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Ironton clips Falcons to open playoffs, 14-13

WEST RUSHVILLE -- The Ironton Fighting Tigers defense has taken a lot of hits this season from critics and opposing offenses. Friday night the defense hit back.

Coming up with big plays all night, the defense helped shut down 1,000-yard rusher Josh Peters and the offense used the running of Matt White and Josh Sands to eke out a 14-13 win over the Fairfield Union Falcons in a Division IV Region 15 quarterfinal.

Ironton had two fourth down stands in the fourth quarter and three for the game. The hard-hitting defense forced five fumbles and recovered two.

"Our defense came up with some big plays, and we would have made a few more if we had tackled better," Ironton coach Bob Lutz said. "We had a breakdown in our kickoff coverage that set up their first touchdown, and we blew a coverage that gave them their second score. They're a big play team, and other than those two plays we pretty much held them in check."

Ironton (8-2) will now play Portsmouth at 7:30 p.m. Friday, probably at Ohio University's Peden Stadium. The OHSAA will announce sites on Sunday.

Portsmouth beat Ironton 25-7 in week four of the regular season.

While the defense was making key plays, the offense ran the ball 51 times for 275 yards and did not throw a pass. White, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound bruising fullback, carried 31 times for 148 yards and scored both touchdowns. Sands had 11 rushes for 75 yards and set up the first score.

"That's our offense," Lutz said. "We've got a big guard (Jeremy Akers) and a big tackle (Tyler Whaley) who are pretty good and we're going to run our fullback and halfback in behind them most of the time."

White is now just 7 yards shy of 1,000 for the season, a total he has amassed in just seven and one-half games. Sands now has 965 yards on the year.

"Our offensive line had great push and they had that initial blow which helped me get two or three more yards," White said.

White's performance impressed Falcons coach Tim Bahen.

"He's the hardest fullback I've seen in the 11 years that I've coached," said Bahen who was once an assistant coach at Columbus DeSales. "He gets his shoulders square and he's a hard-nosed kid. I thought we contained him pretty well for the first half and most of the third quarter."

Fairfield Union (9-2) was led by Peters with 63 yards on 16 carries. Quarterback Michael Stockum was 5-of-8 passing for 72 yards, one a 40-yard touchdown pass to John Burnworth that gave the Falcons a short-lived lead in the third quarter.

After Ironton had its opening drive stall at the Fairfield 46, the Falcons came back and faced a fourth-and-2 at the Ironton 40. But White tackled Peters for a 5-yard loss to halt the drive.

Sands had runs of 12 and 35 yards to put the ball at the Falcons 2. An offsides penalty moved the ball a yard closer and White scored on the next play. A. J. Lutz kicked the extra point and it was 7-0.

Peters returned the kickoff 37 yards to the Ironton 48 and seven plays later Peters squirted around left end for an 18-yard touchdown run. He also kicked the extra point to tie the score as time ran out in the first quarter.

The Fighting Tigers next drive fizzled at the Falcons 39 and Sands punted the ball to the 7. Fairfield Union was forced to punt and a 26-yard kick gave Ironton the ball at the Falcons 49.

Even though Ironton got inside the 10-yard line, the Fighting Tigers were faced with a fourth down and a 23-yard field goal attempt was wide left just before halftime.

On its second possession of the third quarter, a 15-yard penalty on a second-and-long play gave Fairfield Union a first down at the Ironton 40. Stockum then hit Burnworth with a play-action pass for 40 yards and the score. The snap was high and mishandled on the conversion leading that score 13-7 with 4:03 on the clock.

Ironton answered with a scoring march covering 72 yards in nine plays. Daniel Murphy had the key run of 22 yards to the Falcons 18. Three plays later White scored from 4 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter. A. J. Lutz boomed the extra point and it was 14-13 with 11:56 to go.

Fairfield Union had a fourth-and-1 only to have White and Pleasant make a hit on Peters short of the first down marker. But Ironton failed to convert on a fourth-and-inches with 4:51 left and the Falcons had new life.

"We read the sweep and just came up. The secondary was coming up and we were making some hits," Pleasant said.

Faced with another fourth-and-2, Peters ran a sweep to his left only to slip in the sandy turf as Murphy, Whaley and White were there to record the tackle and stop the drive with 2:15 to play. Ironton then got two first downs and ran out the clock.