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Fighting Tigers face improved Trojans

It's a case of bad news/worse news.

First, the bad news. Earlier this season, the Ironton Fighting Tigers lost 25-7 to the Portsmouth Trojans. Now the worse news: the Trojans are better.

Portsmouth (10-1) has scored 147 points -- 49 per game -- the last three weeks including a 42-35 win over Wheelersburg without leading rusher Jeremiah Bolden in the final regular season game.

Ironton (8-2) will get a chance to see just how much better the heavily-favored Trojans are Friday when the two teams meet against 7:30 p.m. in the Division IV Region 15 semifinals at Ohio University's Peden Stadium.

"They lost to Gallipolis and that kind of woke them up. They still run the ball well, but their quarterback (Craig Felts) is throwing the ball better. He's a pretty good athlete," Ironton coach Bob Lutz said.

In the first meeting, Bolden ran for 174 yards and Felts completed 6 of 11 passes for 92 yards. The Trojans had 323 total yards, 231 coming on the ground.

Portsmouth has more than Bolden and Felts. Fullback Jeremy Mathis ran 11 times for 55 yards.

"Mathis is a tough kid. He can slam it in there," Lutz said.

Ironton can slam it with the best of them. The smashmouth style features senior fullback Matt White who is just 7 yards shy of 1,000 on the season in just seven and one-half games. He has scored 16 TDs.

In last week's 14-13 win over Fairfield Union in the regional quarterfinals, White ran for 148 yards and both TDs and Josh Sands added 75 yards on 11 carries. Sands has 965 yards on the season.

Ironton did not attempt a pass in the win, but the Fighting Tigers have only thrown 40 passes on the season. Quarterback Andrew Harvey is 24 of 37 for 357 yards and two touchdowns.

"Our offense is power football. We've got a big fullback and we're going to run him in there. It's what we've done for 30 years and it's what's got us here, so we're not going to change. And neither is Portsmouth," Lutz said.

Besides playing fullback, Mathis heads up the defense as a returning starter at linebacker. Lutz said the Trojans defense always presents a problem. In the first meeting Ironton ran for 194 yards but had just 12 more passing.

"They play aggressively. They play a 4-4 and they come up the field after you. If you're not ready to play, they'll cause a lot of havoc. They swarm to the football," Lutz said.

Friday's winner will advance to the regional finals against the winner of the Portsmouth West-Coshocton game, probably back at Ohio University. Coshocton beat West in the regular season finale 34-20.