NELSONVILLE — Boom! It was over just like that.
Keith Wetzel ripped through the Heath defense on Ironton’s first play in overtime for a 20-yard touchdown run as the Fighting Tigers beat the Bulldogs 20-14 Saturday in the Division IV Region 15 semifinals.
The run ended a tight battle that went back-and-forth and saw both teams squander several scoring opportunities.
“Had it all the way,” said Ironton coach Bob Lutz with a grin. “We dodged a few bullets and so did they. But we stepped up and made some big plays when we had to.”
Heath came out of the gate as fast as its team speed by going 75 yards in nine plays behind the running of 1,000-yard rushers Charles Gresham and Nelson Scott.
The duo combined for the entire drive — all on the ground — with Scott going the final 13 yards to give the Bulldogs a 6-0 lead at the 8:24 mark.
Ironton took a page out of the quick-strike Bulldogs’ playbook as quarterback Ethan Preston kept the ball on a third down play and raced 70 yards for the tying touchdown.
Keith Wetzel kicked the conversion to give Ironton a 7-6 lead with 6:50 on the clock.
The Fighting Tigers defense forced a three-and-out on Heath’s next possession and got the ball back at its own 13.
Ironton returned to its usual style by driving to the Heath 11-yard line. But on second and 3, Tres Wilks suffered a 14-yard loss and the drive eventually stalled and Heath got the ball back at its own 20.
The Bulldogs used a 37-yard pass from Cole Benner to Zach Wolfe to reach the Ironton 23, but the Fighting Tigers’ defense stiffened and took over on downs at the 26.
Ironton went on another long drive only this time it finished as Wetzel ran 9 yards on the ninth play to push the lead to 14-6 with two minutes left in the half.
Heath used its opening drive of the third quarter to tie the game on a 33-yard run by Gresham to end a 77-yard, nine-play drive. Tim Patterson caught the conversion pass and it was 14-14 with 6:10 on the clock.
Then came a series of events that could have ended the game in regulation.
Ironton fumbled on its next drive near midfield but forced a punt. Scott’s punt rolled dead on the artificial surface at the 5-yard line.
Despite being backed up, Ironton went on a long, punishing, time-consuming drive that used 19 plays to get to the Heath 10. But a fourth down play came up inches short of a first down.
On Heath’s first play, Benner kept the ball and ran 56 yards to the Ironton 34. Heath got to the Ironton 20, but Scott fumbled and Ironton recovered at the 13 with 1:25 left on the clock.
Ironton was unable to move the ball and punted to the Heath 47. Gresham made an outstanding catch as he kept one foot inbounds along the sidelines for a 34-yard gain to the Ironton 19.
Scott ran to the 10-yard line and Heath used its final timeout with 10 seconds left to set up a 27-yard field goal by Scott. But the kick missed wide left with five seconds to go.
Ironton won the coin toss and went on defense to start the overtime. Gresham gained one yard and Benner was tackled by Preston for a 4-yard loss. Benner then threw for the end zone but Ryan Sias came up with the interception.
The Fighting Tigers then ended the game as Wetzel bolted into the end zone on their first play to end the game and send Ironton to the regional finals for the first time since 2005.
Ironton had 300 total yards — all on the ground — with Preston getting 94 on eight carries. Taylor and Wetzel ran for 80 yards each.
Gresham led Heath (9-3) with 123 yards on 21 attempts, well below his average of more than 200 per game.
Ironton (10-2) will play Coshocton next Saturday, possibly at Jackson or Lancaster. Coshocton upset Amanda-Clearcreek 15-12.
Heath 6 0 8 0 0 = 14
Ironton 7 7 0 0 6 = 20
He — Nelson Scott 13 run (kick failed) 8:24
Irn — Ethan Preston 70 run (Keith Wetzel kick) 6:50
Irn — Keith Wetzel 9 run (Wetzel kick) 2:00
He — Charles Gresham 33 run (Tim Patterson pass from Cole Benner) 6:10
Irn — Keith Wetzel 20 run (no attempt)
First downs 14 18
Rushes-yards 40-257 45-300
Passing yards 106 0
Total yards 363 300
Cmp-Att-Int 4-10-1 2-2-0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 4-20 3-15
Punts-average 3-49.0 3-37.0
RUSHING—Heath: Charles Gresham 21-123, Nelson Scott 15-74, Cole Benner 4-60. Ironton: Keith Wetzel 11-80, J.P. Taylor 14-80, Ethan Preston 8-94, Tres Wilks 6-37, Brian Warner 3-15, Tyler Hager 3-8.
PASSING—Heath: Cole Benner 4-10-1 106. Ironton: Ethan Preston 2-2-0.
RECEIVING—Heath: Zack Wolfe 2-47, Charles Gresham 1-3, Nelson Scott 1-25. Ironton: J.P. Taylor 1-6, Tres Wilks 1-minus 6.