• 54°

Offensive change doesn#039;t affect Tomcats

An injury to a key player didn't end the Ashland Tomcats season, it only altered their game plan.

The Tomcats were using a spread offense and senior quarterback Ryne Salyer, a four-year starter, was 20 of 26 for 437 yards and four touchdowns and just one interception the first two games.

But Salyer was hit after throwing a touchdown pass and broke his left wrist trying to break his fall. He will be out another three to four weeks.

That didn't stop the Tomcats who still went on to win not only the game Salyer was injured 49-14, but an additional two games before a heartbreaking 28-26 decision at Sheldon Clark last week.

Sayler's replacement, junior Tyler Baldridge, has filled in quite well and he will be at the helm when Ashland plays the Ironton Fighting Tigers Friday night at Tanks Memorial Stadium.

The 5-11, 155-pound Baldridge is 15 of 23 passing for 247 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Also, he has 26 carries for 196 yards.

Ironton coach Bob Lutz doesn't think the change in quarterbacks lessens the Tomcats offensive firepower.

"Baldridge isn't the passer that Salyer is, but he's still pretty good and he has that added ability

to run the ball. That puts a little extra pressure on your defense," said Lutz.

The switch to a more conventional offense has been bolstered by the success of running backs Matt Johnson (6-3, 195) and Brandon Swimm (5-9,180).

Johnson had 52 carries for 292 yards and four touchdowns while Swimm (5-9, 180) had 212 yards on 33 attempts.

But the passing game is still dangerous with an array of receivers doing damage.

Nick Schweitzer (5-10, 155) has eight receptions for 174 yards and four TDs. Johnson had eight catches and 147 yards out of the backfield, Zach Davis (6-5, 210) three receptions for 70 yards, and Alex Merritt three grabs for 51 yards.

"The balance in their receivers is a big concern. Schweitzer is the main guy, but Davis is a big target and Johnson can hurt you in a lot of ways," said Lutz.

The offensive line has plenty of size to open up holes for the running game or provide protection for the passing attack.

Junior Adam Ferguson (6-2, 240) is the center, senior Kevin Duncan (5-9, 230) and junior Ron Gehringer (6-0, 220) are the guards, senior Grant Layne (6-1, 255) and junior Rusty Thompson (6-2, 240) the tackles, and senior Steve Lee (6-1, 230) and junior Clark Norris (6-2, 220) share the tight end duties.

Schweitzer is the slot and Davis the split end.

The two rivals enter the game with 4-1 records and would like nothing better than to use the game as a springboard into the second half of the season.

"Every game is important, but this is a big game because of the playoff implications it has for us," Lutz said.

Ironton needs a win to maintain its postseason playoff hopes.

The Fighting Tigers whipped Campbell County 28-0 last week as backup fullback Aaron Morrison ran for 181 yards and three touchdowns. Lutz said the Ashland defense will be a more formidable challenge.

"They play a 4-4 and their down guys like to get after you. Portsmouth and Gallipolis used four-man fronts and those were our toughest games," said Lutz.

Lee and senior Jack Shepherd (5-7, 180) are the tackles with seniors Evan Neyer (5-8, 175) and Reid Thompson (5-10, 165) the ends.

Norris and Johnson are the inside linebackers with Ferguson and Gehringer on the outside.

Junior Chad Cook (6-0, 180) and Schweitzer are the corners with Davis the safety.