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Ironton concerned with Ashland’s offense AND defense

Ironton Fighting Tigers’ senior tackle Jon Shotsky (black jersey 73) blocks Chillicothe’s Tyler Howard as he joins teammates Laron Beach (46) and Brandon Leach (32) to clear some running room for Patrick Lewis in last week’s 42-0 win over the Cavaliers. Ironton travels to rival Ashland this Friday. (The Ironton Tribune / Tony Shotsky of Southern Ohio Sports Photos)

By JIM WALKER

Tribune Sports Editor

With the Ashland Tomcats, teams always brace for their wide-open spread offense.

But Ironton coach Bob Lutz said there is equal concern about the Tomcats’ defense.

Ashland is 3-1 with wins of 36-16 over Lawrence County, 58-12 over Raceland and 32-14 last week against Russell.

The only blemish is an 18-14 loss to West Virginia Class 3-A power George Washington.

“They can put a lot of points on the scoreboard, but the thing that gets overlooked is their defense,” said Lutz. “Teams have had trouble moving the ball against them. Russell had problems last week.”

Ironton (3-0) beat Russell 20-14 two weeks ago.

The Ashland defense is led by junior linebacker Shannon Justice (6-0, 220) and junior defensive end Cade O’Brian (6-4, 230).

“They’re pretty quick defensively and they’re aggressive. They’ve got enough size to play tough with you up front and they’ve got a lot of experience and skill in their secondary,” said Lutz who owns a 29-5 record against the Tomcats during his coaching career.

The other defensive end is senior Corey Gregg (6-03, 230) who is a returning starter. The tackles are Josh Ellis (6-1, 230) and Luke Johnson (6-0, 260).

“It’s a pretty good front and they have good linebackers,” said Lutz.

Justice in joined on the inside by either Hunter Gifford (5-8, 170) or Slater Swift (5-11, 180). Outside linebackers are Chase Lucas (5-10,175) and Kyle Bush (5-10, 185).

The secondary has veteran Ryan Whetsel (6-0,195) at safety while Matt McLeod (6-0, 180) and Logan Salow (5-11, 165) are both returning starters at cornerback. Also in the mix is Chris Prichard (6-1, 185).

But teams must prepare for the Ashland offense led by three-year starter Sam Hunter (6-0, 175) at quarterback.

Hunter was 13 of 19 for 226 yards and two touchdowns last week. On the season Hunter is 42 of 70 for 652 yards and five TDs. He has also rushed for nearly 300 yards including 122 in the loss to George Washington.

The Tomcats — ranked 13th in the Class 4-A poll — have a plethora of receivers. Codey Withrow (6-3, 180) has more than a dozen catches for almost 200 yards and two touchdowns. Richard Ford ((5-10,170) has 10 grabs and two touchdowns to his credit while Malik Massey (5-5, 160) also had eight grabs and a score. Whetsel and Prichard complete the group of wide receivers.

Prichard is the top rusher with about 300 yards on the season and a touchdown. McLeod is next with more than 200 yards on the ground.

“They’ve got a lot of weapons and an experienced quarterback who’s been in a lot of different situations the past two years,” said Lutz. “We’ll have our hands full.”

Up front will be center Drew Walters (6-0, 230), right guard Justice and left guards Cory Blair (5-9, 220) and Swift, right tackle Chase Ward (6-0, 240) and the left tackle is Trace Armstrong (6-4, 245) or O’Brian.