IRONTON Ironton football coach Trevon Pendleton loaded up his Fighting Tigers and traveled 230 miles to Canton in July.

He did the same thing on Thursday.

Nearly five months ago, the second-year coach stood with his bunch outside of Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. He wasn’t about to let them enter the gates, though, even if they could.

“We told them the first time we step in there will be this year,” Pendleton said.

“They loved seeing it and loved being able to lay eyes on it,” he added. “They loved being able to have that tangible goal, a goal they could reach.”

Pendleton experienced a prophetic moment.

“We told them they’d be playing Kirtland for the Division V state championship,” said the coach.

Tonight at 8, Ironton will do just that as it meets the Hornets for all the marbles in Division V.

The Fighting Tigers will face a Tiger.

Kirtland coach Tiger LaVerde is in his 14th season at the helm. The Hornets are 171-17 with four state crowns (2011, ’13, ’15, ’18) in his tenure. Kirtland captured the Division VI trophy last year.

A move to Division V didn’t faze the Hornets. They’re 14-0 with seven shutouts. They’ve allowed more than 14 points in a single game only one time in 2019.

“Honestly, that’s who we want to play; we want to play a team like this,” Pendleton said.

Ironton (13-1) is prepared for this moment, Pendleton said.

“The experience isn’t too much for them,” he said. “They’ve been in big games. There’s no more buzz than there was leading into Wheelersburg this year Week 1. ... The talk’s been Mission 15 since the day we ended last year, really. We knew this year was going to be a year we wanted to go all the way; we wanted to play 15 games and we wanted to win them all.”

Ashland handed Ironton its lone loss, a defeat that actually helped the Tigers, junior playmaker Reid Carrico said last week.

As solid as Kirtland’s defense is, Pendleton knows Ironton’s tacklers are capable of keeping the red light aglow. So much so that he felt compelled to rattle off his entire starting 11.

“Junior Jones, Reid Carrico, Seth Fosson, Cameron Deere, Jordan Grizzle, Dalton Crabtree, Nate Cochran, Gage Salyers, Kyle Howell, Trent Hacker and Collin Freeman,” Pendleton said. “Then you got guys off the bench, Gunner Crawford, Ashton Duncan, Trevor Carter, those guys do everything you ask out of them.”

Ironton has assembled four performances in which opponents didn’t score a touchdown.

“We’re loaded at every spot,” said Grizzle, a senior linebacker. “Our experience is better than what it has been.”

Ironton romped West Jefferson, 49-21, in the semifinals in Chillicothe a week ago. To say the Tigers were amped up is an understatement.

“If we could’ve gotten on the bus there in Chillicothe and drive straight to Canton, we definitely would’ve done it,” Pendleton said.

The magic of the No. 9 continues for Ironton. The Fighting Tigers were state champions in both 1979 and ’89. In ’99, they were runners-up. Overall, tonight marks their seventh showing in the state finals.

“This means a lot to everybody. We walk down Tiger Alley,” Grizzle referred to a revered portion of Tanks Memorial Stadium, “and look over and see what’s been done. Ever since we were little kids, we dreamed about being where we are right now. We’re excited, the town’s excited, we’re ready to win a state championship.”

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