and all of its rich history in the highest of regards.
The state playoffs are obviously overly-familiar for the Fighting Tigers, as their now 35 all-time appearances are tied for second-most in OHSAA history with Cincinnati Moeller.

Only Newark Catholic, with 36 including this year, leads Moeller and Ironton.

The meeting marks the first-ever between the Fighting Tigers and Roughriders.

“We are excited about competing against Ironton,” said Buescher. “Their program has so much history, has been the most visible program in Southeastern Ohio for a long time. I have a lot of respect for that program and what they have done. I’m sure their kids are excited and their staff is excited. We’re hoping to put our best foot forward. It should be an exciting night for both communities.”
There’s no doubt about that, but both teams do want to win — and advance to the state championship game on Saturday, Dec. 7 in Canton.
That said, the Fighting Tigers were still practicing football on Black Friday — with the aim of winning on the final day of November and still playing actual, and official, football the opening week of December.

“The later in the season you are playing, the higher the stakes are getting. When you are playing for championships and a chance to do something special that not a lot of people are getting to do, it’s something we’re definitely not taking for granted,” said Pendleton. “We know how hard it is to get here, and there are a lot of great teams out there not playing football right now. We’re not taking it for granted, but we’re definitely not satisfied either. You feel the energy in the town and in the kids, and they are excited to be here, but as I tell them each week the mission isn’t accomplished. We’re going to keep showing up here to work and keep after it. We’re still attacking this thing each and every day, and our goals aren’t complete yet.”

Ironton goes retro, wins Region 19



Ironton goes retro, wins Region 19

Fighting Tigers down Generals 24-14

By Paul Boggs

Photo’s  by Kent Sanborn

Also read: Pre-game and Post Game Talk 

Game Preview by Paul Boggs 

Game Photo’s by Kent Sanborn


NELSONVILLE — As Ironton High School football made its rise in the 1970s and 1980s, how fitting for the 2019 Fighting Tigers to go retro in winning their 12th all-time regional championship.

After all, in an age and era when the game is all about athleticism, speed and slinging the ball all around — it was actually refreshing for the Fighting Tigers to capture Saturday night’s Division V Region 19 title tilt by dominating defensively, going on a ground assault, and being super-special on special teams.

As a result, Ironton — after a two-decade drought — is playing in the Ohio High School Athletic Association state semifinals, as the Fighting Tigers rallied past previously-undefeated Ridgewood for a 24-14 victory inside a rainy but jam-packed Boston Field at Nelsonville-York High School.
Both teams are now 12-1, but indeed it is Ironton — the top seeded squad in Region 19 — advancing on to football’s Final Four for the first time since 1999.

It had been since 2009 and 2010, to be in exact, in which Ironton even advanced to the regional final — as the Tigers also prevented a General sweep of Southeast District teams en route to what would have been their second all-time regional crown.
Ironton secondyear head coach Trevon Pendleton, the former Portsmouth West High School star, said his senior class of 14 “was going to be the one” to get the Fighting Tigers’ self-professed “order restored”.

“When I got hired almost two years ago, I told these seniors that they were the ones. This was going to happen with them,” said an elated Pendleton. “It all goes back to the offseason and the things we put them through. This team has built a brotherhood and a bond. They would do anything for each other and fight like brothers for each other. This feels so good. I’m so proud of these guys and I can’t say enough about them. We’re going to go celebrate this one tonight for sure.”

But no need to party and strike up Prince’s music, the Fighting Tigers’ triumph resembled one of their many wins from the 70s and 80s.

Defensively, their talented and highly-touted line got pressure on Ridgewood standout quarterback and East District Division V Co-Offensive Player of the Year Gabe Tingle, as Tingle completed only 10-of-28 passes for 112 yards with one interception by Collin Freeman.

Colin Freeman
Current Team

Tingle also rushed for 56 yards and a one-yard third-quarter touchdown plunge on 17 carries, but of Ridgewood’s 225 total yards on 56 total plays, the Fighting Tigers only allowed 145 on 44 — following the Generals’ game-opening 80-yard, dozen-play, five-minute scoring drive.
In fact, Ironton forced four General punts including three following three-and-outs, as two General drives — one inside the red zone in the final 54 seconds of the opening half and the other from the 20-yard-line to midfield inside in the second half of the final quarter — resulted in critical turnovers on downs.

The second of those was with three-and-a-half minutes remaining, and followed a massive 34-yard field goal by Avery Book that made it 24-14 with only 6:15 to play.

Avery Book
Current Team

While Saturday night was only the third time all season that the Fighting Tiger first-team defensive unit had allowed more than one touchdown in any one game, the Generals — which had averaged almost 50 points and 450 yards per game — easily scored a season-low (14).

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

After the game-opening drive which featured five first downs and was actually aided by an Ironton personal-foul penalty, the only other General drive of significance was its 11-play, 65-yard, four-minute march that picked up four first downs.
Tingle finished that off with his 1-yard sneak that made it 21-14 late in the third quarter, as Ridgewood — when starting in Ironton territory — only crossed midfield three times.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

The Generals also dropped four of Tingle’s passes — one of which would have likely resulted in an 83-yard touchdown to make it 14-7 Ridgewood.

“Those guys on that (defensive) side of the ball can fly around. We had a great week of practice on defense, we got into a rhythm and we maintained time of possession, which is huge in games like this. We knew if we kept their offense off the field, it would be hard for them to score. We knew if we could force four or five punts, especially on three-and-outs, that we were in a very good position,” said Pendleton. “That’s what our ultimate goal was and we were able to accomplish that. The key to success was just playing disciplined and understanding what we were trying to accomplish. We gave some things up, but we were able to take away the things they like to do. We kept the ball in front of us, rallied to the football, played with great effort and got Tingle to the ground.”

Offensively, the power base of the Fighting Tigers’ running game was on full display, as they rushed for 270 yards on exactly 50 carries, with Reid Carrico carrying 20 times for 143 yards — easily highlighted by a bull in a China shop-style 55-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7-7.

Quarterback Gage Salyers rushed for 78 yards on 18 carries, as his 5-yard scoring sprint with 3:46 remaining in the second quarter made it 21-7 — and capped a 10-play, 48-yard four-minute and 36-second scoring drive.

Exactly six minutes earlier at 9:46, Cameron Deere took a sweep play 26 yards to the house to give Ironton the lead for good at 14-7 — as that Fighting Tiger scoring drive spanned six plays, 52 yards and exactly 2:36.

Cameron Deere
Current Team
2019, 2020

Deere rushed five times for 33 yards, as Ironton did not attempt a pass in the entire opening half — instead rushing 28 times for 187 yards, which included one lost fumble right at the General 20-yard-line at the five-minute mark of the first quarter.

But the tide turned in the Fighting Tigers’ favor over the final 17 minutes of the first half — when Ridgewood punted three times and the Fighting Tigers turned all three possessions into their 21 points.

“We’ve started nine or 10 different offensive linemen. The guys up front, we just kept pounding away at them and told them that they are going to be the reason for our offensive success, especially running like we did tonight, They’ve come so far since the first game,” said Pendleton. “Then our skilled guys in the backfield, we’re deep and can rotate in those positions. With Reid (Carrico) running the ball and Gage (Salyers) running the offense as a whole, all of our guys came up big again.”

Ironton added 83 yards on 22 second-half carries, as Salyers completed a pair of second-half passes on four attempts — one for 20 yards to Carrico and another for 11 to Ashton Duncan.

For their final three points, Book booted his 34-yard field goal, but it was special teams that took center stage for the final 25 minutes.
Following Freeman’s interception of Tingle — and an unsportsman-like conduct call which started the Ironton possession at the 10 — Book punted following three plays and two five-yard penalties, but his shank kick covered only 12 yards.

With 54 seconds remaining in the second, the Generals started from the Fighting Tiger 17, but a Tingle first-down pass to Kaden Smith — who rushed for 51 yards on 10 tries — resulted in a 2-yard loss.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Tingle then threw three consecutive incompletions, as Ironton — with 10 ticks till halftime — had made its biggest defensive stand of the game.
“I was really proud of how we handled that sudden-change situation,” said Pendleton. “We got a poor punt off, gave them short field position, but our defense extinguished that fire right away.”

With Ironton then leading 21-14, another penalty-filled Tiger possession ended with Salyers’ two incompletions at his own 36.
But Book — just 20 seconds into the fourth quarter — pulled off an incredible 63-yard punt that pinned the Generals all the way back to their own goal-line.

Gage Salyers
Current Team

The ball first bounced at around the Ridgewood 25, then perfectly — and even properly — spun on a dime and rolled all the way inside the 1-yard-line where the Tigers downed the ball.

Ridgewood went three-and-out again and actually avoided getting called for a safety, as Ironton began its next series at the General 32 —and moved six plays and 15 yards before Book, the ever-reliable left-footer, booted the ball straight through the uprights.
“Anytime you get a two-score lead late in the game when you have an offense that is able to chew up clock, it definitely gives you a cushion and makes you feel better about yourself in that situation,” said Pendleton. “That drive we were also able to conserve our defense a little bit and we knew we were going to get one last stop.”

Finally, Book’s 35-yard punt with only 27 seconds remaining was once again downed at the 1-yard-line — this time by Deere and Kyle Howell.

Book also made all three of his extra-point kicks, and made a major difference on kickoffs with his four touchbacks out of a possible five chances.

“Avery has done a great job of punting and kicking all year for us. Our special teams came up huge with a lot of touchbacks, and with the big punt to pin them deep early in the fourth quarter. It seemed like they had bad field position all night,” said Pendleton.

And, when the Fighting Tigers faced any adversity on Saturday night, they handled it well.

“That’s the thing about us. We’re able to beat a storm,” said Pendleton. “We got down 7-0 and they moved the ball right down the field on us, but we just stayed the course. I was asked what all changes did we make after their first possession. I said we didn’t make any. We just settled in and played great defense.”

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

And great defense, like a sound ground-and-pound running game and super special teams, wins championships.
Indeed, Ironton played the wayback machine in winning Region 19.

The Tigers will now face West Jefferson in the Division V state semifinals on Saturday night, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m.

Ironton 24, Ridgewood 14

Ridgewood 7 0 7 o — 14
Ironton 7 14 0 3 — 24

R — Deontae Brandon, 4-yard run (Connor Kunze kick), 7:06, 1st (7-0 R)
I — Reid Carrico, 55-yard run (Avery Book kick), 2:37, 1st (7-7 tie)
I — Cameron Deere, 26-yard run (Avery Book kick), 9:46, 2nd (14-7 I)
I — Gage Salyers, 5-yard run (Avery Book kick), 3:46, 2nd (21-7 I)
R — Gabe Tingle, 1-yard run (Connor Kunze kick), 3:14, 3rd (21-14 I)
I — Avery Book, 34-yard field goal, 6:15, 4th (24-14 I)

Team Statistics
First downs 14 16
Plays from scrimmage 56 54
Rushes-yards 28-113 50-270
Passing yards 112 31
Total yards 225 301
Cmp-Att-Int. 10-28-1 2-4-0-31
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 2-16 13-100
Punts-average 4-30.25 3-36.7
Individual Leaders
RUSHING —Ridgewood: Gabe Tingle 17-56 TD, Kaden Smith 10-51, Deontae Brandon 2-6 TD; Ironton: Reid Carrico 20-143 TD, Gage Salyers 18-78 TD, Cameron Deere 5-33 TD, Seth Fosson 4-12, Trevor Carter 1-7, Team 2-(-3)
PASSING — Ridgewood: Gabe Tingle 10-28-1-112; Ironton: Gage Salyers 2-4-0-31
RECEIVING — Ridgewood: Dalton Patterson 4-48, Koleton Smith 4-48, Connor Kunze 1-18, Kaden Smith 1-(-2); Ironton: Reid Carrico 1-20, Ashton Duncan 1-11


Ben Spicer talks with Ironton head coach Trevon Pendleton after the Tigers topped Ridgewood on Saturday night, 24-14....

Posted by My Town TV HD on Sunday, November 24, 2019


7Gage Salyers24031018781000
24Ashton Duncan000000001110
28Reid Carrico000002014311200
28Trevor Carter00000170000
30Cameron Deere000005331000
44Seth Fosson000004120000
# Defense Sacks Tackles INT FGM FGA


Sacks Tackles INT FGM FGA


Date Time League Season
November 23, 2019 7:00 pm Playoffs 2019

Fighting Tigers, Generals go for Region 19 title

Fighting Tigers, Generals go for Region 19 title

By Paul Boggs

Photo’s by Kent Sanborn

IRONTON — The Ironton Fighting Tigers own 11 football regional championships.

[event_scoreboard id=”1715″ number=”15″ align=”none”]

However, they have experienced a decade-long drought since they played for their last — and exactly two decades worth since they even last won one.

How fitting then, with rain and possibly even some snow predicted with a few weather forecasts for Saturday night, that Ironton can end that long, dry, nagging regional title spell — against a polar opposite squad whose only regional championship was a decade ago itself.

In the first-ever meeting between Ironton and Ridgewood, the one-loss and top-seeded Fighting Tigers (11-1) tangle with the undefeated and second-seeded Generals (12-0) in the Division V Region 19 championship — set for Saturday night at historic Boston Field in Nelsonville on the campus of Nelsonville-York High School.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Ironton, indeed, is the only Southeast District team remaining in these state playoffs — following a rough 1-6 regional semifinal weekend for the Southeast.
But, it’s a good “problem” for the proud and tradition-rich Fighting Tiger program to have — as Ironton is easily and often regarded as the most successful football school in the entire Southeast District.

The state playoffs are obviously overly-familiar for the Fighting Tigers, as their now 35 all-time appearances are tied for second-most in Ohio High School Athletic Association history with Cincinnati Moeller.

Only Newark Catholic, with 36 including this year, leads Moeller and Ironton.

The Fighting Tigers are 47-32 all-time in the tournament, as they have reached the state championship game eight times — while winning titles in 1979 and 1989.
The 11 regional championships are tied for 13th all-time in the state with both Cleveland Benadictine and Columbus DeSales, as Ironton is tied for first with Newark Catholic and Coldwater with six state runners-up.

But 1999, under legendary head coach Bob Lutz, was the Tigers’ last appearance in the state championship game — and it’s been since 2009 and 2010 that they even last appeared in the regional finals.

In fact, the 2009 regional championship loss against Coshocton — Ridgewood’s rival to be precise — took place at Nelsonville-York ‘s Boston Field.

The Fighting Tigers lost 20-14 in overtime, following their 20-14 overtime triumph over Heath in the regional semifinals at Nelsonville-York the week before.

But with ‘79, ‘89, ‘99, ‘09 and now ‘19 being some of the most successful seasons in program history, these 2019 Fighting Tigers try to take that next step into Ironton’s “immortality”.

Head Coach Trevon Pendleton

Current Team
Past Teams
Portsmouth West
“These are games that we live for in this town,” said second-year Ironton head coach and former Portsmouth West High School standout Trevon Pendleton, in an interview on Tuesday. “These are the games that our kids, our staff and our community looks forward to. These are the games that get talked about, but like we told our kids since we got here, this is where we want to be and expect to be. Our kids have worked to put themselves in this position, so all the credit goes to them.”

As Ironton is the only Southeast District club remaining in the state playoffs, and represented the most with 12 total selections including Pendleton as TRI-Coach of the Year on the Division V all-Southeast District team, the Fighting Tigers are only six points and an (16-10) overtime loss at archrival Ashland (Ky.) away from being undefeated along with the Generals.

The Fighting Tiger first-team defensive unit, in fact, has not allowed more than one touchdown in any one game — aside from the two against Ashland and two against Coal Grove (49-12).

In Ironton’s 31-7 Region 19 semifinal victory over Amanda-Clearcreek, the Fighting Tigers forced four A-C turnovers — and allowed only 200 rushing yards to the run-heavy Aces, including 132 on 21 carries by A-C quarterback Peyton Madison.

Madison, who also had 58 passing yards, scored the Aces’ only touchdown — a 33-yard run.

Ironton, however, scored the final 24 points over the final three quarters — rushing for 325 yards on 57 attempts itself.

“Our size and our scheme helped play a role in that win,” said Pendleton.

Truth be told, it wasn’t because of neatness, as Ironton fumbled six times and lost half of them — but the 13 penalties for 110 yards with three personal fouls was most alarming.

Pendleton has discussed the importance of his Tigers playing mistake-free football time and again — and did so again on Tuesday.

If Ironton is to repeat the same mistakes against the talented and highly-touted Generals, Ridgewood will most certainly take distinct advantage — as it did in its 42-17 semifinal win over Wheelersburg.

“We didn’t play our cleanest game by any means. Too many turnovers and penalties, and those are unforced errors that we can control. We talk about it every week, but that’s something that we definitely have to clean up going into this week against somebody as good as Ridgewood. Amanda-Clearcreek was a very good opponent, but fortunately, we were able to overcome many of the mistakes that we made and were able to capitalize and bounce right back and either force a turnover ourselves or get a quick stop,” he said. “You have to be able to positively react t0 what we call those ‘sudden change’ situations where field position is flipped real fast or a turnover that happens. Anytime you can react as an offense and take advantage and score, or as a defense and can stand tall and force a three-and-out right away, you really like your chances. We’ve been able to do that and handle adversity all year for the most part.

Hopefully, we play a much cleaner game against Ridgewood. Ultimately, it comes down to focus and attention to detail.”

And, attention to detail — in defending the Generals’ spread-the-field offensive attack spearheaded by sophomore quarterback Gabe Tingle — is paramount this week.

While Ironton’s defense is stout, and having surrendered just 69 points all year, it is undoubtedly facing the best offense it has encountered with the Generals, which have averaged 49 points per game — and with Tingle as the engineer.

In the regular season, Tingle — a 5-foot 11-inch 180-pound sophomore — slung the ball around for 2,052 yards and 22 touchdowns with only two interceptions.
He completed 70-percent of his passes on 99 out of 141 attempts, and also rushed for 726 yards on 83 carries with 15 trips to paydirt.

He was named the East District’s Division V Offensive Co-Player of the Year, as the Generals — which steamrolled through the Inter-Valley Conference — played in nine games with a running clock with six of those 10 tilts featuring the starters not playing a down in the second half.

In the regional quarterfinals against Portsmouth, which the Generals rolled 56-21, Tingle completed a dozen passes on 19 attempts for 233 yards and a hat trick of TDs — and rushed eight times for 71 yards.

He was even better in the regional semifinals against Wheelersburg — throwing for 288 yards and four scores on 15-of-22 while rushing for 93 yards and a touchdown on 16 totes.

Containing Tingle is the top priority for the Fighting Tiger defense, which is anchored by the Southeast District Division V Defensive Player of the Year in linebacker Reid Carrico.

Reid Carrico
Current Team
2019, 2020


Two of the Tigers’ defensive linemen, first-team all-district selections and seniors Seth Fosson and Junior Jones, must get pressure on the elusive Tingle and tackle him.

Seth Fosson
Current Team


For Pendleton, the ‘X’ marks the defensive spot.


Junior Jones
Current Team

“They (Generals) have a lot of guys on that side of the ball that are very good players and capable of scoring anytime you let them get loose. But the key when you are playing a potent offense like this is to stop them before they get started. If you can come out early and be aggressive and draw an ‘X’ in the sand and stand on that ‘X’ and solidify yourself on that side of the ball, you’ll feel good,” said the coach. “We need to make big plays on defense, and it has to be all night with the same intensity from start to finish. Anytime you are playing this spread-style offense, tackling in space is huge. Tingle tries to get the ball out to their best athletes in space, and they try to rely on their athletes being as good or better than your athletes and having a lot of room to maneuver with.
You definitely have to play with great leverage, finish plays and get guys like Tingle on the ground.”

Tingle’s top receiver is Koleten Smith — a 5-10 170-pound senior who had, in the regular season, 37 receptions for 778 yards and seven touchdowns with a 21.2 yards per catch average.

Against Portsmouth, he had eight receptions for 117 yards and three TDs — before adding seven catches for 115 yards and a 49-yard jump-starting score against Wheelersburg.

The lead lineman is six-foot one-inch 237-pound senior tackle John Evin, a three-year starter and second-team all-Ohioan last season.

Connor Kunze, who kicked six extra points apiece against Portsmouth and Wheelersburg, made five receptions for 164 yards against the Pirates — three of which went for TDs.

But perhaps the Fighting Tigers’ best defense can be their offense — with ball-controlling, clock-consuming, game-shortening scoring drives.

That keeps the ball out of Tingle’s hands, and in the possession of quarterback Gage Salyers and the running back Carrico.

Against the Aces, Salyers rushed 20 times for 122 yards, while Carrico carried 17 times for 85.

“This time of year, it’s those teams that are able to control the ball that usually win the game. But ultimately, it’s those teams that are able to capitalize and finish off drives. Whether that be through the air or on the ground, whatever we have to do,” said Pendleton. “We are very dynamic on offense, it’s a very unselfish group, and we trust all of our guys to make every play. It’s just a matter of what we need to do that week to get the job done.”
However, the Generals’ defense does its job just as well as its noteworthy offense.

Zach Prater (6-1, 290, jr.) and Bryce Prater (6-3, 280, jr.) are twin brothers — as in the regular season Zach had 35 tackles, including eight for loss and five sacks, while Bryce had 23 tackles, including 11 for loss and four-and-a-half sacks.

The ends are Kaden Smith (5-11, 205, sr.) and J.J. Durr (5-11, 215, jr.), combining for 62 tackles, 22 of which were for loss with 11 sacks.

The Generals’ linebacking corps consists of the team’s top two tacklers — Deontae Brandon (6-0, 183, jr.) and Isaiah Lamneck (5-10, 170, sr.).

Brandon was first with 68 tackles including 11 for loss and five-and-a-half sacks, while Lamneck notched 61 tackles with eight for loss and four sacks.

“They are very similar to our defense and have a lot of athletes on the field. But at the same time, I don’t think anyone gives our offense enough credit,” said Pendleton. “These guys are going to be ready for anything you throw at them. They go against what I consider to be the best defense in the state week in and week out in practice. That said, Ridgewood is a very good team that is fundamentally sound and does a lot of great things.”

Which makes for, per Pendleton, “a clash of two titans that we are definitely looking forward to”.

“I would rather play 10 to 15 of these games every year as opposed to some of the games that are lopsided. It just has a different buzz about it and even a rivalry feel for it,” he said.

Ridgewood, with 2009 in Division V as its only regional championship, is 8-13 all-time in the tournament — and is attempting to sweep Southeast District opponents en route to its second.

That year, the sixth-seeded Generals defeated Minford (36-10) and Oak Hill (20-12) from the Southeast — before defeating Fredericktown from the Central.
Indeed, Ironton is the last line of defense against Ridgewood — and for the Southeast District.
However, as per Pendleton, the Fighting Tigers’ travels don’t end at Nelsonville-York.

“The ultimate goal wasn’t to reach the regional final. It is to win the region, win the state semifinal and win the Division V state championship. This is just another stepping stone on that path. We shouldn’t just be satisfied to stop here. We have bigger and better aspirations beyond just playing in this regional championship game,” he said.

But, in order for Ironton to reach those loftier goals, its regional titles MUST first be better by the dozen following Saturday night.

“This game is the biggest of the year because it’s the next one. It’s definitely important,” said Pendleton. “Anytime you can win a game involving a trophy, it’s a great feeling. We are looking forward to Saturday and playing Ridgewood.”



Ridgewood’s revenge


Ridgewood’s revenge: Pirates fall 42-17 to Generals in Region 19 semi
By Paul BoggsLANCASTER — Unfortunately for the Wheelersburg Pirates, Ridgewood’s revenge was served quite cold.
In the fifth all-time meeting between the Pirates and undefeated Generals on Saturday night, in the Division V Region 19 semifinals at a frigid Fulton Field in Lancaster, the Generals — specifically sophomore quarterback Gabe Tingle — just had all the right moves and made all the big plays.
Tingle, the East District Division V Offensive Co-Player of the Year, torched the Pirates’ pass defense for four touchdowns and 288 yards on 15-of-22 — and second-seeded Ridgewood rolled third-seeded Wheelersburg 42-17 to advance to the Region 19 championship tilt next week.
Tingle, too, paced the Generals in rushing with 93 yards and a 2-yard touchdown run on 16 carries — as Connor Kunze kicked all six Ridgewood extra points, while catching three of Tingle’s TD tosses.
For the Pirates, they had won their first four meetings with Ridgewood — all in the playoffs and all occurring since the 2007 season.
However, the 2019 club wasn’t Wheelersburg’s most highly-touted team of all-time, while many observers of Ridgewood believe this is the best General squad ever.
The Generals are now a perfect 12-0, won their second straight playoff affair over a Scioto County team, and will now face top-seeded and 11-1 Ironton for the Region 19 championship next Saturday night.
Wheelersburg, meanwhile, wraps up its season at 8-4 — and exits the postseason in the regional semifinal for the first time since 2010, as it did not make the playoffs in 2011 and lost to Liberty Union in the regional quarterfinals in 2012.
The Generals also snapped the Pirates’ six-game winning streak, as Wheelersburg had won eight out of nine games entering the regional semi.
But Ridgewood was real good, and actually was involved in its closest game all season — aside from a 31-9 victory over Indian Valley.
“They are a good team, no doubt,” said Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward, who completed his 12th season at the Pirate helm on Saturday night. “We went into the game knowing we had to stop the run. And low and behold, they went after us in terms of taking some shots downfield. And they converted them. We had to get some stops there and we didn’t. They maintained momentum the whole game and in playoff football, that’s what happens if you are not on top of your game.”
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
The Generals scored on their first four possessions and in nine plays or less, and only a kneel-down for the final first-half play prevented a possible larger lead than 28-3 at halftime.
Then, following the Pirates’ 12-play 70-yard four-minute and 11-second scoring drive to open the second half and which featured five first downs, the Generals answered with a similar eight-play, 73-yard four-minute and nine-second drive that ended with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Tingle to Kunze at the 3:25 mark of the third quarter.
Once again, the Generals were up by 25 at 35-10, and Evan Horsley — the Pirate senior quarterback who had both of Wheelersburg’s touchdowns on one-yard runs — was intercepted by Kunze on back-to-back possessions.
The second of those was with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter and, with Ridgewood starting at the Wheelersburg 9-yard-line after Kunze’s 21-yard return, the Generals were in the end zone again just three plays and a minute and 15 seconds later — on Tingle’s final of four touchdown passes and third to Kunze.
The four-yard pitch-and-catch on a nice back-shoulder throw made it 42-10 just 45 seconds in the fourth quarter, and put the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s running-clock rule into effect — for a mere two minutes and 20 seconds anyway.
Horsley, who paced the Pirates with 92 rushing yards on 18 carries and completed 10-of-21 passes for 138 yards, had his second scoring plunge with 8:40 remaining.
Braxton Sammons successfully made his second extra-point kick to stop the running clock, but after Wheelersburg forced Ridgewood into only its second punt attempt, Horsley was intercepted for the fourth and final time.
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Of course, the Pirates and Horsley had to throw deep and take some second-half chances — after falling behind 28-3 and victim to the Generals’ big plays.
“The shots that we did take downfield that we didn’t convert resulted in worse things for us,” said Woodward. “The shots that they took they converted. Hats off to them for being in the right spot and making good plays on the ball.”
Ridgewood outgained Wheelersburg by almost 200 (315-117) yards in the opening half, including by 140 (225-85) through the air.
In all, while both teams rushed for 123 yards on almost an identical number of carries (35 for Wheelersburg and 34 for Ridgewood), the big difference was in the 150-yard (288-138) and four-touchdown disparity in the passing game.
Both teams ran 56 plays from scrimmage, while the Generals held a 23-14 advantage in first downs.
Following its first first down, on a Tingle completion for nine yards on the game’s second play, Ridgewood went up 7-0 on the fourth play from scrimmage — when Tingle, from the Wheelersburg 49-yard-line, went deep down the middle to a wide-open Koleton Smith.
No Pirate defender was within 10 yards of Smith, as it appeared a safety got lost in coverage — as Smith made the catch on the deep post route and raced into the end zone.
While Kunze caught five passes for 164 yards and a hat trick of TDs, Smith made the most receptions from Tingle — seven for 115 yards.
“The fourth play of the game was just a good job by them schematically. They worked those first three plays setting things up, trying to see what we were in. We had a blown assignment, but a good football team plays that chess match and executes,” said Woodward.
The Pirates did answer, as Matthews — who was held in check rushing with 35 yards on 14 carries but caught six of Horsley’s passes for 87 yards — returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards to the General 29.
Wheelersburg moved to the 11 and faced a 3rd-down-and-2, but Matthews losing a yard on the next play forced a Sammons 29-yard field goal at the 6:48 mark of the first period.
However, the next two full quarters belonged to Ridgewood, which went up 14-3 just four minutes and nine seconds later.
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
The Generals drove nine plays and 67 yards, aided largely on a pass completion from Tingle to Smith to midfield — with a Wheelersburg 15-yard face-mask penalty tacked on.
Kaden Smith finished the march with a four-yard TD run, and the Pirates got no closer the rest of the way.
The Pirates then drove as deep as the General 8-yard-line, thanks largely to Matthews running for 26 yards on a successful fake punt, but a fumbled snap on 3rd-and-5 essentially stalled the drive out — as Matthews’ inside counter run on fourth-down resulted in a turnover on downs.
Two plays later, from his own 1-yard-line in fact, Tingle scrambled and stepped up in the pocket — and found Kunze open behind the Pirate secondary for a 64-yard gain to the Wheelersburg 35.
Tingle then escaped for a 15-yard run to the 15, as the Pirates were whistled for another personal-foul penalty, and Tingle’s 2-yard run at the 8:14 mark made it 21-3 — ending an eventful, but impactful, six-play drive.
The Pirates then drove seven plays to the General 26, as a Horsley pass to Matthews for 27 yards put them inside the 30, but Ridgewood’s Kurtis Varian intercepted Horsley in the end zone at the six-minute mark of the second stanza.
Ridgewood went up 28-3 three-and-a-half minutes later with two-and-a-half minutes left in the half — when Tingle, after already hooking up with Kunze for 39 yards, found him open in the corner of the end zone from 27 yards away.
That capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive, as another Wheelersburg possession which moved to the Ridgewood 33 stalled out after.
But one drive which concluded with precious points was Wheeelersburg’s opening of the third quarter — when the Pirates quickly operated with a no-huddle offense and involved Horsley on all but four of the dozen plays.
The Pirates converted three third downs in the series, as Horsley had a 31-yard sprint up the middle to begin the drive — followed by pass completions to Hunter Ruby for 15 yards to the 13 and to Matthews for seven yards two plays later.
Horsley had the final yard for the score, and Sammons kicked the extra point, putting the Pirates down 28-10 with 7:42 remaining.
But when Wheelersburg forced a punt on the next General possession, it was whistled for a roughing-the-kicker call — resulting in the Ridgewood drive remaining alive and picking up 15 yards and an automatic first down to the Pirates’ 42.
Three plays later, the Generals made the Pirates pay for that penalty — when Tingle’s deep slant pass to Kunze turned into his 30-yard touchdown reception.
“Exactly what we wanted to do was get the ball back in our possession after we scored. Our player was trying to make a play and block the punt, and he made an aggressive mistake. High school players are going to make aggressive mistakes,” said Woodward. “He was trying to do what his job was, which was force the kick. It was at an inopportune time that he happened to run into the punter, but I will never fault a player for trying to do what he can to make a play. It was just at a time when we felt we had an opportunity to take some momentum.”
The Pirates didn’t help themselves with eight penalties for 93 yards — five of which were personal foul calls.
Indeed, Wheelersburg wasn’t at its best on Saturday night, but again enjoyed another strong season.
The Pirates captured their sixth consecutive Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship, and turned around their season after an 0-2 and 2-3 start.
Wheelersburg’s senior class will graduate having played 14 playoff games over four seasons, including the 2017 Division V state championship and last season’s state semifinals.
Its four-year record is an incredible 48-6.
“What a great four-year ride it has been here for these seniors and all the success they have had,” said Woodward. “We were a little thin at times this year with depth, but they have embodied our theme this year, which was ‘Respect the W’. That is to play the game of football the way it is supposed to be played at Wheelersburg High School. I am most proud of what these seniors did during the weeks of practice. The games are fun, but I remember the time spent in preparation for those games and how hard we had to work to go out and have success. This was a successful senior class at Wheelersburg. We had guys step up that needed to when it was time to step up.”
Unfortunately, on one cold night in Lancaster anyway, Ridgewood got its revenge.
“Great turnout by our fans tonight. Pirate Nation was out in full force supporting our kids and that’s all you can ask for,” said Woodward. “I’m proud of the job our guys did together this entire season to get to this point. It wasn’t the way we wanted it to turn out tonight, but hats off to Ridgewood for that.”
* * *
Ridgewood 42, Wheelersburg 17
Wheelersburg 3 0 7 7 — 17
Ridgewood 14 14 7 7 — 42
R — Koleton Smith, 49-yard pass from Gabe Tingle (Connor Kunze kick), 10:17, 1st (7-0 R)
W — Braxton Sammons, 29-yard field goal, 6:48, 1st (7-3 R)
R — Kaden Smith, 4-yard run (Connor Kunze kick), 2:42, 1st (14-3 R)
R — Gabe Tingle, 2-yard run (Connor Kunze kick), 8:14, 2nd (21-3 R)
R — Connor Kunze, 27-yard pass from Gabe Tingle (Connor Kunze kick), 2:32, 2nd (28-3 R)
W — Evan Horsley, 1-yard run (Braxton Sammons kick), 7:42, 3rd (28-10 R)
R — Connnor Kunze, 30-yard pass from Gabe Tingle (Connor Kunze kick), 3:25, 3rd (35-10 R)
R — Connor Kunze, 4-yard pass from Gabe Tingle (Connor Kunze kick), 11:15, 4th (42-10 R)
W — Evan Horsley, 1-yard run (Braxton Sammons kick), 8:40, 4th (42-17 R)
Team Statistics
First downs 14 23
Plays from scrimmage 56 56
Rushes-yards 35-123 34-123
Passing yards 138 288
Total yards 261 411
Cmp-Att-Int. 10-21-4 15-22-1
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 8-93 5-61
Punts-average 0-0 1-33
Individual Leaders
RUSHING —Wheelersburg: Evan Horsley 18-92 2TD, Makya Matthews 14-35, Eli Swords 2-(-7), Hunter Ruby 1-3; Ridgewood: Gabe Tingle 16-93 TD, Isaiah Lamnceck 9-23, Kaden Smith 2-7 TD, Deontae Brandon 2-4, Kigenn Millender 1-1, Team 4-(-5)
PASSING — Wheelersburg: Evan Horsley 10-21-4-138 ; Ridgewood: Gabe Tingle 15-22-1-288 4TD
RECEIVING — Wheelersburg: Makya Matthews 6-87, Hunter Ruby 2-29, Eli Swords 1-19, Gage Adkins 1-3; Ridgewood: Koleton Smith 7-115 TD, Connor Kunze 5-164 3TD, Colten Hursey 1-9, Kaden Smith 1-3, Kurtis Varian 1-(-3)





Sacks Tackles INT FGM FGA


Evan Horsley10214138018922000
Hunter Ruby000001302290
20Gage Adkins00000000130
23Eli Swords000002-701190
29Makya Matthews00000143506870
# Defense Sacks Tackles INT FGM FGA


Date Time League Season
November 16, 2019 7:00 pm Playoffs 2019