IRONTON — You make mistakes, and you don’t take advantage of opportunities, and the good ones will make you pay.
And, that’s exactly what happened in the cold — in the 135th meeting of the second-oldest high school football rivalry in the entire state.
The talented, highly-touted and favored Ironton Fighting Tigers took total advantage of the underdog Portsmouth Trojans’ too many missteps on Friday night — and ultimately captured the outright Ohio Valley Conference championship with a thorough 48-7 victory inside historic Tanks Memorial Stadium in Ironton.
The Fighting Tigers tallied three touchdowns of at least 67 yards, including a pair of Gage Salyers pass completions to Trent Hacker (69 yards) and Jordan Grizzle (67 yards).
Ironton amassed the opening 27 points, and began its payment by Portsmouth for its mistakes a mere minute and 16 seconds in, as Kyle Howell hit the Trojans with a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown.
That stout Fighting Tiger defense limited the Trojans to only 197 total yards — 42 of which came on the Trojans’ touchdown run by Talyn Parker.
In fact, given Gallia Academy (6-1 OVC) was the OVC runner-up with Portsmouth placing third, and with Ironton playing them in back-to-back weeks to end the regular season, the Fighting Tigers actually outscored them by a whopping 100-7.
On Friday night, the final 16 minutes and 25 seconds were played with the running-clock rule in effect.
Salyers intercepted Portsmouth quarterback Drew Roe twice, and Seth Fosson finished off the final two Ironton first-half scoring drives with hard-charging runs of 14 and 24 yards.
Ironton also added six successful extra-point kicks, five of which were by senior Avery Book.
Add it all up, and Ironton enjoyed a Senior Night for the ages —clinching its third outright OVC championship in the five seasons in which it has been a conference member.
The now 9-1 Fighting Tigers (7-0 OVC), already assured of a home game for next week’s Ohio High School Athletic Association regional quarterfinal round, also unofficially locked up the number-one seed in Division V Region 19.
Ironton, according to the unofficial yet respected computer ratings website www.joeeitel.com, will host Wellston in a regional quarterfinal next Saturday night at 7 p.m.
But first things first, Ironton and head coach Trevon Pendleton wanted to celebrate winning the OVC title on Senior Night inside ‘The Tank”.
They also snapped a two-game losing streak to their archrival Trojans, winning back the traveling Tom Grashel Trophy — which is awarded to the winner.
“First and foremost, this was a great team effort in all three phases of the game. I’m very proud of our guys, especially these seniors. They have stepped up, and I told them before the season that they were going to be the ones to right this ship,” said Pendleton. “It started last year with that group of seniors and these guys have just picked up where they left off. It’s been great and I’m just so proud of these guys. I can’t say enough. To come out here and win the OVC outright in a rivalry game and get the (Grashel) Trophy back in our house, it’s just a great night.”
Speaking of taking things back “to the house”, that is where it all began for the Fighting Tigers.
On the game’s first play, Fosson fumbled following a 15-yard run to the Ironton 38-yard-line, as Austin McKenzie recovered for the Trojans, which actually started their series inside the red zone at the 18 following a Fighting Tiger personal-foul penalty.
But Portsmouth put itself back with a pair of false starts, setting up 3rd-down-and-7 at the 15 —when Roe looked for Michael Duncan on a slant route in the end zone.
But Howell had his eyes locked on Roe, jumped the route about as good as a defender can do, and raced untouched up the sideline for a fast 95-yard tide-turning touchdown —not even a minute-and-a-half into the contest.
“It was an RPO (run-pass option) and Kyle (Howell) just read the route and jumped it and made one heck of a play,” said Pendleton. “He’s a playmaker and a ball-hawk back there. When he had the ball in his hands, he just made a play with it.”
For the Trojans, it was a costly mistake they could ill-afford to make, given as good as Ironton is.
“We simply cannot make mistakes like that against a team like this. The same thing happened against Gallia Academy, and Gallia Academy scored the same amount of points (48) as Ironton did. When given opportunities like that (following Fosson fumble), we have to take advantage of those. It’s one thing to not take advantage, it’s another thing to shoot yourself in the foot,” said Portsmouth coach Bruce Kalb. “The pick-6 for 95 yards, it was a great play by their kid, but that’s an opportunity against a high-caliber opponent that you can not squander and a mistake you just can’t make in big games like this.”
The Trojans then had another red zone opportunity at the Ironton 19, having moved the ball between the 20s with 11 plays and consuming five minutes off the first-quarter clock.
But this time, Portsmouth turned the ball over on downs and — three plays later — the Fighting Tigers struck again from long range.
Salyers, executing a play-action pass, found Hacker downfield for a reception — as he had a step-and-a-half on his defender.
Hacker hauled the aerial in after getting a finger-tip grip on it, and scored from 69 yards out to make it 13-0 with four-and-a-half minutes left in the opening quarter.
Indeed, the Fighting Tigers’ big-play ability was once again on full display —despite rushing for 288 yards on 43 carries, part of 429 total yards on 50 total plays.
“That’s a testament to having such a diverse team. We have guys that can do multiple things and are willing to do those things,” said Pendleton. “Gage Salyers can throw a great ball and our receivers can make huge catches. It’s nice to see it all come together.”
Salyers then intercepted Roe a minute later, as Ironton then forced another turnover on downs — followed by the Trojans’ first of three punts.
Fosson, who had 63 yards on only five carries, finished off a seven-play, 62-yard, one-minute and 40-second scoring drive with his 14-yard run with seven-and-a-half minutes remaining in the second stanza.
His 24-yard touchdown dart came with 49 seconds remaining before halftime —and ended an eight-play, 67-yard, three-minute and seven-second scoring march to make it 27-0 with Book’s third extra point.
Reid Carrico, Ironton’s standout running back and linebacker, carried for 20 yards from midfield to the Portsmouth 31 —his longest such attempt of the game.
Carrico paced the Fighting Tigers with 99 yards and a 1-yard TD on 13 carries, as Salyers (41 yards) and Cameron Deere (30 yards) dialed up for seven touches apiece.
Trevor Carter carried six times for 43 yards, and capped the scoring with a 12-yard run with only a minute and 22 seconds remaining.
Parker paced Portsmouth and all rushers with 18 carries and 108 yards, and got the Trojans on the board with his 42-yard jaunt just three minutes and 10 seconds into the third quarter.
But that 20-point deficit lasted a mere 17 seconds, as Salyers found Grizzle open in the flat, who broke tackles along the way including a key one at the Portsmouth 43 —and scampered his way to the end zone.
Book’s extra point made it 34-7, as Salyers stepped in front of another Roe pass on the very next play from scrimmage.
“We bounced back and stopped the bleeding before it got started. To go three-and-out after they scored, we would have not felt very good about ourselves right there,” said Pendleton.
Kalb concurred it was an impressive and immediate Ironton answer.
“That was a great job by them to seize momentum back after we punched one in,” he said. “For them to answer right back with one punch, that turns a momentum shift right back around. We had momentum, but we weren’t able to capitalize on it.”
Roe completed a dozen passes, but for only 67 yards, as Portsmouth punted on its final two possessions.
“Our defense was just stellar. It’s hard to keep a guy like Parker bottled up all night. We did a good job of it for the majority, and we just handled the adversity well when it came tonight. That’s the testament to a good team,” said Pendleton.
And, Ironton indeed is a quality club.
“That’s a good football team. There’s a reason why they are 9-1. They have a lot of playmakers in Carrico, Salyers and Fosson, and Junior Jones is just a phenomenal defensive player,” said Kalb. “With a team of that caliber, you have to take advantage of your opportunities when you have them, but that was something we weren’t able to do tonight.”
The loss left the Trojans at 8-2 and 5-2 in the OVC, but Portsmouth has qualified —as of early Saturday morning —for the Region 19 playoffs as the seventh-seed.
The Trojans return to the postseason for the second straight season, as they improved by a full game upon their 7-3 tally of last year.
“To play week-11 for the second straight year is something these kids can be very proud of. At the end of last season, I asked these seniors —as stewards of this program —to be one game better this year. At the end of the regular season, they are 8-2 and not 7-3, so they made it one game better,” said Kalb. “Now the challenge is to make it one week better in the playoffs. Let’s try to get our first playoff victory next week.”
Speaking of next week, the Tigers try to get their first playoff win — under Pendleton.
Ironton improved from 6-5 and the eighth-seed in Region 19 to now arguably the favorite to win the entire region.
But for this weekend, though, the Orange and Black was all about enjoying accomplishments thus far.
“We’re going to enjoy this one. We’re happy to win a league title and happy for these 14 seniors,” said Pendleton.
* * *
Portsmouth 0 0 7 0 — 7
Ironton 13 14 14 7— 48
I — Kyle Howell, 95-yard interception return (Avery Book kick) 10:44, 1st (7-0 I)
I — Trent Hacker, 69-yard pass from Gage Salyers (kick failed) 4:31, 1st (13-0 I)
I — Seth Fosson, 14-yard run (Avery Book kick) 7:30, 2nd (20-0 I)
I— Seth Fosson, 24-yard run (Avery Book kick) :49, 2nd (27-0 I)
P — Talyn Parker, 42-yard run (Joel Bowling kick) 8:50, 3rd (27-7 I)
I — Jordan Grizzle, 67-yard pass from Gage Salyers (Avery Book kick) 8:33, 3rd (34-7 I)
I — Reid Carrico, 1-yard run (Avery Book kick) 4:25, 3rd (41-7 I)
I— Trevor Carter, 12-yard run (Izsak Unger kick) 1:22, 4th (48-7 I)
First Downs 10 19
Scrimmage Plays 50 50
Rushes-Yards 28-130 43-288
Passing Yards 67 141
Total Yards 197 429
Cmp-Att-Int 12-22-3 3-7-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 5-45 8-97
Punts-Average 3-20 1-42
RUSHING —Portsmouth: Talyn Parker 18-108 TD, Drew Roe 8-20, Donavon Carr 2-2; Ironton: Reid Carrico 13-99 TD, Seth Fosson 5-63 2TD, Trevor Carter 6-43 TD, Gage Salyers 7-41, Cameron Deere 7-30, Kyle Howell 1-8, Dalton Crabtree 1-5, Beau Brownstead 1-2, Kameron Browning 2-(-3)
PASSING — Portsmouth: Drew Roe 12-22-3-67; Ironton: Gage Salyers 3-7-0-141 2TD
RECEIVING — Portsmouth: Eric Purdy 4-42, Bryce Wallace 3-13, Talyn Parker 3-1, Michael Duncan 1-7, Tyler McCoy 1-4; Ironton: Jordan Grizzle 2-72 TD, Trent Hacker 1-69 TD
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