PDT Sports Contributor
The Portsmouth Trojans (2-3) traveled to Ironton for an Ohio Valley Conference showdown against the Fighting Tigers (1-4) Friday night. Both teams were looking to make an early move on the conference title. At the close, the Fighting Tigers came out on top 42-20.
It was a fast paced, hard fought occasion with both crowds on their feet the whole game. Rain cascaded the field for the first half of the game, adding a slip factor to the already unpredictable action. Faces in the crowd exercised the muscles in their face as they went from glee to anger to outright rage over and over again.
Ironton started the action off with a successful first drive that employed the entirety of their run staff. The Fighting Tigers slipped comfortably into their staple T formation, pushing the Trojans back with their bulldozer senior class.
Fighting Tiger senior backs Andrew Barker and Desmond Young shared the majority of the work on that first drive (28 yards), with Young capping it off a two yard push into the goal line. Sophomore backup quarterback Garrett Carrico was utilized on the run quite a bit as well, snagging about 15 yards on three plays. It was a quick drive that only shed two minutes of play time.
The Trojans first drive saw them struggling to find their footing. Sophomore quarterback Cole Lowery hit senior receiver Dylan Mullins for a shout gain but senior running back Austin Hollins was stopped short on their third down. This was the first moment where momentum was strong in Ironton’s favor.
It didn’t last long. The punt return was fumbled in the pouring rain and recovered by the Trojans. On Portsmouth’s second drive, Lowery dived in the first play for a short gain. He seemed to figure out that running wasn’t going to cut it against the Ironton line. He took to the air in grand fashion. Lowery to Hollins for a midfield connections that ended in a 73 yard, open field touchdown.
Both crowds were on their feet by this point and they stayed up until the half. Portsmouth missed the rainy PAT and the game sat at 7-6 for the rest of the first quarter, despite Ironton’s full back Young barreling through the Portsmouth defense.
It wasn’t until two minutes into the second quarter that the tension of turnovers was stopped. Barker and Young scorched center field back and forth, for 53 yards, once again ending in a short run touchdown for Desmond Young.
The very next drive, after a short Ironton kickoff, Cole Lowery hit Austin Hollins for an outside pass that he took 53 yards into the end zone, making the score 13-12.
At this point, the fans were losing their minds and the players were rallied. Then it happened, the play that will have Trojans and Fighting Tigers talking all week.
Deep in the second quarter of play, on his first carry of the drive, Young blazed 50 plus yards deep into scoring territory. He was downed on the 17, but as he went down the ball slipped loose and Portsmouth recovered. The referees called it a clean fumble which sent the entirety of Portsmouth’s side into cheers; the crowd, the players, and the staff.
Ironton’s crowd was up too, yelling out about Young being down before the ball dropped. The referees deliberated quickly and then reversed the call. Ironton ball on the 17 yard line.
The Fighting Tigers capitalized on the call and took the football right into the end zone. Young secured his third touchdown of the evening, leaving 6:23 on the game clock. The momentum was back with Ironton and it stayed with them until the second half.
Ironton senior tight end Lucas Campbell scored an open field, 80 yard, running touchdown with less four minutes in the half.
Portsmouth had a key drive in the last minutes of the second quarter. Lowery couldn’t connect in the air, so he pulled three straight quarterback draw plays for a total of 43 yards. With 40 seconds left on a fourth and four, Hollins ran the ball outside and was downed at the 3 yard line turning the ball over to the Fighting Tigers. At the half, it was 27-12.
By the time the teams came back onto the field, the rain had cleared but the field was still soaked. Portsmouth returned struggling on offense, but reinvigorated on the defensive side of the ball. They forced Ironton to pass and brought them to a punt on two straight drives.
Portsmouth’s next drive took six minutes of play time and cost both teams multiple penalties. Through the course of the evening both teams racked up a combined grand total of 24 penalties.
The drive saw the Trojans go fourth-and-22 on the 24 yard line. Lowery put a pass into Hollins hands for 22 yards, making them first-and-two on the goal line. Lowery pressed the ball through the defensive line for Portsmouth’s third-and-final touchdown. They converted the extra point for two, putting the Trojans within a score with four minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
The momentum was back with Portsmouth but another series of penalties and some impressive defensive stands by Ironton shifted the game in the Fighting Tigers favor. The rest of the evening was dominated by an impressive rally performance by the winless Ironton team. They wanted a win and they brought it home.
The defense shut Lowery down, forcing him to run and his receivers into coverage. The defense forced Lowery into the Portsmouth goal and caused a fumble. Junior corner Eli Willis recovered the loose ball for a touchdown.
Barker scored the last touchdown of the evening with a short rush of seven yards into the end zone bring the score to its final resting place of 42-20.
Both teams showed tenacity, ingenuity and at times downright charisma on the field. They commanded the audience, waving their arms to signal for a much needed blast of encouragement.
The two squads playfully taunted each other after huge plays and then helped each other up. It was heated at times but the energy was converted into bold plays on both sides.
As they head forward into more conferences wins and losses, they should be able to keep their heads up after their performance this evening. Ironton sealed the deal on their first win and Portsmouth goes home with a lot to be proud of and a lot of film to use for the next matchup.
Cody Leightenheimer is a stringer for the Portsmouth Daily Times. Reach him @leightenheimer