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Error-prone Ironton stumbles in opener

Dejected, Ironton Fighting Tigers head coach Bob Lutz had seen this before, and he reflected on his team’s 10-7 season-opening loss to the Wheelersburg Pirates Friday night before more than 7,000 fans at Tanks Memorial Stadium.

Saturday, August 28, 1999

Dejected, Ironton Fighting Tigers head coach Bob Lutz had seen this before, and he reflected on his team’s 10-7 season-opening loss to the Wheelersburg Pirates Friday night before more than 7,000 fans at Tanks Memorial Stadium.

Lutz’s thoughts shifted back to last season’s opener when Ironton lost 21-0 at Wheelersburg.

"We played just like we did last year. They were aggressive, and we didn’t play very well in all phases of the game," said Lutz.

The game featured some big plays, but there were more mistakes combined than anything else.

Ironton’s passing game saw the ball dropped or misthrown. The defense misplayed two key pass plays and failed to stop plays that Lutz said "we worked on all week."

"Overall, the defense played pretty well. We only gave up 10 points, and the kicking game was responsible for the field goal," said Lutz.

Wheelersburg wasn’t without fault. The Pirates were whistled 15 times for 130 yards in penalties including two crucial calls in the final minute.

Still, the win was the first for the Pirates Mike Schmidt who was making his head coaching debut.

"I thought our offense sputtered at times, but when we needed big plays, we got them," said Schmidt.

The Pirates Luke Emnett ran the opening kickoff back 42 yards to the Ironton 41. Ironton was on the verge of stopping the Pirates, but a fourth and 13 passes was deflected and dropped into the hands of Jason Schmidt for 18 yards and a first down at the Ironton 15.

Still, Wheelersburg could not move the ball against the Ironton defense and settled for Josh Tilley’s 33-yard field goal at the 6:56 mark.

But Ironton had a quick answer.

Halfback Jason Harmon ran 9 yards for a first down on the first play of the second quarter, then bolted 71 yards on the next play for a touchdown making an excellent cutback on the final defender.

Clark Cooper’s conversion kick put Ironton up 7-3 with 11:15 left in the half.

The Fighting Tigers were unable to move the ball to begin the second half and the Pirates got good field position after the punt.

Starting at their own 41, the Pirates got to the Ironton 33 where they were faced with a fourth-and-8. Quarterback Andy Gill went looking for Schmidt again and connected for 20 yards when Harmon went for the interception but mistimed his break and arrived too early.

Three plays later, Emnett went 9 yards for what proved to be the winning touchdown and a 10-7 lead with 3:29 on the clock.

Ironton look to have an answer once again as it drove to the Pirates 35, but a fumbled pitch on a wide-open option play was recovered by Dusty Chamberlin at the 36.

The Fighting Tigers had one final scoring chance when they got the ball back at their own 22 with 48.8 seconds to play.

A pass interference call put the ball at the 37 and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Pirates bench tacked on an additional 15 yards.

"It’s one of those unfortunate things that happen and I’ll leave it at that," said Schmidt.

Three straight incompletions left the ball at the Pirates 48, and a 5-yard penalty pushed the ball back to the Ironton 47. On fourth down, Harmon ran 21 yards for a first down to the 32 and Cooper tried a field goal from 49 yards out that fell short at the goal line.

But the Pirates ran into Cooper on the play and Cooper tried to tie the game from 32 yards away. Again the kick failed as it sailed to the right.

"They gave us plenty of chance and we couldn’t make a big play. Other than Harmon’s run, we didn’t make a big play all night. You have to have big plays if you’re going to win," said Lutz.

Ironton had 174 yards rushing but only 10 yards passing. Lutz said the Pirates stacked the line of scrimmage in an effort to take away the running of Harmon and Michael Henry.

Harmon finished with 123 yards on 13 carries.

"They were putting eight men in the box and the corners would start inching up. You’ve got to be able to have some push off the ball a little bit, but with the heat and being in the first game, you get tired and then you make mistakes," Lutz said.

Another key problem for Ironton was the loss of halfback and cornerback Jon Sites who caught a heel in the mouth that knocked out a front tooth.

"Losing Sites caused a disruption in our substitution patterns. That’s why it looked like a Chinese fire drill out there at times," said Lutz.

Wheelersburg ran for 113 yards and Gill was 10-13 for 88 yards. Schmidt caught six passes for 76 yards.