PORTSMOUTH — They say you can throw out everything when it comes to rivalries.
However, computers — and computer points — is probably, even likely, an exception.
That’s because, with a bus-load of computer points riding along U.S. Route 52 on Friday night, the second-oldest high school football rivalry in the entire state of Ohio definitely has new fire burning to it.
As the Portsmouth Trojans travel the short trek to take on the Ironton Fighting Tigers, a bevy of benefits awaits the winner, as the two 8-1 rivals — separated by just 20 miles — meet in one of the biggest matchups in the rivalry’s now 135-meeting storied history.
In fact, the all-time series stands tied at 66-66-2, but few have involved as much as what’s at stake come Friday night.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. inside historic Tanks Memorial Stadium in Ironton, as the underdog Trojans try to make it three wins in a row over the favored Fighting Tigers.
With Ironton (6-0 in OVC) already assured a share of the Ohio Valley Conference championship, a Trojan triumph means the two will share the league title — along with defending champion Gallia Academy (5-1 in OVC).
A Portsmouth (5-1 in OVC) victory, as it “controls its own destiny” towards a Division V Region 19 playoff spot, also almost locks the Trojans into a regional quarterfinal home game.
The Fighting Tigers, thanks to their impressive — and even stunning — 52-0 shutout at Gallia Academy, clinched a Region 19 first-round home date, and eye the top Region 19 seed with a win over the Trojans.
The top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs – with the top four squads earning first-round home bouts.
They also aim to snap a sour two-game losing streak to Portsmouth, which still sticks sorely with the 14-member senior class.
It is Senior Night after all at Ironton High School, as second-year head coach Trevon Pendleton already knows what a win would mean.
Each of the last two contests, including the Trojans’ second-half rally last season, has been decided by a touchdown apiece (42-35 in 2017 and 35-28 in 2018).
“Number one, this is a rivalry game, and our seniors are more than well aware of what has happened the last two years,” said Pendleton. “You definitely want to beat your rival. For the playoff points and number-one seed (in the region) and the league championship and all those things, yeah they come with it this year. But the last two years, this game with Portsmouth has grown again in intensity, and our guys don’t want to walk off the field feeling the way we have the last two years.”
Last season’s Fighting Tiger-Trojan tussle was the first as head coaches for Pendleton and Portsmouth mentor Bruce Kalb.
But Kalb is a Portsmouth alum, and so he is more than familiar with the long-running rivalry.
However, if you do throw out the records, make sure you throw in all the underlying story-lines.
“Portsmouth-Ironton, who hasn’t heard of that rivalry in Southern Ohio? That raises the stakes high enough already. We’ve met over 130 times in school history. Then you have them going for an outright OVC championship and us a share of it. They are playing for the number-one seed, and if we win, we springboard into the top four and host a game,” said Kalb. “If we lose, there’s a chance that if the chips don’t fall right, we’re out (of the playoffs) in some crazy scenarios. To make a big game even bigger, there’s just so much on the line.”
For the Fighting Tigers, there was plenty on the line last week at Gallia Academy, which entered that matchup undefeated.
But the Tigers took advantage of James Armstrong’s absence, turned a close first-quarter affair into a 38-0 rout by halftime, and tacked on two more touchdowns to clinch the OVC share.
Armstrong, Gallia Academy’s primary playmaker who has rushed for 1,034 yards on 142 carries this season, has missed the last two tilts due to injury.
Still, that was a revenge game for Ironton, as the Blue Devils defeated the Fighting Tigers 36-33 at Ironton last season — en route to their first-ever OVC championship.
“Gallia Academy is a good football team all across the board, but our kids went into that game motivated from last year, and we played very well. As a coaching staff, you do your best to put your kids in position to win, but we never thought for once it would be 52-0,” said Pendleton. “The win was a testament to the work and preparation the kids put in and our coaching staff preparing them.”
This week, Ironton aims to turn around the Trojan outcome — and that starts with the Fighting Tigers trying to account for Portsmouth senior running back Talyn Parker.
Parker burned Ironton a year ago in Trojan Coliseum, as he has amassed 1,380 yards on 132 carries this season — an astonishing per carry average of 10.45 yards.
He has broken off multiple big-play runs for touchdowns, easily overcoming a season-opening performance of only 21 yards on 17 attempts.
However, this week, Parker faces an elite Ironton first-team defense, which has not allowed more than one touchdown in regulation time.
Ashland, in the Fighting Tigers’ lone setback this season, scored in overtime to prevail 16-10.
And, that one regulation-time TD was by Wheelersburg’s Makya Matthews — a 72-yard sprint in the season opener.
“The biggest thing in stopping Talyn Parker is not letting him get started. He is obviously a very good running back, and when he gets going downhill running, it’s tough to stop,” said Pendleton. “You don’t let him get going by getting as many hats to the football as possible to bring him down. Then, you gotta rely not on your first or second guys tackling him, you rely on your third, fourth, fifth, even sixth person to get him on the ground.”
Kalb commented on Parker, and his other Trojan playmakers, facing Ironton’s stout defense — which includes six-foot three-inch 225-pound linebacker Reid Carrico, who has already verbally committed to Ohio State.
But Carrico’s company includes senior Seth Fosson (6-1, 235) at defensive end, senior Junior Jones (6-0, 240) at nose guard, and senior Gage Salyers at safety (6-1, 205).
“A lot of people talk about (Reid) Carrico, who is a phenomenal athlete, and when you surround him with players like Fosson, Salyers and Jones, you have just a phenomenal team to prepare for,” said Kalb.
But the Fighting Tigers will also need to defend the Trojans’ other weapons, as sophomore quarterback Drew Roe and senior wide receivers Bryce Wallace and Eric Purdy provide plenty of assistance for Parker.
While Parker can reach paydirt on any given snap, the other offensive players have developed nicely into taking pressure off of him.
Roe has completed 80-of-138 passes for 1,304 yards with 15 touchdowns, while Wallace (23 receptions for 459 yards) has almost 20 yards per reception — as Purdy (30 receptions for 446 yards) paces the Trojans in pass catches.
“They have athletes and are very disciplined in what they do,” said Pendleton. “They have a lot of guys who can make plays.”
Roe has also often involved tight end Michael Duncan, with senior Tyler McCoy serving as Parker’s lead blocker from the fullback spot.
“We have to make sure Ironton defends EVERYBODY…AND the entire field,” said Kalb. “Last year, we were a power-running football team that played our game in the second half. We called power 16 or 17 times that second half, and Talyn found creases and took them the distance. This year, we have turned the keys to the offense over to Drew Roe, and to see if he could drive. He has done a phenomenal job of growing week after week, and spreading the ball out to guys like Eric Purdy and Bryce Wallace. That’s taken a lot of the pressure off Talyn, and now defenses have to defend the entire field.”
But the Fighting Tigers have demonstrated big-play capability as well, primarily with Carrico — with Salyers slinging the football for 1,032 yards and eight touchdowns on 54 completions and 103 attempts.
Carrico has rushed for 888 yards on 116 carries, and leads Ironton in receiving with 13 receptions for 312 yards.
“We have to make sure we play our positions, play them well and play them with discipline. When we are in position, we have to make sure tackles and wrap up and bring them down,” said Kalb. “They present quite the challenge for any team defensively. Then just their shear size up front.”
Pendleton was asked if ball control, involving Carrico and even the fullback Fosson, could be a tactic used to keep Parker’s offensive explosiveness relegated to his defense.
“Time of possession has actually been a stat that we don’t get overly worked up about. With each play called, we put our players in the best position to score on that particular play. I won’t say we won’t use it (ball control), but we try to capitalize on what the defense is doing every play and try to get first downs, not turn the ball over, keep the chains moving, and score,” said the coach. “The goal is to finish off drives with points, no matter how we do it.”
Ironton also has a weapon with senior placekicker Avery Book, so field goals are a good option as well.
Pendleton said the goal against Portsmouth is the same as it has been for the first nine games: “be 1-0 after each week.”
Although, in a rivalry game with so much at stake, going 1-0 this week will mean so much more.
“Portsmouth has a great team and this is a rivalry where anything can happen. We’ve put ourselves in position to win the league outright and go in the playoffs with a lot of momentum, but the first goal this week is to be 1-0 and honor our seniors with a victory over their rivals,” said Pendleton.
The Trojans, meanwhile, relish an underdog role as they invade ‘The Tank’.
For them, they will throw that “1-0” record out, but will need to keep the computer — for it has valuable and precious points.
“It’s never easy to win at ‘The Tank’, and this Ironton team is very good. But our kids have owned that mantle of being the underdog, and we’re going to go out and take care of business,” said Kalb. “One thing about this senior class that I appreciate is that they don’t get too caught up in the hype. They know they have a job to do on Friday night, and they are going to prepare doggedly this week to accomplish that job. I have no doubt for that 48 minutes on Friday night, they are going to give it everything they have. To have a chance to share the OVC title and possibly host a playoff game and defeat Ironton three years in a row, this is an awesome opportunity for these kids.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved