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Fighting Tigers’ offense running in high gear

Jim Walker

It wouldn’t be surprising if members of the Ironton Fighting Tigers’ offense preferred driving a Corvette or Porsche Boxster 718. Both cars have only two seats.
And that’s important to the Ironton offense because they play for a team that has a great defense that justifiably garners a lot of recognition.
But the Ironton offense has no intention of taking a back seat to anyone.
The defense has given up on 69 points all season which is 5.8 points per game. But the offense has scored 469 points or 39.1 points a game.
That’s why they prefer to ride up front with the defense.
Just like auto insurance, Ironton has a “No Fault Assault” offense that has immunity from any damage done to opposing defenses.
Ironton has used plenty of offensive linemen this season due to injuries and just giving players a rest.
Senior Noah Davidson has been a mainstay at right tackle but the left tackle job has been filled by Riley Boggs, Ryan Cecil and Ryan McClain. Caden McFann has played guard, center and some tackle with Rocky White and Lucas White also playing center. Junior Matthew Davis has been solid as the starting right guard all season.
That group also includes players like senior Beau Brownstead and sophomore Ashton Duncan who have played tight end.
“Because of injuries, we’ve had nine different players start on the offensive line. That just shows what kind of depth we have,” said Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton.
“They know they’re never going to get the attention of the skilled players, but they get their glory from doing a good job and when we win.”
Having played three different positions, the versatile McFann admits it is tough to pick one position over another.
“The biggest difference is firing out. And I feel I’m a leader of the line and I need to take charge,” said McFann.
“Which one do I like? That’s tough. I probably have a love-hate relation with center. I said you’ve got to love it or hate it. So, it’s time to love it because we’ve got big games coming up. Probably my favorite is guard. You’re still in the interior and you get to pull and hit people.”
Rocky White is a returning starter at center but has had a couple of nagging injuries that forced McFann to move from guard to center. Lucas White has also been in the rotation.
McFann said the younger players lack some experience, but they have played well.
“They’re pretty independent. They all know their plays which is a really good thing. If I’m not in they’ll come over and ask me. Rocky White knows every position. They’ll come over and ask us stuff,” said McFann.
“We have a pretty good rotation going now to keep us fresh.”
With new players on the offensive line early, McFann said the group started a little slow but have stepped up their game in recent weeks.
“We’ve still haven’t played the best we can. This week is a really big week. They have a really good defensive line. They use their hands well. If we fire off the ball and be physical, I think we can win,” said McFann.
“Our defense is really good, but these other teams have really good defenses, too, and we’ve put up a lot of points this year.”
Noah Davidson is not only another senior on the offensive line, he’s the biggest lineman at 6-5, 315 and he likes to utilize that size.
“I think this year we just outwork people and we love to be physical. We love what we do. We’ve got to play a big part in the game,” said Davidson.
A three-year starter, Davidson not only has seen his game improve each year, but he tries to offer advice to the younger linemen to help them enhance their play.
“I’ve started since my sophomore year and there’s a lot of good players I’ve played against. Over time, I’ve gotten a lot better since I was a sophomore, I’ve gotten better as a player and a teammate,” said Davidson.
“Mostly I just tell (the other linemen) you’ve got to be willing to do it instead of having people do it for you. You’ve got to be willing to work. Most people aren’t.”
Senior quarterback Gage Salyers has thrown for 1,357 yards and 12 touchdowns while running for 649 yards and 11 TDs. The Youngstown State recruit was quick to give credit to the offensive line and his receivers.
“I like how physical our offensive line is and how fast and elusive (the receivers) are in space,” said Salyers.
“They all have great hands and breakaway speed, too. Most importantly, they know how to get open and find certain spots in the defenses’ coverages. They break off their routes and make a defender think he’s going this way and snapping it, acting like he’s running a corner and then run a post.”
Being a three-year starter has helped Salyers evolve each season into a better quarterback and he’s learned how to read defensive coverages prior to the snap.
“Last year at the beginning of the year, it was kind of rough because of the new offense we put in. It’s gotten easier with reading defenses and just knowing how defenses will play against us,” said Salyers.
“My football IQ has gotten better and my decision making has gotten a lot better.”
Salyers said he likes both running and throwing. He said mixing it up is also a tribute to his line and especially his receivers.
“When teams are playing off, I can hurt them with my feet. But when they are pressing us, with the speed of our receivers and how well they can catch, I can hurt them with my arm,” said Salyers.
Ironton has a plethora of receivers and Salyers spreads the ball around so that no one or two receivers has a large number of catches or yardage.
Junior running back Reid Carrico has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons but also leads the team with 15 catches for 344 yards and four scores. But there are some talented targets among the receiving corps.
Junior Trent Hacker (6-2, 175) has nine caches for 219 yards and three TDs, junior Kyle Howell (5-10, 170) had 13 snags for 188 yards and two scores, senior Jordan Grizzle (5-10, 190) has nine receptions for 178 yards and two scores, senior Collin Freeman (6-0, 170) six grabs for 139 yards and a TD and sophomore tight end Ashton Duncan (6-2, 205) has eight receptions for 121 yards.
Freeman — who also doubles as a defensive back — said he is fortunate to be a part of a group of unselfish wide receivers who work well together.
“We just try to get each other open. If we run a pick, we just run it hard and get each other open and we just go up knowing that Gage trusts us to catch the ball,” said Freeman.
Ironton’s offense relies heavily on its running game and the receivers know they have to block. Freeman said the group uses the running game to help the passing game.
“It’s just how you come off the ball. When you’re running, you want to come off the ball the same way when passing and you’re running your route,” said Freeman.
The success of the passing game comes from experience and trust among the receivers.
“We just go out and play. It’s just the confidence in each other. If you throw a jump ball to Trent, we have confidence he’s going to go up and get it. If you throw a screen to Grizzle are deep pattern to Grizzle, he’s going to catch it and you’re not going to tackle him like the catch against Gallipolis. Kyle just makes those acrobatic plays that are unbelievable,” said Freeman.
“We just have to be gamers, I guess.”
One of the biggest things that has helped not only the Ironton offense but the entire team is a close-knit atmosphere with one goal.
“It’s amazing. I love it. All our teammates are a great group of guys who just love to play football,” said Davidson.
Gentlemen, start your engines. It’s time to put the offense in high gear.