Johnson Central running back Jordan Young squirted through the first string of Ironton defenders and had all day to run the rest of the way.
The junior's 57-yard touchdown put a breathtaker of a game to rest as the Golden Eagles outlasted Ironton, 45-31, at Eagle Field on Friday night.
"I'd play that game over and over again," said Young, who finished with 176 yards on 17 carries.
The game was delayed 10 minutes because of the large crowd still filtering in at 7:30 p.m., the scheduled kickoff time.
"In 31 years of coaching, I'd never seen anything like that," said Johnson Central coach Jim Matney. "To have a game delayed because they wanted to get the sold-out crowd in, wow. It was a great crowd on both sides."
Ironton (5-1) soared back from a 24-8 halftime deficit to seize a 31-30 lead by the end of the third quarter.
Johnson Central (5-1) owned the fourth and final stanza, though, thanks to a plethora of clutch plays.
After Ironton showed off its prime passing duo of quarterback Tanner Dutey and wideout Aaron Stephens, Johnson Central said, hey, we can pass too.
Zach Gound aired a deep strike to Dalton Adkins for a 58-yard score — it was the Golden Eagles' only pass attempt of the contest. He then darted in for the two-point conversion.
"I knew they weren't going to expect it," said Gound, who suffered a separated joint in his throwing shoulder in Week 3. "We haven't thrown the ball well at all the last two weeks."
"We felt like that pass might be open all night long but we hated to throw it because we were moving the ball so well on the ground," Matney said. "Every series I was tempted to throw it."
Ironton's next drive stalled when Quade Ward sacked Dutey to bring up 4th-and-16 from Johnson Central's 21-yard line.
Dutey tried to connect with the 6-foot-3 Stephens again, but he was swarmed by Golden Eagles. Josh Gound came up with a crucial break-up.
"We call that fourth down knockdown," Josh Gound said. "I played underneath him and just swatted it away."
The Golden Eagles' defense opened the door to the telling victory, as Ironton's first seven plays went for a total of one yard.
Even though Ironton's offense got going by way of the pass — Stephens amassed eight catches for 113 yards, three TDs and a two-point catch — the Fighting Tigers' running game was not as effective as usual.
Explosive runner Patrick Lewis, battling a deep thigh bruise, had just 44 yards on 12 carries. While he caught a screen pass and took it 57 yards, he didn't enjoy his weekly barrage of big-play TDs.
Matney, also Central's wrestling coach, laid out the game plan for Lewis' tacklers.
"I just told them to think of him as a wrestling opponent and do the same as you would on the mat," Matney said.
The strategy worked, as Matt Hall, Jimmy Preston and Young, all wrestlers, made tackle after tackle.
Ironton couldn't muster much stoppage in the early going.
Johnson Central jumped out to a two-TD lead with two drives consisting of 23 plays, 144 yards and more than 10 minutes of clock.
It was 16-0 by the 9:25 mark of the second quarter.
"The bottom line was we couldn't stop them all night," said Ironton coach Mark Vass. "They pounded on us and we were playing catch-up."
Catch up it did.
Stephens caught his first score while falling to the ground after inadvertent contact with the cornerback.
Young, though, responded with a 10-yard TD run, his first score of the game.
The third quarter belonged to Dutey and Stephens. They had TD hookups of 39 and 17 yards in the period. Fullback Trevor White also went in from one yard out.
"I was proud of the way our kids did come back. We hung in and had a chance to win the game," Vass said. "(Stephens) had a good game. I thought we had a size difference and he was doing well on the fade."
Josh Dillon accounted for the Golden Eagles' lone score in the third.
In what turned into a old fashioned shootout, it looked as if Ironton might respond with another score after the Golden Eagles took a 38-31 lead on the Adkins' TD reception.
However, 12 offensive plays came up 21 yards short of the end zone as a turnover on downs resulted from the Josh Gound break-up.
Johnson Central churned out 404 yards of total offense. Daymion Belcher tallied 94 rushing yards and Josh Dillon 55.
Young led the way, though, as he scored twice to go along with the big yardage.
"My line blocked their butts off for me," he said. "I couldn't have done it without them, and I just tried to keep my feet going."
Dutey led Ironton with 240 total yards.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.
- Local Sports
VIDEO: 16th Region semifinals highlights
Fleming County defeated Lewis County, 66-58, and Ashland beat Greenup County, 81-61, on Monday night at Morehead State University to set up tonight's championship matchup. Tipoff is set for 7.
Ashland cruises past Greenup to 16th Region championship game
Tyler Stewart is known for his unrelenting hustle as one of Ashland’s glue guys.
When the senior guard can pitch in some offense too, as he did Monday in the 16th Region Tournament semifinals, that’s just one more problem for Tomcats opponents.
Stewart scored 20 points, senior Steven Friley posted a double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Ashland outscored Greenup County 21-9 in the third quarter to break open what was a seven-point game at halftime and cruise past the Musketeers, 81-61.
Fleming battles back to 16th Region final
A healthy Wilder Williams this season has given Fleming County a whole new dimension.
Prior to his sophomore year, Williams sustained a football injury that resulted in three ankle surgeries and limited him to bench duty last season while the Panthers made their run to the 16th Region championship.
A physical 6-foot-3 player, Williams is making his presence felt around the basket as Fleming County looks to return to the Sweet Sixteen.
AARON SNYDER: Will the next hero be unmasked?
Who will the bat signal shine for tonight?
Or, should I say, the Cat signal?
In the third installment of a trilogy that might rival the Batman three-pack of “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Fleming County and Ashland will battle in a matchup that has produced a classic clash in each of the last two 16th Region Tournaments.
If the first two collectively served as a gradual progressions to tonight’s scene, the climax could be off the charts.
Corey Gregg was Ashland’s superhero in 2012, when the senior confidently fired a perfect 3-point shot from the right corner. The triple thrust the Tomcats and Panthers into overtime, from which Ashland emerged 79-73 in a first-round game.
Central wins, Lawrence falls in 15th
The biggest concern for Lawrence County coach Josh Cook was staying out of foul trouble.
His team stayed in it all night, and it cost them a spot in the 15th Region title game.
Shelby Valley senior Tyler Carr led four players in double figures with 19 points as the Wildcats knocked off Lawrence County, 72-60, in the semifinals of the 15th Region Tournament at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
“This one hurts,” said Cook. “We’ll learn from this, and I have no doubt that our kids will get back here and finish the job.”
- Fleming hangs tough to beat Lewis Fleming County locked into another fight against Lewis County, which beat the Panthers earlier this season, before winning 66-58 on Monday in Morehead. Wilder Williams posted a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Panthers, who face Ashland on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
- GALLERY: Ashland gets by Greenup County, will meet Fleming in region final Ashland's Steven Friley scored 21 points Monday to lead the Tomcats to an 81-61 win over Greenup County in the 16th Region semifinal in Morehead.
Kittens clamoring for more at state
Ashland girls basketball coaches went the extra mile, and a whole bunch more, to get a first-hand scouting report on the Kittens’ opponent for the State Tournament.
Head coach Bill Bradley and assistant Phil Wittich drove all the way to Henderson — 5 hours, 20 minutes one way Bradley said on the way home — to take in Sunday’s Second Region championship game.
Henderson County, playing on its home floor, defeated University Heights 67-54. The Lady Colonels went unbeaten in their region this season and are 24-5 overall.
EKC hands out hardware
The Eastern Kentucky Conference handed out its 2014 awards on Monday afternoon at a luncheon at Carter Caves.
Barracudas earn kudos from coach
Ashland Area YMCA swimmers impressed coach Ryan Ferguson from start to finish in the three-day Kentucky Y Competitive Swim League State Meet.
- More Local Sports Headlines
- VIDEO: 16th Region semifinals highlights