Inexperienced Ironton hosts veteran Pirates in big opener

Published 7:54 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2023

By Jim Walker

It’s kind of like NASCAR.

Email newsletter signup

Even though there are plenty of good races throughout the year, NASCAR holds its biggest race in the first race of the season’s schedule with the Daytona 500.

The area high school football season may be the same way. There are a lot of great matchups this season but it all begins with the Ironton Fighting Tigers hosting the Wheelersburg Pirates in a matchup of traditionally two of the area’s biggest powers at 7 p.m. Friday at Tanks Memorial Stadium.

Ironton is coming off a 15-1 season and a Division 5 state runner-up but was ravaged by graduation with only 3 starters returning on defense.

Wheelersburg was 9-4 overall last season after going 2-1 in the playoffs with wins over Heath (55-0) and Barnesville (55-31) before falling to Harvest Prep (25-21).

Ironton went unbeaten in the regular season and then proceeded to roll through the playoffs with wins over Minford (51-7), Portsmouth (48-7), unbeaten Portsmouth West (35-7), Harvest Prep (34-0) and Germantown Valley View (35-21) before falling in the state title game to South Range in a shootout, 53-27.

The Pirates are led by senior linebacker Landon Hutchinson and placekicker Connor Estep.

Hutchinson was special mention All-Ohio and Estep was the first team All-Ohio kicker who was 59-of-59 on conversions.

Wheelersburg returns 3 offensive line starters with Nate May at center, Cole Estep at tackle and Cody Risner who has moved to tight end.

Running back Jake Darling and wide receiver Creed Warren return on offense and the Pirates added transfer wide receiver Devon Lattimore from Portsmouth. Lattimore is the cousin of Eric and Derrick Lattimore who graduated.

Back on defense Hutchinson — he led the team with 83 tackles last season — along with Risner at end, Estep at tackle, Darling and Kolton Salyers and linebacker and Warren in the secondary.

Ironton lost most of its offense including quarterback Tayden Carpenter who passed for 3,371 yards and 43 touchdowns last season. Jaques Keyes ran for 1,063 yards and 21 touchdowns to lead the ground game while Cincinnati recruit Ty Perkins caught 57 passes for 1,264 yards and 18 TDs.

Returning quarterbacks are Bailey Thacker and Braden Schreck. Thacker was 5-of-8 for 109 has and 2 touchdowns with Schreck 7-of-11 for 108 yards and a score. Thacker threw an interception.

Among the returning running backs, Tyler Carmon carried 16 times for 127 yards and a touchdown, Jesse Copas ran 12 times for 129 yards and 2 TDs, and Zayne Williams ran 13 times for 76 yards.

The defense returns defensive linemen Noah Patterson — an Eastern Michigan recruit — and Aiden Layne and Bowen Gossett along with Williams in the secondary.

Layne and Copas registered 4 sacks last season.

Ironton won 12-3 lasat season at Wheelersburg and now leads the series 20-14 including 3 wins in the last 4 meetings.