IRONTON — For the Fighting Tigers, it was the same margin of victory against the same team at the same level of the state football playoffs.
Only this time, Ironton enjoyed the friendly home confines of historic Tanks Memorial Stadium – and flipped the second-half script.
That’s because the Fighting Tigers pitched a second-half shutout of the visiting Ridgewood Generals and amassed 10 critical points and 205 yards, en route to capturing their second consecutive Division V Region 19 championship on Saturday night – by a 17-7 final score.
Last year, in the Region 19 final at neutral-site Nelsonville-York, the Fighting Tigers triumphed by a 24-14 count – Ironton’s first regional championship since 1999 and 12th in school history.
For its now 13th title, it was the first played – and won – by tradition-rich Ironton inside ‘The Tank’.
Because of the coronavirus situation impacting the entire 2020 season and playoffs, the Ohio High School Athletic Association decided that the higher-seeded teams – in this year’s regional finals – could either host or play at a site of their choosing.
That indeed meant that undefeated Ironton, the top-seeded squad, would host the second-seeded Generals (9-1) – making an almost four-hour long trip by bus to the Ohio River.
And, one of the lasting images from Saturday night was one of the last photographs taken –that of the 17-member Fighting Tiger senior class posing with the Region 19 championship trophy on Bob Lutz Field.
These Ironton seniors will be remembered for their back-to-back regional titles – and hopefully in two weeks a second straight state championship game appearance.
And, maybe more.
“It just says a lot about their character and the type of kids they are. They work their tails off all year and put themselves in situations to be successful,” said Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton.
The Fighting Tigers, to be successful Saturday night, had to turn the tables from their first-half struggles – and take advantage of the absence of all-Ohio Ridgewood quarterback Gabe Tingle.
Tingle, the East District Division V Co-Offensive Player of the Year last season, suffered a collarbone injury against Wheelersburg in last week’s 13-10 semifinal win – on the game’s fifth play.
While Tingle’s two second-half pass completions – including his touchdown toss – proved pivotal in that victory, the standout signal-caller did not play against Ironton.
And Ridgewood would have, and could have, used him.
The Fighting Tigers’ defense, which had not allowed more than 14 points in any one game this season along with their three shutouts, gave up just a late second-stanza score – as that followed a Dalton Patterson interception of Ironton quarterback Tayden Carpenter at the Tigers’ 45-yard line.
The Generals drove 10 plays in four minutes and 16 seconds and converted a pair of fourth-down and short situations, including Deontae Brandon scoring the team’s touchdown on a two-yard dive with a minute and seven seconds to play.
Andy Troyer tied it at 7-7 with the extra-point kick, but aside from that, their only other quality possession was a 14-play series – which consumed the final 4:51 of the first quarter and the opening 5:12 of the second.
But even that series resulted in a punt – as the Generals went three-and-out three times, fumbled following the first play after Ironton scored its first-half touchdown, and quarterback Javan Belt threw interceptions on their final two possessions.
As part of that 10-0 second-half shutout, the Fighting Tigers ran three times as many plays from scrimmage (35-12) – and outgained Ridgewood 205-14 in total yards, including 149-11 on the ground.
For the game, the Generals generated just 83 rushing yards on 28 attempts, as Belt completed 5-of-9 passes for 38 yards with those two critical interceptions.
Pendleton, as he often does, praised the play of his fast defense.
In fact, on the Generals’ scoring drive, the Fighting Tigers came with an eyelash of recovering a Brandon fumble on the first play– and almost intercepted Belt two plays later.
“That defense is pretty special. We actually dropped an interception we should have had on their scoring drive,” said the coach. “But they get after it and they do a great job.”
After Ridgewood went three-and-out on the opening possession, the Fighting Tigers took only two-and-a-half minutes to seize a 7-0 lead halfway through the first quarter.
They marched eight plays and 71 yards, with Carpenter connecting with Kyle Howell for 52 on their third snap – as the Ridgewood defensive back broke on the throw and Howell made the catch at midfield before sprinting to the 17.
Reid Carrico, who carried 13 times for 65 yards but was used primarily as a lead blocker against Ridgewood, scored from a yard out to end it.
But Ironton’s offense struggled for the remainder of the opening half – running just nine more plays with a turnover on downs and the aforementioned interception, which set up the 7-7 tie.
Even with Tingle out, the Generals still brought an iron-clad defense that allowed an average of only seven points per game – and that had not given up more than one touchdown in any one game this year.
That is, until Saturday night.
“They (Generals) are a good football team and they do a lot of good things. They were able to control the line of scrimmage in the first half and keep the ball from us. They played with great pad level and they were hungry. You can’t keep your defense on the field for two-thirds of the first half and expect them not to eventually break and they did. The second half, we challenged our kids and they challenged themselves,” said Pendleton. “We came out and executed and started controlling the line of scrimmage.”
That execution actually occurred in the form of their 10-fourth quarter points, following their lost fumble after seven plays and a turnover on downs following a half-dozen more.
Operating out of a stacked-I backfield, Ironton crafted an eight-play, 72-yard scoring drive that burned the final 2:34 of the third quarter and the opening 44 seconds of the fourth – as Carrico scored again from two yards out.
The sophomore left-handed Carpenter came up with arguably the Fighting Tigers’ two most important offensive gains – a play-action pass to Trent Hacker for 39 yards to the Ridgewood 33 followed by Carpenter calling his own number on a sneak for another 11.
Hacker, in making his reception, jumped high over Patterson – as he then turned around on defense, and leapt over Patterson to pick off Belt.
Jimmy Mahlmeister made his second successful extra-point kick following Carrico’s second score for the 14-7 advantage– but it was his three-pointer on the following possession that was even more impactful.
Mahlmeister made a 25-yard field goal to cap off a dozen-play fourth-quarter drive, which featured four first downs and Ironton holding onto the football for almost eight full minutes.
Carrico carried up the middle for 24 yards before picking up 17 on a throwback pass – as Ironton advanced as far as the Ridgewood 3-yard line, before calling upon Mahlmeister to make his field goal with 1:48 remaining.
“A two-score game with that little amount of time left was huge,” said Pendleton.
Three plays later, Ironton iced the win on a warm November night – with an Uriah Meadows interception of Belt.
The Tigers tallied 13 first downs and 269 total yards on 52 plays from scrimmage, as they rushed (142) and passed (127) for more yards than what Ridgewood (121) gained the entire game.
Carter, who did not play in the first half, tied Brandon for a game-high 16 carries – and totaled 68 yards.
And, indeed, it was all part of the Fighting Tigers flipping the second-half script.
Ironton (10-0) will now play the Cincinnati Roger Bacon Spartans in the state semifinals at 7 p.m. on Saturday in London, which is just off I-70 midway between Columbus and Springfield.
“That’s the thing. These guys take it one step at a time,” said Pendleton.
* * *
Ridgewood 0 7 0 0 — 7
Ironton 7 0 0 10 — 17
I– Reid Carrico, 1-yard run (Jimmy Mahlmeister kick) 6:08, 1st (7-0 I)
R – Deontae Brandon, 2-yard run (Andy Troyer kick) 1:07, 2nd (7-7 tie)
I – Reid Carrico, 2-yard run (Jimmy Mahlmeister kick) 11:16, 4th (14-7 I)
I – Jimmy Mahlmeister, 25-yard field goal 1:48, 4th (17-7 I)
First downs 7 13
Rushes-yards 28-83 41-142
Passing yards 38 127
Total yards 121 269
Cmp-Att-Int 5-10-2 6-11-1
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 6-55 6-50
Punts-average 4-35.5 0-0
RUSHING —Ridgewood: Deontae Brandon 16-38 TD, Kigenn Millender 5-22, Bryce Prater 2-6, Javan Belt 3-15, Kurt Varian 1-3, Xavier Lamneck 1-(-1); Ironton: Trevor Carter 16-68, Reid Carrico 13-65 2TD, Tayden Carpenter 8-11, Cameron Deere 2-0, Kyle Howell 1-(-1), Team 1-(-1)
PASSING — Ridgewood: Javan Belt 5-9-2-38, Calvin Kohman 0-1-0-0; Ironton: Tayden Carpenter 6-11-1-127
RECEIVING — Ridgewood: Kigen Millender 4-36, Braden Maleski 1-2; Ironton: Kyle Howell 1-52, Trent Hacker 2-41, Reid Carrico 2-19, Ashton Duncan 1-15
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved