IRONTON Ironton distributed media guides displaying a picture of Fighting Tigers coach Trevon Pendleton standing in front of his team. Hovering atop the Tigers are the words, “There’s a new storm brewing.”
Ominous clouds meandered down the Ohio River as defenses dominated the first half between Ironton and Wheelersburg on Friday at Tanks Memorial Stadium. Before an actual storm hit, Ironton struck with the game’s first touchdown at the 9:49 mark of the third. The Fighting Tigers needed no more, mathematically — but they sure got more — as they powered past the Pirates through precipitation, 30-6.
Ironton broke a skid of eight straight losses in the series. The 24 points served as Ironton’s largest margin of victory since 2011, when the Fighting Tigers logged a 42-13 defeat.
Seth Fosson busted free for a 35-yard rush on the Tigers’ initial second-half drive. Reid Carrico took the next three handoffs from Gage Salyers for 21 yards, including 8 on a TD scamper to make it 9-0 — Matthew Davis supplied a crucial block to allow him to find paydirt untouched. Avery Book, who earlier booted a 27-yard field goal, tacked on the extra point with 9:49 on the clock.
Wheelersburg’s Makya Matthews gained 5 yards on a rush before a lightning bolt prompted officials to blow the whistle.
A delay that began at 8:23 p.m. concluded at 9:12.
The Pirates (0-1) appeared primed to pounce as, on the fourth snap following the 49-minute pause, Matthews bolted 72 yards ahead of pursuing Tigers into the end zone.
“We were trying to figure out how to best attack what we were seeing from our opponent, and we made that call,” Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward said of moving Matthews from quarterback to tailback and placing Aaron Masters behind center. “It turned out to be a good one on that touchdown.”
Call Carrico the momentum-stopper.
The junior, who amassed seemingly countless major Division-I offers throughout the offseason, made his presence felt on both sides of the ball in addition to special teams.
After the Pirates closed to within four, Pendleton called for a play the Fighting Tigers installed this past week.
“It’s funny, they kinda all looked at me really weird on the blocked extra point when we put it in this week,” Pendleton said. “I told him, it’s gonna work. He’s like, OK, coach!”
It worked indeed. Carrico denied the point-after try, keeping the score at 10-6.
“He’s a good-enough athlete that, you give him a little bit of space, he’s gonna go make a play,” Pendleton said. “You saw that on offense, defense and special teams. We’ve got a team full of athletes.”
Carrico rushed for 144 yards and three TDs on 25 carries. He came up with a timely tackle for loss to thwart a Pirates threat in the second. He blocked that extra point in the third.
Carrico capped a pair of defense-draining drives in the second half. Ironton assembled a 10-play, 69-yard possession punctuated by a Carrico 4-yard burst in the third.
After forcing a Wheelersburg punt, the Fighting Tigers then recorded 12 plays — all runs — that covered 78 yards. Carrico toted from 15 yards out to paydirt.
Ironton (1-0) benefitted from a few fortuitous bounces, too, as it coughed up the ball three times. However, it recovered each time.
“Some scary ones there,” Pendleton admitted. “We’ve gotta do a better job of holding onto the football, but we cleaned up a few things that kinda bit us in the hind end last year — fumbles, penalties. ... Our guys have worked and worked and worked on technique, putting themselves in the right place and being comfortable in their assignments.”
Ironton committed just three penalties for 35 yards. Officials threw six yellow flags on Wheelersburg for 35 yards.
The Fighting Tigers won the turnover battle, 2-0.
Junior Jones, an Ashland transfer, had an impact in his first game suited up in Ironton orange and black. He intercepted a short Matthews pass with 8:43 left in the second period, but Wheelersburg’s defense responded by allowing only 1 yard on three plays, forcing a punt.
Colin Freeman came up with a pick, too. He hauled in a Masters pass and darted 43 yards to set up a Gage Salyers 10-yard TD rush. Salyers accounted for 67 of Ironton’s 265 rushing yards on 50 carries.
Pendleton was thrilled with his team’s response to the lengthy delay.
“You don’t want to be amped up the whole time,” said the second-year leader. “We kinda tell them to keep the lion in the cage, or in our cage, keep the tiger in the cage until right at the very end. We relaxed, made a few adjustments here and there. Then, about five minutes before we came out, we stretch, break them down, have a long talk, then it’s amped up again.”
Matthews led Wheelersburg with 137 yards on 22 rushes. The Pirates, who appeared in the Division V state semifinals a year ago, will look to rebound when they host Bishop Hartley on Friday. Ironton will bring in Russell.
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W’BURG 0 0 6 0 — 6
IRONTON 3 0 13 14 — 30
I — Avery Book 27 field goal, 5:15
I — Reid Carrico 8 run (Book kick) 9:49
W — Makya Matthews 72 run (Kick blocked) 6:44
I — Carrico 4 run (Run failed) 1:55
I — Carrico 15 run (Book kick) 5:01
I — Gage Salyers 10 run (Book kick) 4:25
First downs 12 16
Rushes-yards 35-175 50-265
Comp-att-int 6-15-2 3-6-0
Passing yards 62 8
Penalties-yards 6-35 3-35
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-0
Return yards 0 57
Punts-avg. 6-35.3 4-29.3
Wheelersburg rushing: Matthews 22-137, Horsley 7-34, Williams 2-7, Swords 2-1, Ruby 2-(minus-4).
Ironton rushing: Carrico 25-144, Salyers 15-67, Fosson 4-42, Deere 1-8, Grizzle 1-5, Crawford 1-1, Howell 1-(minus-1), Browning 2-(minus-1).
Wheelersburg passing: Matthews 2 of 6 for 23 yards, int.; Masters 4 of 9 for 39 yards, int.
Ironton passing: Salyers 3 of 5 for 8 yards; Carpenter 0 of 1.
Wheelersburg receiving: Ruby 2-23, Matthews 1-14, Vastine 1-13, Clark 1-9, Dyer 1-3.
Ironton receiving: Crawford 1-5, Howell 1-2, Grizzle 1-1.