IRONTON It has been eight weeks since Ironton experienced a close game in the second half.
The Fighting Tigers glided through their Ohio Valley Conference slate with little resistance, which included a convincing win against Portsmouth 15 days ago.
The pattern changed when the Trojans came calling again on Saturday night. The stakes were different, too, as the two rivals met at Tanks Memorial Stadium in the second round of the OHSAA Division V, Region 19 playoffs.
Ironton offense leaned on its defense and special teams to hold off a late Portsmouth rally to advance with a 17-6 victory.
“We haven’t been in a close game in a while, but they handled adversity well,” Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton said. “We kept fighting and chipping away at it. We had a lot of guys do a lot of good things. Now, we just need to find the inches and we have to get better each and every day. We will go back to the drawing board and get it done.”
The Tigers had to start fresh at the quarterback position entering the postseason. Tayden Carpenter is out with a foot injury and backup signal caller Jon Wylie is sidelined with shoulder issues.
Enter freshman Braden Schreck.
Schreck made his first varsity start in a playoff atmosphere last week in the opening round game against Wellston. The offense wasn’t crisp at times, but it took advantage of several Trojan miscues to keep Ironton in the lead.
“It was a big moment for him,” Pendleton said, “but he handled it extremely well. He is a kid that does a lot of good for us. He is a hard worker. He will be special. He doesn’t realize it yet, but he has all the makings of being a really good quarterback.”
Portsmouth coach Bruce Kalb also lost his starting quarterback — senior Drew Roe — right before halftime. Junior Tyler Duncan received the second-half snaps and improved as the game progressed.
“He settled into (the game),” Kalb said. “He came out on this stage, a second-round, win-or-go-home game and stepped up and did what he needed to do. He got more comfortable and had a phenomenal night.”
Portsmouth amassed 151 total yards, and just 42 in the opening two quarters. The Trojans limited Ironton to 187 yards of offense, but were the victim of two untimely turnovers that gave the Tigers momentum.
“We expect a battle any time it’s Portsmouth and Ironton,” Kalb said. “I tip my hat to my coaching staff and my players. Any time you play a team twice, you get that unique opportunity to watch film and make the corrections. Those guys did what they need to do. We came out and executed the game plan and battled for four quarters.”
A blocked punt set up Ironton in Portsmouth territory in the first frame. Two plays later, the Tigers lost 18 yards after Schreck recovered his own fumble. The quarterback started moving the ball forward and hit Ty Perkins for a 28-yard touchdown catch. Perkins eluded at defender at the 10 and sprinted to the end zone.
“We made some big plays,” Pendleton said, “but we have to execute better. Bottom line.”
Amar Howard picked off a pass on the Trojans next possession. The takeaway produced a 15-play drive that stalled inside the red zone. Matt Sheridan booted a 25-yard field goal and Ironton took a 10-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“Our defense is something we work on a lot in the offseason,” Kalb said. “We felt like if we stayed low, played quick and got hats on hats, we would have a successful night. Our defense played extremely well.”
Portsmouth (8-4) kept the deficit at 10 as it ventured into the Tigers’ side of the field late in the third quarter. Unfortunately for the Trojans, they lost 16 yards on consecutive plays after defenders Blake Murrell and C.J. McCall each tackled a running back behind the line of scrimmage.
Ironton coughed up the ball around midfield and Portsmouth took advantage. Duncan drove his team down the field and hit a leaping Devon Lattimore with a 16-yard touchdown pass.
“He led this team down the field and scored a touchdown,” Kalb said of Duncan. “It’s what we needed and I am proud of his effort tonight.”
An Angelo Washington interception gave Ironton a short field with 4:00 minutes remaining in the contest. Jaquez Keyes dominated the rushing attack on the ensuing drive and crossed the goal line untouched on a 2-yard TD run.
The Tigers and defending two-time state finalist are making their 37th playoff appearance. Ironton (11-1) will meet rival Wheelersburg on Saturday in the Region 19 semifinals. The game will be played at Portsmouth's Trojan Coliseum at 7.
“When your back is against the wall, that experience indleton said. “You just find a way to get it done. Our guys have done a pretty good job of that. Hopefully, we can continue to do that moving forward.”
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PORTSMOUTH 0 0 0 6 — 6
IRONTON 7 3 0 7 — 17
I—Ty Perkins 28 pass from Braden Schreck (Matt Sheridan kick), 6:42
I—Sheridan 25 field goal, 8:35
P—Devon Lattimore 16 pass from Tyler Duncan (kick failed), 11:47
I—Jacquez Keyes 2 run (Sheridan kick), 2:59
First Downs 8 10
Rushes-Yards 17-(-5) 36-73
Comp-Att-Int 17-31-2 10-17-0
Passing Yards 156 114
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 4-1
Punts-Avg. 4-33.8 4-30.8
Penalties-Yards 2-20 8-55
Portsmouth rushing: Hammond 8-5, Pendleton 1-0, Johnson 1-1, Roe 1-0, Duncan 4-(-3), Team 2-(-8).
Ironton rushing: Wilson 8-55, Keyes 14-39, Howard 2-1 Masters 2-6, Schreck 7-(-18), Team 3-(-10).
Portsmouth passing: Roe 5 of 10 for 40 yards, Duncan 12 0f 21 for 116 yards.
Ironton passing: Schreck 10 of 17 for 114 yards.
Portsmouth receiving: Bryant 7-93, Pendleton 3-6, Griffith 1-5, Duncan 2-10, Lattimore 3-33, Hammond 1-9.
Ironton receiving: Perkins 2-37. Masters 1-16, Young 3-29, Wilson 3-28, Keyes 1-2.