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Improvement key for Fighting Tigers

There’s another tradition the Ironton Fighting Tigers have besides winning, but it is a reason why they win.

Friday, December 03, 1999

There’s another tradition the Ironton Fighting Tigers have besides winning, but it is a reason why they win.

Ironton’s football tradition of winning extends into the postseason. The Fighting Tigers have qualified for the state football playoffs 18 times – third highest total in state history – and Saturday’s appearance in the state finals is the eighth.

Ironton has won two state titles in 1979 and 1989 and has been runners-up five times.

But one of the reasons for Ironton’s postseason success is the tradition of improvement. Ironton has had a history of improving immensely week-by-week. This season is no different.

"We’ve been getting better. I think we’ve stepped it up each week in the playoffs," Ironton coach Bob Lutz said. "But it was (former Ohio State coach) Woody Hayes who said, ‘You either get better or you get worse.’ Hopefully, we’re still getting better."

Ironton’s improvement each week may be the answer Sandusky Perkins coach Rock Farlow is asking.

"From what I’ve seen on film, I don’t know how they lost three games," Farlow said.

The Fighting Tigers will face Perkins, 14-0 and ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday for the Division IV state championship in Massillon.

Junior All-0hio linebacker Matt Kelly said the team has rallied together during the final two weeks of the regular season and playoffs after his fellow linebacker Redgie Arden was lost for the year with a knee injury.

"Everyone has just stepped it up. It was tough losing Redgie, but we’ve still got a job to do," Kelly said.

"I think we’re in better shape and we’re more physical than the teams we’ve played. I think we’ve been able to dominate teams the second half because we’ve been able to wear them down."

The second half has been an impressive period for Ironton. In each of the last three playoff games, Ironton trailed at the half only to rally for victories.

Ironton trailed Cincinnati Indian Hill 7-0 at halftime and took control the second half to win 21-7.

In the Region 16 championship game the next week, mistakes in the kicking game and a fumble recovered in the end zone by Germantown Valley View left Ironton behind 21-3. But Ironton came storming back the second half and dominated the game in winning 37-29.

The Germantown game was another indication of Ironton’s improvement. In a sluggish opener this season, Ironton lost 10-7 to Wheelersburg.

Wheelersburg, ranked No. 5, lost to Germantown, ranked No. 4, by a lopsided 36-12 score the previous week. Germantown opened the playoffs with a 44-16 win over Portsmouth, a team Ironton beat in the regular season just 21-12.

Last week in the state semifinal game against No. 1- ranked Youngstown Mooney, Ironton was down 17-14 at the break and used its rugged ground game to control the ball and win 34-24.

If there’s room for improvement, Lutz will gladly take it one more time against Perkins.

"We’ll need to play well. They’re a good football team that can run power or speed at you, and their quarterback is a capable passer and runner. They’ve got a lot of ways to hurt you. And we’ll need to move the ball against their defense. Their linebackers are awful good," said Lutz.