1989 Fighting Tigers had state title in mind from the start

Published 6:50 pm Sunday, November 3, 2019

Members of the 1989 Ironton Fighting Tigers’ Division III state football championship team were: Ralph Imes, John Wallace, Dusty Barrow, Jeff Darbaker, Greg Lutz, Chuck Jones, Eric Roach, Ken Harbolt and Steve Sisler; second row from left to right, Aaron Markel, Ray Lewis, Josh Collins, Danny Cox, Burt Haas, Louis Sheridan, Mark Weber, Ray Donley, Brad Davis, Mark Vass, Chris Brammer and Jason Dodgion; third row from left to right, Scott Johnson, Sean Roberts, Aaron Palmer, Terry, Andy Neal, Craig Pleasant, John Houck, Ken Freeman, Sean Carter, David Coburn, Shawn Murdock and James Fetters; fourth row from left to right, Aaron Brown, Heath Brownstead, J.D. Cyrus, J.D. Coffman, Delandual Conwell, Bob Roberts, Chris Wright, Dick Neal, Shawn Miller and Tyrone Bacon. (Kent Sanborn/The Ironton Tribune)

Jim Walker

For the 1989 Ironton Fighting Tigers, there was unfinished business that filled their fall schedule.
The season was similar to the Ironton team 10 years earlier, but not entirely.
After a great team in 1978, Ironton was not expected to be a state title threat in 1979 but surprised everyone by upsetting Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s 7-6 to win the Class AA championship.
The 1988 Ironton team finished 13-1 and lost 14-12 to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s in the title game that had a couple of controversial calls that went against them.
Ironton’s 1988 quarterback Mark Lutz — who was the Associated Press Ohio Division III Offensive Player of the Year— suffered a broken ankle in the 28-7 semifinal win over Urbana but played in the title game including on defense.
Graduation claimed Lutz long with his receiving corps of Bart Burcham, Junie Depriest and Travis Franz.
But the top two running backs returned with All-Ohio fullback Heath Brownstead and All-Ohio tailback Delandual Conwell. Brownstead signed with I-AA Furman and Conwell was a Kentucky recruit.
Up front Ironton had its three top linemen back in seniors J.D. Cyrus and J.D. Coffman — both who signed with Marshall — and junior defensive tackle Chris Wright who was like trying to block a runaway tank.
Ironton switched gears offensively by going to senior Craig Pleasant — a Morehead State recruit as a defensive back — who was an option-style quarterback who complimented the Conwell-Brownstead tandem.
“The 1979 team was special because it wasn’t expected to win. The 1989 team was also special. It followed a team that had come so close the year before only to come up two points short in the title game,” said Ironton coach Bob Lutz.
“There were a lot of players back the next year and they were instilled with the idea that if everyone gave their best efforts, we could make another run at the title. The 1989 team was blessed with some great athletes like Heath Brownstead, Delandual Conwell, J.D. Coffman, J.D. Cyrus, Craig Pleasant and a lot of other very good players. That team was unique because they were expected to win and they were able to do it.”
The season began with a 20-7 win at Portsmouth West.
Ironton’s offense struggled in the first half against stunts and gimmick defenses as it gained just 22 yards in a scoreless game.
Brownstead ran 9 yards for a TD in the third quarter but Brian Howell hit Mike Book with an 81-yard scoring pass to give West a 7-6 lead with 10:57 to play.
But Wright recovered a fumble with 8:33 left and Pleasant hit Danny Cox with a pass between three defenders inside the 10-yard line and he ran into the end zone for a 12-7 lead.
Cyrus recovered a fumble at the West 36 and Brad Davis scored four plays later. Pleasant hit Terry Lowe for the conversion.
Home against Russell, Ironton had just 61 yards rushing in the first half but finished with 167 for the game in a 20-13 win.
Russell took a 7-0 lead after recovering a fumble and driving 61 yards as Kelly Gipson scored on a 21-yard run.
Ironton went 59 yards in 12 plays to start the second half with Brownstead’s 1-yard run. Andy Neal’s kick tied the game.
Gipson’s 3-yard run made it 13-7 but Ironton went 60 yards thanks to a nice catch by Terry Lowe at the 4. Conwell then took a pitch out and scored for a 14-13 lead.
Russell fumbled the kickoff and John Houck recovered setting up a 1-yard TD run by Brownstead with 3:31 left to clinch the win.
It was road trip No. 3 with a 20-15 win at Ashland.
On a hot and humid night, Ironton’s defense bent but didn’t break. The Fighting Tigers gave up 241 total yards — 116 passing — but gained 276.
After Ashland went up 6-0, Conwell ran the kickoff back to the Ashland 40, then caught a 25-yard pass to the 2.
With the ball at the Ashland 21, Chris Ross tried to hit Wes Salyer in the flats but Cox got the interception and returned it for a touchdown. Pleasant passed to Conwell for the conversion and a 14-6 lead.
A 25-yard field goal by Charlie Johnson made it 14-9 at the half but Houck ran 73 yards to the Ashland 25 and two plays later Pleasant hit Cox with a 23-yard scoring pass to start the third quarter and it was 20-9.
Juan Thomas scored on a 1-yard run with 10:48 left to get Ashland within 20-15, but Ironton’s defense proved too tough the rest of the way.
In a game played in the rain at Boyd County, Ironton won 32-0 as the offense rolled up 362 yards. Andy Neal and Shawn Miller had interceptions to spark the defense.
Conwell had a 19-yard TD run for a 7-0 lead and then Pleasant hit Cox for 40 yards to the Lions’ 6 and Brownstead scored three plays later for a 14-0 lead.
Lowe caught a 46-yard scoring pass with 1:36 left in the half for a 20-0 lead.
Pleasant teamed up with Mark Vass on an 18-yard scoring pass with 1:19 to go in the third quarter and Ray Lewis bolted 58 yards for the final score with 1:04 left.
“The 1989 team had an exceptional season. They did struggle some early trying to put all the pieces together and we played some pretty strong teams early. We got it rolling by the middle of the season and you could tell this team had the ability to make it back to the title game,” said Lutz.
Ironton rolled again at Logan with a 44-6 romp in the rain. The Fighting Tigers ran for 2-6 yards and had 334 total yards. Conwell ran 11 times for 70 yards and Brownstead 11 times for 68. Conwell scored three TDs and Brownstead twice.
Conwell ran 25 yards for a score in the first quarter, Brownstead went one and 13 yards for TDs and Conwell finished the half with a 9-yard run and it was 28-0.
Conwell ran 2 yards in the third quarter for a score, Vass recovered a fumble at the 26 and Neal kicked a 30-yard field goal, and Lewis added an 8-yard scoring run as the second unit finished up.
The next game at Huntington was a 37-23 win over a talented Pony Express team led by future Marshall standouts LaRon Chapman and Shannon King.
Ironton scored on five of its first six possessions and had 301 total yards. Brownstead got 98 yards on 17 carries and Conwell 92 yards on 14 tries.
John Dennison’s 26-yard field goal put Huntington up 3-0 but Brownstead ran 4 yards for a TD and an interception by Pleasant set up Brownstead’s 6-yard scoring run and it was 14-3.
The Point Express fumbled the kickoff and Brownstead recovered the ball. He scored on a 7-yard run five plays later and it was 21-3.
Ray Donley recovered a muffed kickoff at the Huntington 27 and Pleasant hit Lowe on a 10-yard pass for a 28-3 lead with 3:25 left in the half. King had a 5-yard TD run to make it 28-9.
The Fighting Tigers went 62 yards in 13 plays to begin the second half as Brownstead scored from a yard out and it was 34-9. Conwell recovered another fumble and Neal kicked a 33-yard field goal.
Chapman had a 10-yard TD run and Clint Hayes caught an 81-yard scoring pass for Huntington to round out the scoring.
“We threw some licks in that game. Our guys were pretty pumped for that one,” said Lutz.
Ironton hosted rival Portsmouth and rolled to a 36-6 win as the defense sacked Trojans’ quarterback Michael Estep three times and limited them to 75 yards rushing, 30 against the first team.
Conwell had some big plays as he ran the second half kickoff back 86 yards for a touchdown and returned an interception 85 yards for a score. He also had a 1-yard TD run before the half.
Ironton traveled to Greenup County in Game 8 and won 35-7 to claim its fifth straight Ohio-Kentucky Athletic Conference title and 17th league crown in 18 years under Lutz.
Ironton’s defense held the Musketeers to 71 total yards — only 15 through the air. Coffman moved from linebacker to defensive tackle, Brad Davis from nose guard to linebacker and Chris Wright from tackle to nose guard.
Ironton had 252 total yards with 246 on the ground. Brownstead had 128 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns and Conwell added 62 yards on 14 attempts.
Davis had a 5-yard scoring run and Brownstead a 1-yard TD run while Pleasant hit Cox for the conversion and a 14-0 lead.
Brownstead had another 1-yard scoring run in the third quarter, then ran an interception back 39 yards to set up his own 23-yard scoring run for a 28-7 lead. The final TD came when Pleasant found Cox all alone in the end zone on a 7-yard pass.
Huntington East came to town and Ironton showcased Pleasant in a 45- romp. Pleasant was 8-of-10 passing for 129 yards and ran seven times for 78 yards while passing for two scores.
East was limited to 17 net yards rushing and 7 6passing.
A 35-yard punt return by Conwell set up a 10-yard Pleasant TD pass to Cox and then a Cox interception led to a 1-yard TD run by Conwell and a 19-0 lead.
Conwell ran 16 yards for a touchdown and Lowe caught a 12-yard scoring pass and it was 32-0 at the half. Ironton’s two second half TDs came on a 6-yard run by Neal and a 2-yard run by Dave Coburn.
Ironton closed the regular season unbeaten for the 11th time in Lutz’s 18 seasons in a 50-18 spanking of Miami Trace.
Brownstead had a 4-yard scoring run after Coffman recovered a fumble and Pleasant and Cx hooked up on a 45-yard scoring pass to make it 14-0.
Johnson blocked a punt and Louie Sheridan recovered at the 7 as Conwell scored on the next play. After a safety, Neal intercepted a pass that led to Brownstead’s 7-yard scoring run and it was 29-2 at the half.
Brownstead had a pair of 4-yard touchdown runs in the second half and Vass hit Miller on a 17-yard scoring pass with 10:31 left.
Finally, it was playoff time.
Ironton played Orrville at Ohio University and won 28-0 despite a sluggish performance.
Conwell ran for 152 yards and Ironton had 427 total yards including 317 on the ground — 206 in the second half. Brownstead added 107 yards on 16 tries.
Orrville finished with 92 total yards — 48 rushing and 44 passing.
After blowing two scoring chances early, Ironton final got a 2-yard TD run by Brownstead with 1:13 left in the half and it was 7-0.
Cox intercepted a pass on the ensuing play and ran it back 30 yards to the Orrville 30. After a loss, Pleasant hit Cox on a 43-yard scoring pass and it was 13-0 with 13 seconds on the clock.
Ironton dominated in the second half and got a 1-yard TD run by Conwell and a 15-yard burst by Brownstead.
The second round was back at Ohio University and Ironton beat the St. Clairsville Red Devils 27-6.
Brownstead ran 22 times for 176 yards and three touchdowns while Conwell had 102 yards on 14 attempts. Ironton finished with 343 yards — 312 on the ground — while the Red Devils were held to 153 yards and just 37 in the second half.
Ironton went up 7-0 when Brownstead ran 18 yards on a fourth-and-1 play. A tipped pass helped St. Clairsville score and make it 7-6, but Conwell ran 37 yards for a scoring for a 14-6 halftime lead.
Brownstead ran 6 and 23 yards for touchdowns in the second half.
The state semifinal game and Dublin High School proved to be a heartstopper as Ironton won 14-13 over Hamilton Badin, the same program the Fighting Tigers beat in the state semifinals in 1979.
A 16-yard punt gave Ironton the ball at the Badin 34 and Brownstead ran 2 yards for the score seven plays later and it was 7-0.
The Rams muffed a punt and Johnson recovered at the Badin 3-yard line setting up a Brownstead scoring run on the next play and it was 14-0 with 49 seconds left in the first quarter.
Ironton got to the Badin 23 only to fumble the ball away at the 17 in the second quarter.
A short punt gave Badin the ball at the Ironton 36 and Badin got the ball to the 2-yard line. Three straight plays netted only one yard and Chris Searcy scored on fourth down. Ron Enderle kicked the conversion.
Badin used a hook-and-ladder play to get to the Ironton 34. Arno — who was 13-of-19 passing for 209 yards — kept the ball on a 6-yard scoring run and it was 14-13 with just 35 seconds to play.
But the conversion kick on the cold and windy night sailed wide right and Ironton held on for the win and a berth in the state title game.
The Division III state championship game was played at Ohio Stadium and Ironton got a tough 12-7 win over the Campbell Memorial Red Devils.
Campbell Memorial was stacking the line of scrimmage to stop the run and was called for a pass interference that put the ball on the 44. Conwell ran for 4 yards and then Pleasant hit Cox on a short post pattern and he race into the end zone for the touchdown with 6:34 left in the first quarter to make it 6-0.
All-Ohio tailback and future Youngstown State star Shawn Patton was hit hard by Cyrus who caused a fumble on the ensuing play and he made the recovery at the 33. Four plays later, Brownstead plowed through the defense on a 15-yard scoring run and it was 12-0 with 4:20 left in the first quarter.
The Red Devils got into Ironton territory twice in the first half only to have Wright and Cyrus come up with big quarterback sacks to halt the scoring threats.
“The big momentum factor was when we held them at about the 10. I told them if we held, we’d stop their momentum and we held. If they scored, they would’ve come out strong the second half,” said Lutz.
Campbell Memorial scored with 3:37 left in the third quarter on a 3-yard run by Patton and Steve Michlini’s kick made it 12-7.
The Red Devils had the ball at their own 6-yard line with five minutes left, but Neal wrestled the ball away from Patton for an interception at the 35.
Ironton drove to the 4-yard line before a holding call helped stop the drive. But the Red Devils got the ball back with only 35 seconds to play and no timeouts and Ironton’s defense would not break.
Patton came into the game with 1,957 yards rushing but was held to 59 yards on 21 carries and only 15 yards in the first half.
“It was a great effort and a great win. That team played hard all 14 games. They were relentless,” said Lutz.
And that is how you take care of business.

1989 Ironton Fighting Tigers
Division III State Champions
Regular Season
Portsmouth West (A) 20 7
Russell, Ky. (H) 21 13
Ashland, Ky. (A) 20 15
Boyd Co., Ky. (A) 32 0
Logan (A) 44 6
Hunt. High, W.Va. (A) 37 23
Portsmouth (H) 36 6
Greenup Co., Ky. (A) 35 7
Hunt. East, W.Va. (H) 45 0
Miami Trace (H) 51 10
Orrville (N) 28 0
St. Clairsville (N) 27 6
State Semifinals
Hamilton Badin (N) 14 13
State Championship
At The Akron Rubber Bowl
Campbell Memorial (N) 12 7
Record: 14-0
Head Coach: Bob Lutz
Assistant Coaches: Pat Sheridan, Mike Burcham, Gene Jones, Paul Fugitt, Mark Lewis, Jeff Handley, Louis “Buck” Foglesong, Lou Mains, Terry Parker, Mark Lutz.

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1989 Ironton Fighting Tigers
No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Gr.
5 Danny Cox E-S 5-10 160 Sr.
7 Mark Vass QB-S 5-11 160 So.
8 Greg Lutz E-S 5-07 120 So.
9 Craig Pleasant QB-S 5-10 170 Sr.
20 Ray Lewis RB-CB 5-09 170 Sr.
22 Chris Brammer QB-CB 5-10 140 So.
24 John Houck RB-CB 5-10 165 So.
25 Jeff Darbaker RB-S 5-07 145 Jr.
26 Aaron Palmer RB-DE 6-00 160 So.
28 Eric Roach RB-S 5-09 155 So.
30 Tyrone Bacon FB-DE 6-00 190 So.
32 Brad Davis FB-NG 5-07 190 Sr.
33 Delandual Conwell RB-CB 6-01 205 Sr.
36 Heath Brownstead FB-LB 6-01 220 Sr.
37 David Coburn FB-LB 5-11 165` So.
40 Terry Lowe TE-DE 6-00 200 Sr.
45 Andy Neal RB-CB 5-10 190 Sr.
46 Josh Collins TE-CB 6-00 150 Jr.
49 Ray Donley E-S 5-06 145 Sr.
50 Louis Sheridan C-NG 5-09 200 Sr.
51 Brent Roach C-NG 5-10 175 So.
52 Scott Johnson C-LB 5-10 175 Jr.
55 Steve Sisler C-LB 6-00 180 So.
57 Burt Haas G-LB 5-11 190 Jr.
61 John Wallace G-LB 5-06 155 So.
62 Mark Weber G-LB 5-10 200 Sr.
63 Ralph Imes G-LB 5-10 175 Jr.
64 Sean Carter G-NG 6-00 195 Jr.
65 Sean Roberts T-DT 5-11 220 Jr.
66 Aaron Brown G-DE 6-01 205 Sr.
67 Shawn Murdock G-LB 6-00 205 So.
71 Aaron Markel T-DT 6-00 205 So.
72 James Fetters T-DT 6-00 210 Sr.
73 Bob Roberts T-DT 6-03 230 So.
74 J.D. Cyrus T-DT 6-02 230 Sr.
75 Dick Neal T-DT 6-01 245 Sr.
76 Chuck Jones T-DT 6-10 195 So.
77 J.D. Coffman G-DT 6-02 245 Sr.
78 Chris Wright T-DT 6-01 250 Jr.
80 Ken Harbolt E-DE 5-10 130 So.
82 Shawn Miller E-DE 6-00 195 Sr.
83 Ken Freeman D-DE 5-11 165 So.
85 Jason Dodgion E-CB 5-09 150 So.
87 Dusty Barrow E-S 5-05 120 So.