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Ironton must slow Zanesville runners

If Walt Disney’s cartoon character Tigger was a spokesman for the Zanesville Blue Devils, he’d probably say, “Running is what Zanesville does best.”

The Blue Devils will run. And run and run and run.

“It’ll be different playing a team that doesn’t want to throw on every down,” Ironton coach Merril Triplett said.

Standout running back Bryan Gaiters had rushed for 714 yards on just 80 carries that produced six touchdowns, and that was through five games. But a broken leg has sidelined him for the season including the key 33-7 loss to Logan three weeks ago.

Taking over most of the running duties has been Anthony Scott, a 5-foot-8, 210-pound fullback who now has 113 carries for 835 yards and 11 TDs. He had 248 yards in last week’s 28-21 loss to Marietta. He also had 219 yards against Athens.

“(Scott) is improving. People bounce off him. And when you throw their line in there it’s as big as we are. They’re going to try and control the clock with their offense,” Triplett said.

Zanesville outrushed Marietta 239 to 78, but Marietta quarterback Michael Groom threw for 262 yards and four touchdowns including a 21-yarder to Sean Munfield with 33 seconds left to win the game.

Also in the backfield is Chad Mealey with 221 yards on 34 attempts and two scores.

Quarterback Adam Young doesn’t throw often, but he’s effective. Young is 40 of 76 for 468 yards and four touchdowns.

Young’s top targets are Lucas Graham with 11 receptions for 107 yards, Mealey seven grabs for 102 yards, and Nate Kaufman five catches for 68 yards.

“Their quarterback has a pretty good arm and he’s pretty accurate,” Triplett said. “But the one thing he can do some of the other quarterbacks can’t do is run. He’s a pretty good runner and he’s quick.”

Up front are tight end Josh Weatherspoon (5-11, 210) at tight end with Jeff Burkett (6-1, 260), Jake Huey (5-10, 215) Brody Smith (6-2, 250), Adam Douglas (5-9, 210) and Jess Huey (6-2, 250) working across the front.

Ironton traditionally keeps the ball on the ground and this season has been no different. The Fighting Tigers have rushed for 1,692 yards.

Halfback Dominic Murphy has 598 yards on 100 carries and quarterback Chad Miller 512 yards on 79 attempts. Each has nine touchdowns.

“They use a 4-3 on defense and (Scott) is nice middle linebacker. We’ll have to execute well to move the ball. It’ll be a good, physical ball game. We’d better come to play,” Triplett said.

Scott is flanked by Shane Centers (6-1, 210) and Mealey at linebacker. Greg Clayton (5-9, 220) and Weatherspoon are the ends with Josh Newton (6-1, 250) and Jake Huey the tackles.

In the secondary are Seth Garrison (5-9, 155) and Graham at the corners with Brendan Reid (5-11, 170) and Austin Mayle (6-1, 175) and Bunting rotating at the safeties.

Both teams are 3-2 in the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League. Ironton is 5-3 overall and Zanesville is 4-4.

The game is not only a chance for one team to keep their slim SEOAL title hopes alive, but it could be very instrumental in Ironton’s bid to make the Division IV postseason playoffs.

The Fighting Tigers, who are expected to be fifth this week in Region 15, can virtually clinch a playoff berth with a win.

Ironton closes out the regular season next week against first-place Logan and two wins could give the Fighting Tigers a home game in the first round.