Rivalry returns in force for Fighting Tigers, Tomcats

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Since the Fighting Tigers have won the last 12 meetings, Ironton vs. Ashland hasn't been considered much of a rivalry.

Until now.

Ironton coach Bob Lutz was singing the praises of the Tomcats and he admitted Ashland is the most dangerous team the Fighting Tigers have faced so far this season.

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"They're not flashy, but they get the job done," Lutz said. "They've got big linemen who get up against you and just overpower you and they have four good running backs. They may be the best team we've played so far this season."

In the Tomcats backfield is 6-foot-1, 160-pound senior quarterback Tyler Baldridge, senior fullback Matt Johnson (6-3, 215), and junior tailbacks Chad Cook (5-11, 195) and Adam Clark (5-11, 170).

Johnson had 135 yards against Russell and 80 yards last week against Prestonsburg.

"Johnson has good size and he's a hard runner. He did a lot of damage in the games we've seen. They have two good tailbacks who have enough speed to break the big play, and their quarterback is a good athlete who runs well whether he's scrambling in the pocket or running the option," Lutz said.

The big linemen up front have junior Brandon Pennington (6-5, 278) at center, Ron Gehringer (6-0, 235) and Dustin Robbins (5-9, 230) at the guards, and Paul Hickman (6-2, 263) and Adam Ferguson (6-2, 245) at the tackles. The tight end is Clark Norris (6-2, 220).

The split end is Sam Hensley (6-1,190) and the flanker is Justin Canty (6-0, 190).

Ashland, 3-1, opened the season under first-year head coach Leon Hart with a 25-21 loss to Middlesboro in Pikeville. The Tomcats rebounded with a 33-20 win over South Oldham and then knocked off Russell 33-14 and rallied with 1:18 to play to beat Prestonsburg 24-20 on a 56-yard pass from Baldridge to Clark.

"They don't throw a lot, but they're effective when they do. Baldridge is not only a threat running or passing, but he can scramble out of the pocket on you," Lutz said.

Ironton (5-0) has relied on its ground game this season, outrushing opponents 1,239 yards to 401. Lutz said the Tomcats pose a big challenge.

"They've got five or six starters back and they've done a good job stopping the running game," Lutz said.

Russell, a ground-oriented team, had 201 yards rushing against Ashland, but most of that yardage came on the first two series when the Red Devils scored their two touchdowns.

The defensive tackles are Gehringer and either Dustin Robbins (5-9, 230) or Chris Layne (5-8, 150), the ends Johnson and Norris, the inside linebackers Robinette and Ryan Howe (5-11, 165), the outside linebackers Hensley and Cook, with Baldridge, Clark and Jonathan Neyer (5-9, 170) in the secondary.