Johnson Central couldn’t have picked a better time for its first visit to Tanks Memorial Stadium.
Kentucky’s third-ranked Class 4A team took advantage of an injury-depleted Ironton squad in rolling to a 56-14 victory Friday night.
Not that the strong and relentless Golden Eagles needed help. They scored in lightning fashion on four consecutive two-play drives while pulling away to a 35-14 lead early in the second half.
“We knew Johnson Central would be a good ballclub, no doubt about it,” Ironton coach Mark Vass said. “They are big, physical and they get after you.”
Ironton (2-4) came in minus several key running backs and two starters up front, primarily due to injuries. Sophomore transfer D’Angelo Palladino stepped in and made an impressive debut for the Fighting Tigers after sitting out the first five games.
Palladino broke loose for 78-yard touchdown two plays into the second half to get Ironton within 28-14, but Johnson Central quickly squashed any hopes for a comeback.
Junior halfback Daymion Belcher bolted 48 yards to the end zone for his second of three touchdowns and the Golden Eagles never looked back from there.
“Our kids just played very well tonight,” coach Jim Matney said after Johnson Central went to 6-0 in its first road game of the season. “I feel Ironton will be a good team. They are just young and hurt right now.”
The series between the highly regarded football programs started last year, with Johnson Central winning 44-31 in Paintsville.
The Golden Eagles flexed their muscle Friday night. They rushed for 434 yards and got two TD receptions from wideout Dalton Adkins.
“I just enjoyed playing here,” said Matney, noting Ironton’s rich tradition. “We have a pretty good team this season. Year in and year out, I think the two teams would be pretty even.”
Not this night. Johnson Central, which came in averaging just under 60 points and a staggering 11.5 yards per play, reeled off four TDs in the second quarter after a scoreless first period.
The Golden Eagles were on their way to a score on the game’s opening possession, but Belcher fumbled into the end zone for a touchback. But they reeled off four touchdowns in the second quarter for a 28-0 lead.
Quarterback Zach Gound went in untouched on a 7-yarder, then found Adkins in the end zone for a 17-yard score after Johnson Central blocked Tristan Cox’s rugby-style punt.
Jordan Young’s 42-yard punt return set up the Golden Eagles again. Belcher circled right end from 17 yards out. Following another Ironton punt, promising sophomore Bryce Workman zipped a short pass to Adkins, who took it 36 yards for a score after making a defender miss.
“Dalton’s a very good athlete,” Matney said. “We’ve always had a few super-talented kids, but we probably have more across the field than we ever had.”
Adkins, a junior, picked off a pass late in the half and returned it 70 yards to the end zone, but Johnson Central was called for pass interference.
On the next play, Ironton’s Cox connected with wide receiver Joe Bowling for a 31-yard TD to end the half.
The Fighting Tigers’ momentum spilled into the third quarter with Palladino’s long scoring run.
“I thought we hung in and fought,” Vass said. “Palladino’s a talented kid, and tough. He stuck his nose in there and took some licks. He didn’t back away from anything.”
Palladino totaled 176 yards in rushing and receiving before leaving later in the third quarter due to apparent leg cramps.
“I thought 22 (Palladino) was a heck of a back,” Matney said.
Johnson Central’s Josh Gound and Belcher had scoring runs in the last 4:33 of the first quarter and Workman added a 70-yarder in the fourth period.
Along with the explosive offense, senior Brad Auxier and sophomore Aaron King led a rugged defensive performance by the Golden Eagles.
“Auxier’s had nine fumble recoveries this year and made an incredible number of tackles,” Matney said. “King’s a real tough wrestler who makes a lot of plays.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.