Fighting Tigers turn to first love for comeback win
The Ironton Fighting Tigers like a versatile offense, they like a quarterback who is an athlete with a good arm, and they like receivers who can run and catch the ball.
But what the Fighting Tigers love is to line up in their old-fashioned T-formation and run smash-mouth football at their opponents.
Ironton didn't like what it saw the first half in Friday night's opener with the Wheelersburg Pirates, falling behind 10-0 and rushing 11 times for a minus 13 yards.
So Ironton expressed its "love" the second half by grinding out 135 yards rushing yards on 29 attempts in a 22-10 come-from-behind win at Tanks Memorial Stadium.
"We didn't block a soul the first half. We stood around and watched or blocked the wrong man," Ironton coach Bob Lutz said. "They had a good scheme, and they just whipped us the first half. We changed a few things the second half, but the big thing is we just ran right at them."
Wheelersburg threw caution to the wind from the outset as Brian Stephenson recovered his own onside kickoff to start the game.
"We had a lineman right there who saw the kick. It just took a bad bounce which an onside kick is prone to do," Lutz said.
The Pirates took advantage of the recovery to get to the Ironton 5-yard line. But the defense held including a hit by Josh Sands along with Marcus Williams on third down at the 6.
Matt Ruggles kicked a 23-yard field goal and Wheelersburg led 3-0.
Wheelersburg got the ball back at the Ironton 46 early in the second quarter and used seven plays to get to the Fighting Tigers 5-yard line.
On third down and goal from the 5, quarterback Tom Kaskey went back to pass, saw an opening and knifed his way through the defense for the touchdown. Ruggles' conversion kicked extended the lead to 10-0 with 3:35 left in the half.
Kaskey had a 37-yard run on the second play of third quarter to the Ironton 34 and it appeared as if the first half was no fluke.
But Ironton's defense rose to the challenge and stopped the Pirates 3 yards shy of a first down on a fourth-and-5 play.
Getting the ball at its own 27, Ironton turned to its true love and marched 73 yards in eight plays -- all on the ground -- capped by Jared Murphy's 2-yard touchdown run.
Murphy, a sophomore making his first varsity appearance, ran 21 times for 108 yards with all but 4 yards coming in the second half.
"Murphy ran hard. For a young pup, he didn't back off," Lutz said.
Ironton threatened later in the quarter following an interception by Nick Collins.
Sands threw a 33-yard pass to Williams who stretched out to make the reception down to the Pirates 23. But the drive stalled at the 22 four plays later.
The Fighting Tigers then forced Wheelersburg to punt and Sands returned the kick 25 yards to the Pirates 31.
Five plays later, Sands scored only to have the play nullified by a block in the back penalty.
But on the next play, Wheelersburg's secondary was called for holding and Ironton had a first and goal at the 6.
Murphy got the call and bulled
his way into the end zone on the next play and Ironton held its first lead at 13-10 with 7:09 left.
Wheelersburg slipped on the kickoff return and the ball was at e 9. On third down, Kaskey was sacked in the end zone by Derique Bacon for a safety to push the lead to 15-10.
Marland Turner returned the free kick to the Pirates 48. This time Ironton used 10 rushing plays to score as Sands kept on the final 5 yards for an insurance touchdown with just 1:24 to play. A.J. Lutz busted the extra point and set the final score.
"It was a good comeback and a good win, but we're a long way from being a good team. We've got a lot of work ahead of us," Lutz said.
Wh -- Matt Ruggles 23 field goal
Wh -- Tom Kaskey 5 run (Matt Ruggles kick)
Irn -- Jared Murphy 2 run (A.J. Lutz kick)
Irn -- Jared Murphy 6 run (kick failed)
Irn -- Safety (Derique Bacon tackle Tom Kaskey in end zone)
Irn -- Josh Sands 5 run (A.J. Lutz kick)
First downs: Wheelersburg9, Ironton10
Rushes-yards: Wheelersburg32-86, Ironton40-122
Passing yards: Wheelersburg92, Ironton61
Totals yards: Wheelersburg178, Ironton183
Cmp-Att-Int: Wheelersburg8-12-2, Ironton3-5-0
Punts-average: Wheelersburg2-33.0, Ironton3-32.7
Fumbles-lost: Wheelersburg1-0, Ironton 1-1
Penalties-yards: Wheelersburg5-30, Ironton3-15
RUSHING – Wheelersburg: Tom Kaskey 21-53, Brandon Jackson 2-1, Alex Peach 1-0, Brian Stephenson 1-minus 3, Nathan Timberlake 6-23, Matt Ruggles 1-12; Ironton: Jared Murphy 21-108, Derique Bacon 7-22, Marcus Williams 3-4, Marland Turner 1-1, Josh Sands 8-minus 13.
PASSING – Wheelersburg: Tom Kaskey 8-12-2
92; Ironton: Josh Sands 3-5-0
RECEIVING Wheelersburg: Brian Stephenson 6-74, Cory Chamberlin 2-18; Ironton: Marcus Williams 1-33, Chris Collins 1-20, Patrick Kouns 1-13.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: None.