How important is this game to the Ashland Tomcats?
Turn back the clock to the year 1990 and a veteran Tomcats’ team that rallied in the final minute of the game to beat Ironton 15-10 on a long fourth down touchdown run by Chris Hutt.
Ashland went on to win the state championship. Ironton, one year removed from its state title but in a rebuilding stage, finished 9-3 and reached the regional semifinals.
Ashland will honor its 1988 state semifinalist team Friday as the Tomcats work every angle to try and end the Ironton stranglehold in the rivalry.
The Fighting Tigers lead the series 42-28-3 including 28-4 during the Bob Lutz tenure. The teams have meet every year since 1978 with the exception of 2006.
The Tomcats haven’t beaten Ironton at home since 1987 when they won 20-19 in a game that saw a Fighting Tigers’ extra point kick nullified by a misinterpretation of a rule by the officials.
There have been several close calls recently at Putnam Stadium.
Ashland lost 27-26 in 2005 on a missed chip shot field goal on the game’s final play and Ironton rallied for 12 points with less than two minutes to play in 1997 to win 42-41.
Ashland is 4-0 and Ironton 3-0 coming into Friday’s game. Ashland is fresh off a 28-7 win over Russell in which the Tomcats’ defense held Russell to just 17 total yards through the first three quarters and 92 for the game.
Ironton blanked Russell 45-0 two weeks ago as the Red Devils had 94 total yards.
The Tomcats — who won 22-20 at Belfry two weeks ago — use a shotgun-style offense that is led by fullback Josh Alber and halfbacks Trey Rogers and Dominic DeMartino.
“Their fullback is a load. He can play for anyone,” said Ironton coach Bob Lutz. “They’ve got some good skilled kids. Their line isn’t as big as it usually is, but they’re a lot quicker up front.”
Alber is a strong, power back who goes 5-foot-9, 215 pounds. Rogers (5-10, 170) and DeMartino (6-0, 185) share the halfback duties while the quarterback in the spread offense is Sam Hunter (6-0, 175).
The flanker is last year’s quarterback Drew Royalty (5-11, 165). The split ends are Cody Withrow (6-3, 170) and Ryan Whetsel (5-11, 165).
“Their quarterback doesn’t throw a lot, but he’s got a nice arm and he’s a good athlete who can run. They put a lot of pressure on your defense with their speed,” said Lutz.
Up front the Tomcats have Proc Robinson (6-0, 225) at center, Ben Stringer (6-0, 210) and Kyle Wessel (5-10, 205) at the guards, and Trent Hardy (6-2, 220) and Nic Kosakowski (6-1, 215) at the tackles.
Even though a lot of emphasis is put on the Ashland offense, it is the defense that has been the key to the Tomcats’ impressive start this season.
“They’ve got some speed and quickness and they fly to the ball,” said Lutz. “Their linebackers are the heart of their defense. They make a lot of plays. They’re really active and they fill the hole well.”
Connor Swift (6-2, 175) has been a dominating force at inside linebacker along with Alber. The outside backers are DeMartino and Royalty and all four are returning starters.
“There’s no substitute for experience and they’ve got it at key positions,” said Lutz.
Kaleb Petrella (5-7, 175) and Stringer are the tackles while Colt Phelps (6-3, 175) and Hardy are the ends. Chris Prichard (5-10, 165) and Matt McLeod (5-11, 170) are the corners with Whetsel the safety.
Tickets forthe Ironton at Ashland game are available in advance at the Ironton High School principal’s office on Delaware Street.