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Defenses may decide D5 state championship

Ironton Fighting Tigers’ defensive back Trent Hacker (10) knocks away a pass during last week’s Division 5 state semifinal game. (Kent Sanborn/Southern Ohio Sports Photos)

Jim Walker
jim.walker@irontontribune.com

The Iron Curtain meets the Steel Wall.
The Ironton Fighting Tigers “Iron Curtain” defense will match talents with the Kirtland Hornets “Steel Wall” defense when the teams collide at 8p.m. Saturday in Canton’s Hall of Fame Stadium for the Division 5 state championship.
Ironton has allowed 104 points this season and only 56 in the regular season. They have posted three shutouts and only two teams scored two touchdowns on them during the season.
On the year, the defense has allowed just 1,477 rushing yards on 439 carries and teams have completed 80-of-192 passes for 1,047 yards. Ironton had 16 interceptions including five by Gage Salyers.
Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton is expecting a defensive struggle.
“It goes back to the old saying ‘defense wins championships.’ When you look at it, when comparing scores, both defenses jump out at you right away. Both are playing at a high level. Both kind of mirror each other. They run multiple different fronts and we run multiple different fronts. They have a lot of athletes on the field and so do we,” said Pendleton.
“I definitely I think it’s going to be playing fundamental football, knowing your assignment and playing very discipline and when the opportunity presents itself, be ready to make a play. In big games, everyone talks about penalties and turnovers, of course, but a lot of it is the hidden yardage. The yards after contact, the ability to limit them and their yards after contact. Those hidden yardage will be the biggest key.”
The Hornets have posted seven shutouts this season and gave up only 34 points in the regular season. The playoffs have been a little different against better competition. Kirtland has allowed 59 points in four games for a total of 93 points on the season.
“We lost all our size form last year. I really didn’t know what to expect. They really go above and beyond. We knew we had tough kids and they would play really, really hard. They surpassed our expectations, but we have really high expectations,” said Hornets’ coach Tiger LaVerde.
The Hornets lost 6-4, 305-pound Jack Bailey and 6-6, 320 Kalid Alabsi from last season along with 1,000-yard rushers Joey Torok and Jake Neibecker.
Three key returning starters are running backs and outside linebackers Mason Sullivan and Luke Gardner along with senior inside linebacker Kaleb Stephenson (6-1, 170).
Sullivan (6-0, 195) was the Northeast Lakes district offensive Player of the Year and Stephenson was the defensive Player of the Year and he was the team’s leading tackler this year.
However, Stephenson suffered a knee injury a few weeks ago and is out for the rest of the season.
Another defensive starter the Hornets lost was senior defensive back Joey Mongelluzzi (5-10, 160). But junior Joey Grazia has stepped in for Mongelluzzi and leads the team with nine interceptions.
Junior Carson Andonian (5-10, 160) has played filled in at linebacker and defensive line. He led the team in tackles in the 28-14 state semifinal win over Oak Harbor.
The defense is the reason Kirtland is in the state finals for the eighth time in the past nine seasons with four state titles including the Division 6 crown last year.
“We’re just a bunch of young, scrappy kids and every week just really get after it. We’re not very big. I think we have one kid over 200 pounds. Everybody else is under 200, but they know what they’re doing and they play assignment football, they hustle and they’re quick and strong and they try to get to the ball,” said LaVerde.
“I would say it’s a fun, fun team to watch.”
LaVerde said defensive lineman Mike Rus (5-10, 165) is second on the team in defensive points, mainly because team’s see his size and make him their prime target.
“Last year we did it with size. We two-gapped everybody. This year we’ve done it totally different. We have a defensive end Mike Rus is playing at an elite level and I think he’s 157 pounds. Every team looks at film and says we’re going at that guy. Every week I think they’re going to get that guy,” said LaVerde.
“Last week was Oak Harbor and they had these 270-pound twin brothers who play left guard and left tackle right over Mike Rus and when they game ends, Mike Rus has as many defensive points as anybody else. He is an absolute warrior.”
Ironton’s defense features junior linebacker Reid Carrico (6-3, 225) who was named the Associated Press Division 5 Defensive Player of the Year.
Senior defensive lineman Seth Fosson (6-1, 235) was first team All-Ohio, senior Junior Jones (6-0, 240) was third team All-Ohio and junior linebacker Cameron Deere (5-11, 185) was special mention.
“That’s the thing about this defense. You’ve had multiple guys step up in multiple situations and make huge plays whether it be across the D-line,” said Pendleton.

Ironton Offense
SE 29 Jordan Grizzle 5-10 190 Sr.
25 Collin Freeman 6-00 170 Sr.
LT 78 Ryan Cecil 6-01 270 So.
LG 70 Riley Boggs 6-02 260 So.
57 Caden McFann 5-11 250 Sr.
C 63 Rocky White 5-11 235 Jr.
65 Lucas White 5-11 220 Sr.
RG 52 Matthew Davis 6-00 210 Jr.
RT 79 Noah Davidson 6-05 315 Sr.
TE 24 Ashton Duncan 6-02 205 So.
WR 20 Kyle Howell 5-10 170 Jr.
10 Trent Hacker 6-02 175 Jr.
QB 7 Gage Salyers 6-01 205 Sr.
FB 44 Seth Fosson 6-01 235 Sr.
30 Cameron Deere 5-11 185 Jr.
TB 28 Reid Carrico 6-03 225 Jr.
PK 12 Avery Book 5-11 180 Sr.

Ironton Defense
DE 36 Gunnar Crawford 5-10 225 Jr.
33 Dalton Crabtree 5-10 190 Jr.
DT 2 Junior Jones 6-00 240 Sr.
DT 76 Nate Cochran 6-02 250 So.
DE 44 Seth Fosson 6-01 235 Sr.
LB 28 Reid Carrico 6-03 225 Jr.
LB 30 Cameron Deere 5-11 185 Jr.
CB 29 Jordan Grizzle 5-10 190 Sr.
10 Trent Hacker 6-02 175 Jr.
CB 25 Collin Freeman 6-00 170 Sr.
S 7 Gage Salyers 6-01 205 Sr.
S 20 Kyle Howell 5-10 170 Jr.
P 12 Avery Book 5-11 180 Sr.

Kirtland Defense
DE 12 Mike Rus 5-10 165 Sr.
DT 52 Braydon Adkins 5-09 190 Sr.
DT 72 Mike Alfieri 5-10 230 Sr.
DE 45 Jaymes Torok 6-00 210 Sr.
8 Zach Samsa 6-03 215 Sr.
OLB 1 Mason Sullivan 6-00 195 Jr. ILB 23 Carson Andonian 5-10 160 Jr.
ILB 10 Louie Loncar 5-11 200 Sr.
29 Kaleb Stephenson# 6-00 170 Sr.
OLB 28 Luke Gardner 5-09 175 Sr.
DB 19 Tommy Drazetic 5-11 185 Sr.
DB 2 Joey Grazia 5-10 150 Jr.
S 16 Anthony Demarco 5-11 185 Jr.
P 72 Mike Alfieri 5-10 230 Sr
#-Out with knee injury (leading tackler)

Kirtland Offense
TE 8 Zach Samsa 6-03 215 Sr.
LT 72 Mike Alfieri 5-10 230 Sr.
LG 50 Kristian Grman 5-09 205 Jr.
C 57 Jacob Malvocino 5-09 230 Sr.
RG 52 Braydon Adkins 5-09 190 Sr.
RT 51 Logan Snodell 6-01 275 Sr.
TE 19 Tommy Drazetic 5-11 185 Sr.
20 Gage Sullivan 5-11 185 Jr.
QB 13 Liam Powers 5-10 180 Jr.
11 Jonathan Ridgeway 5-10 155 Sr.
RB 28 Luke Gardner 5-09 175 Sr.
RB 1 Mason Sullivan 6-00 195 Jr.
FB 18 Anthony Demarco 5-11 185 Jr.
PK 83 Mario Rodin 6-01 160 Jr.