Fighting Tigers learn lesson in overcoming adversity

Published 10:41 am Monday, November 3, 2008

By the end of the first half, fans were probably trying to predict the final score.

How about 56-54 or 49-42 or even 45-44?

Defense was just something to slow down the scoring Friday night as the Ironton Fighting Tigers played the Westfall Mustangs in the Region 15 Division IV quarterfinals.

Email newsletter signup

The past three games had been great games. There was a free-for-all two years ago at Westfall when the Mustangs won 42-35 in the final seconds. This was looking like an instant replay.

Instead, it took on the look of the first meeting back in 2004 when Ironton led 21-14 at the half and the defense was having trouble with the controlled, short-range passing game of Westfall.

In the second half, Ironton changed its alignment, took away the passing lanes and held the Mustangs in check in a 41-21 win.

Ironton trailed 28-21 in Friday’s meeting and coach Bob Lutz went back to tightening things up.

The adjustments worked again as Ironton’s defense held Westfall to only a field goal. The Mustangs had 459 total yards but only 158 in the second half.

Trailing at halftime in the playoffs is not unfamiliar to Ironton, but it never a good position to find yourself in.

In the 1999 regional finals, Ironton was down 21-3 at the break to Valley View and its spread offense. The Fighting Tigers used a powerful ground game and aggressive defense to roar back and win 37-29.

In 2005, Ironton fell behind 21-0 to Bellaire at Ohio University and quarterback Nate Davis. Ironton abandoned its man-to-man coverage, played zone, got pressure on Davis and came back to tie the game only to lose 34-28 in triple overtime.

Ironton used its ground game again against Westfall by shredding the defense for 440 rushing yards. The only time Westfall got a stop came on two Ironton fumbles and one punt that came when Ironton went away from its running game and threw the football.

Not that Ironton can’t throw, but why bother when you’re running the ball so well on every play.

“We punted once when we got cute and tried to throw,” said Lutz.

While the game was exciting for the fans, it might have taught the players a big lesson in battling back from adversity.

The Fighting Tigers have shown signs of growing up late in the season and they are starting to handle adversity a little better.

But the big test lies ahead. Each week the competition gets tougher, so Ironton must get tougher mentally as well as physically. As the great NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Ironton plays New Lexington in round two, but their toughest opponent may be themselves.