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Get In Line

It’s a fun opener for the fans. It’s a nightmare for coaches.

The Ironton Fighting Tigers and Wheelersburg Pirates game is a great opener that matches two of the area’s top programs. And therein lies such a difficult way to start the season.

While coaches would prefer to play this type of game later in the schedule when the teams are better prepared, this is where it sits on the schedule and Ironton coach Bob Lutz knows how difficult it will be Friday when it kicks off.

First, the game is at Wheelersburg. Secondly, Wheelersburg has excellent skill players. And third, the Pirates have an interior line that will be a challenge for his team.

“They’ve got size and a lot of experience across the board,” said Lutz.

“We got size but we don’t have the experience. They match up with a well. How well we play against them up front on both sides of the ball is going to determine a lot toward who wins the game.”

Not only do the Pirates have veteran linemen such as Drew Parsley, Tyler Brown, Chris Prater, Danny Hudgel, Jeb Conkey and Joey Reinhardt, they have the skilled players who will take advantage of any cracks and seems the line can generate.

Leading the offense is three-year starter and speedster Brandon Schankweiler, a 5-foot-1, 185-pound senior who plays running back but has played quarterback.

Joining him in the backfield is slotback Tommy Graf (5-7, 160) and junior quarterback Alex Shears (6-1, 180). Both have good speed.

Chase Workman (6-0, 190) and Mark O’Brien (5-10, 185) share the fullback duties, but Prater (6-2, 230) has also been getting work in the backfield.

“They’ve got good athletes and they can all run,” said Lutz. “Schankweiler has speed, but he can break a tackle, too. Their quarterback can run or throw and he has some people who can catch it.”

The top target is 6-6 Andrew Stegman, but Austin Hall, Graf and Schankweiler are all good receivers.

“They’ll mix it up,” said Lutz.

But the Pirates are more than just offense.

“Their defense is pretty quick and they’re very aggressive. We’ve seen them in scrimmages and they’re pretty good up front, their linebackers do a good job and they have some athletes in the secondary who can run,” said Lutz.

Dakota Luster and Conkey return at the linebacker spots to lead the defense. The Pirates rotate a lot of linemen to give their opponents different looks.

“They give you a small, quick package and they give you a big, strong look. They mix it up and keep your offense guessing,” said Lutz.

Ironton upset the Pirates 24-8 last season and Wheelersburg is favored again.

“You never know about the first game. We have a lot of new guys playing so we have no idea how they’ll react to being on the first for the first time in front of a big crowd and the scoreboard on,” said Lutz.