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#8216;Tough#8217; Ironton gives #8217;Burg the boot

WHEELERSBURG — When it came down to crunch time, the Ironton Fighting Tigers did the crunching.

After battling back from a halftime deficit, the Fighting Tigers used their powerful ground game and the right leg of Craig Stamper to beat rival Wheelersburg 24-21 Friday night to give Merril Triplett Jr. a win in his Ironton coaching debut.

“The later the game gets, the Tigers keep getting tougher,” Triplett said. “I knew when we had time to regroup (at the half), we’d come back. These kids are pure fight.”

Junior Craig Stamper, who scored Ironton’s first touchdown, kicked a 22-yard field goal with just 1:36 to play. Stamper said he didn’t feel any pressure.

“We practice it all the time. It’s a matter of me doing my job. There’s not pressure. It’s like an extra point. You just go out and do it. You just treat it like an extra point. We got the hold and we got the snap,” Stamper said.

Andy Colegrove is the longsnapper and Drew Kuehne is the holder.

Ironton’s winning drive began at its own 32 with 7:42 to play. The biggest plays in the 11-play march were a 15-yard pass from Chad Miller to Matt Jones and an 18-yard run by fullback Tony “The Bus” Murphy.

“It was a good, old Ironton drive. It was just hold onto the ball,” Triplett said. “It comes down to the basics of football. These kids are weaned on football since the first grade. They wanted to win bad.”

Wheelersburg ran four plays, but on first down at the 15, Cook was intercepted by Miller with 26 seconds to play.

Turnovers and penalties marred the game early.

Faced with poor field position, Ironton was forced to punt from its own end zone.

Wheelersburg got the ball at the Ironton 22 and scored two plays later on a 10-yard run by Chris Pyles to lead 7-0.

The Fighting Tigers answered with a 63-yard, seven-play drive that ended on a 35-yard run by Stamper with 11:10 to play in the half. His conversion kicked tied the game.

With 4:02 on thc clock, Wheelersburg went the length of the field keyed by an 18-yad run by Kailyb Burgess and a 23-yard pass from Dustin Cook to Blaike Smith.

With seven seconds on the clock, Cook took the snap and threaded a pass between two defenders to Dustin Spradlin for a touchdown and Wheelersburg led 14-7.

“We had good coverage, he just put it in there,” Triplett said.

After forcing a punt to begin the second half, Ironton tied the game on its first possession.

Ironton was at the 6-yard line, but a holding penalty pushed the ball back to the 18. Dominic Murphy took a handoff and went right only to be stopped at the line of scrimmage.

But Murphy turned and tossed the ball back to quarterback Chad Miller who race down the left sideline and into the end zone.

The conversion kick was block and Ironton trailed just 14-13.

“We run these plays in practice, so he knows where I am. He saw me and I had to juke a few guys. It was a great play. It was the play of the game,” Miller said.

The Fighting Tigers took a 21-14 lead with 3:55 left in the third quarter when Tony Murphy scored on a 5-yard run as three Wheelersburg tacklers bounced off his 250-pound frame.

Miller ran for the conversion.

With Ironton missing several players due to injuries and leg cramps in the hot, humid air, the Pirates came back to tie the game on an 11-yard run by Matt Jenkins.

The teams exchanged punts before Ironton began its winning drive.

Ironton had 223 yards on the ground with Stamper getting 70 yards on seven carries and Tony Murphy 60 yards on 11 attempts.

Pyles ran 12 times for 80 yards and Cook was 9 of 14 passing for 93yards but suffered two interceptions.