LONDON — In Reid Carrico’s own words, Corey Kiner — the Cincinnati Roger Bacon standout running back and future Louisiana State Tiger —is the best player that the future Ohio State Buckeye has ever faced as a member of the Ironton Fighting Tigers.
Therefore, quite simply, Carrico — on either side of the football — had no choice but to make the play of his young life on Saturday night.
And, although observers agree almost in unison that Carrico is the best linebacker in the entire country, it was his touchdown reception that ultimately lifted the still undefeated and 11-0 Fighting Tigers to a thrilling state semifinal victory.
Not to mention, to the rematch they oh so desperately wanted — and have waited almost a full calendar year for.
Carrico, in a Mr. Football-esque performance as the six-foot three-inch 235-pound senior is widely considered the front-runner, rushed for a whopping 191 yards and two touchdowns on a game-high 27 carries —but memorably caught the 23-yard touchdown on a wheel route en route to the Fighting Tigers’ 22-19 Division V triumph inside London’s Bowlus Field.
That’s correct, as the tradition-rich Fighting Tigers’ 10th state championship game appearance is forthcoming this weekend — after making their 13th all-time appearance in the Final Four.
Never mind Carrico’s 78-yard untouched touchdown dash just five minutes in, or his 1-yard TD plunge to turn the Spartans’ sole turnover into points —and a 13-0 advantage only a minute-and-a-half into the second quarter.
Nope, it was his third of three receptions for 39 yards that was indeed the charm this time, as Carrico — with a well-executed play-call and throw from the left-handed Tayden Carpenter — caught a wide-open wheel route and raced into the end zone with eight minutes remaining for a 19-19 tie.
In addition, Carrico pointed his finger in delight towards the frigid but frenzied Fighting Tiger faithful following the colossal score.
From there, Ironton placekicker Jimmy Mahlmeister — with one point-after already blocked before converting his second attempt — made the most important extra point of his young life, giving the Fighting Tigers a 20-19 advantage with exactly eight minutes to go.
While Carrico’s carries (27) and yards (191) can’t and won’t be overlooked, it was his one singular scoring catch that attracted an overflow of postgame media interview questions.
The play was the final of eight on a 65-yard drive that consumed three minutes and 53 seconds off the fourth-quarter clock, and even more impressively occurred on a 4th-down-and-7 call from the Spartan 23 — following the Fighting Tigers whistled for a false start penalty and pushed back five yards.
“That play has been big for us for three years now. Pretty much we just hammer you inside until your corners or safeties get lazy. They run off with the tight end or they get sucked inside, and I just wheel right out of the backfield. They never see it coming,” said Carrico. “That’s pretty much that play summed up in a nutshell, but every time we run that play, it comes up big for us. We work on that play a lot.”
“Every play in football is called to execute, be a positive play and score a touchdown. Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. You saw that. It has nothing to do with coaching. We just have good kids who make great plays,” said Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton. “They aren’t going to shy away from anyone or anything.”
The first seven plays of that march were all running calls, as Cameron Deere dialed up for 21 yards on the second snap — moving the ball between the 40s and into Roger Bacon territory.
Before that score, Ironton’s 13-0 advantage evaporated into a 19-13 deficit by the 3:37 mark of the third quarter —thanks to three lost fumbles which Kiner and the Spartans (10-1) turned into points.
After the Spartans drove five plays before missing a 36-yard field goal, the next pair of Roger Bacon possessions resulted in punts following three-and-outs —sandwiched around Ironton’s Landen Wilson intercepting RB QB Logan Huber at the Spartans’ 18-yard line.
The Fighting Tigers took the 13-0 lead after the missed field goal and interception —with Carrico sprinting 78 yards for his first touchdown and capping the six-play drive off the turnover with his one-yard run.
But immediately after Ironton’s two fumbles in its own territory, Huber connected with Ryan Hallau with a 20-yard touchdown strike before Danny Hudepohl —the Roger Bacon backup quarterback and athletic wideout — hit Jake Tschida with a halfback option pass from 31 yards away and the 13-13 tie midway through the second stanza.
Huber’s TD toss with the extra-point kick came with 6:40 remaining in the period, before Tschida’s touchdown came just 57 seconds later.
The Fighting Tigers then fumbled a third time on their third play of the second half at the Spartan 15, and Kiner —with gains of 18 and 32 along the way —capped off a massive dozen-play, 85-yard, five-minute and 11-second scoring drive with a 3-yard run.
Kiner carried 23 times for 102 yards and caught one pass for 11, accounting for involvement on 24 of Roger Bacon’s 44 plays from scrimmage —as the Spartans had 196 total yards.
“We knew he was going to like to bounce runs. I knew that he would run through tackles, but he was extremely hard to tackle. He’s probably the best player that I’ve played against since I’ve been in high school,” said Carrico. “It was really an honor to compete against him.”
However, for the second straight Spartan touchdown, Ironton altered an extra-point kick —leaving the score at the six-point deficit (19-13) instead of an eight-point (21-13) margin.
Pendleton said smaller details do matter to his Fighting Tigers, and did matter again against Roger Bacon.
“Those are the small details that we preach to our kids day in and day out. They hone in on those things. The attention to details is the unique thing about this group. Just how precise they are,” said the coach. “They go through everything with a fine-tooth comb and it showed again tonight.”
What also showed was the Fighting Tigers’ resiliency and ability to win another close encounter.
The state semifinal win was Ironton’s smallest margin of victory this season, but its third in a row of 10 points or less.
“We love to be in a slobber-knocker. We get a game like this, with a player like Corey Kiner going to LSU, it doesn’t get much better than that,” said Carrico. “We came back, persevered, and got it done.”
That the Fighting Tigers did after the two teams traded punts with Roger Bacon leading 19-13.
That’s when Ironton took possession seven seconds into the fourth quarter, and went ahead by a single point exactly 3:53 later.
Then, just two plays and 42 seconds after that, the Fighting Tigers tacked on two points with a safety —as a high Spartan snap sailed over Huber’s head and rolled into the end zone where the junior signal-caller could only fall on the football.
The play resulted in a 17-yard loss and a 22-19 Ironton edge, and only illustrated Pendleton’s point about “keep fighting, keep putting pressure on.”
“Keep fighting. It’s simple. You keep putting pressure on something, good things are going to happen. That’s what we did,” he said. “I can’t say enough about these kids and their resiliency. They fight and they battle. When their backs are against the wall like that, and everything is stacked against them, they are going to fight. I’ve never been more proud of a group of guys. These seniors, all the way down through, are a great group of kids.”
But perhaps the Fighting Tigers’ top two defensive plays came on the Spartans’ final possession.
With a 3rd-and-7 situation, Carrico and Ashton Duncan combined for a sack on Huber, resulting in a nine-yard loss.
The officials then bailed the Spartans out with a highly-questionable pass interference penalty on 4th-and-16, but the distance did prevent a Roger Bacon first down —and instead set up a 4th-and-1.
It then appeared Ironton initially jumped offsides, but the Fighting Tigers got back and the whistles never blew —as instead a Spartan flinched for a five-yard false start penalty.
Finally, on the 4th-and-6 at the Spartan 40, Roger Bacon ran Kiner on an option into the short side of the field —but the Fighting Tigers, with the sideline serving as a de facto defender, took him down for a 4-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
With that — and only two-and-a-half minutes to play — Carrico carried twice more for 13 yards, Carpenter knelt down three times, and Ironton officially put defending Division V state champion and 2020 Associated Press poll champion Kirtland on the clock.
The undefeated Hornets (10-0), in the other Division V state semifinal Saturday night, handled Otsego 39-13 to set up the much-anticipated —and much-desired — rematch against Ironton.
In last season’s state championship bout, Kirtland defeated the Fighting Tigers 17-7.
Carrico, the Southeast District Division V Defensive AND Offensive Player of the Year, said a bad taste has lingered with the Fighting Tigers since that stone cold Saturday night in Canton.
“They are a great team and program. And ever since last year, we’ve had a sour taste in our mouths. You’re going to see two great defenses again and whoever can come up with the big play is going to win. Last year, those big plays went their way. Hopefully this year, we’ll make enough to get it done,” he said. “We’ll see.”
Expect to see another defensive struggle in this season’s state title tilt —which is set for Saturday at 2 p.m. at Fortress Obetz in south Columbus.
“Can’t wait. Just can’t wait. This is what we wanted all year and now we have it. Can’t wait,” said Pendleton. “I’m proud of these kids. Let’s go finish the job.”
* * *
Ironton 6 7 0 9 —22
Roger Bacon 0 13 6 0 — 19
I — Reid Carrico, 78-yard run (kick blocked), 7:00, 1st (6-0 I)
I — Reid Carrico, 1-yard run (Jimmy Mahlmeister kick), 10:27, 2nd (13-0 I)
RB — Ryan Hallau, 20-yard pass from Logan Huber (Dylan Rolfert kick), 6:40, 2nd (13-7 I)
RB — Jake Tschida, 31-yard pass from Danny Hudepohl (kick failed), 5:43, 2nd (13-13 tie)
RB — Corey Kiner, 3-yard run (kick failed), 3:37, 3rd (19-13 RB)
I — Reid Carrico, 23-yard pass from Tayden Carpenter (Jimmy Mahlmeister kick), 8:00, 4th (20-19 I)
I — Safety, tackle quarterback in end zone, 7:18, 4th (22-19 I)
First downs 14 14
Scrimmage plays 59 44
Rushes-yards 47-263 26-98
Passing yards 46 98
Total yards 309 196
Cmp-Att-Int. 5-12-0 7-18-1
Fumbles-lost 3-3 2-0
Penalties-yards 13-124 8-74
Punts-Ave 4-37 4-38.5
RUSHING —Ironton: Reid Carrico 27-191 2TD, Cameron Deere 3-35, Kyle Howell 3-24, Trevor Carter 3-9, Tayden Carpenter 8-(-4), Terrance West 1-4, Trent Hacker 1-4; Roger Bacon: Corey Kiner 23-102 TD, Jahmal Hutsell 1-8, Danny Hudepohl 1-5, Team 1-(-17)
PASSING — Ironton: Tayden Carpenter 5-12-0-46 TD; Roger Bacon: Logan Huber 6-17-1-67 TD, Danny Hudepohl 1-1-0-31 TD
RECEIVING — Ironton: Reid Carrico 3-39 TD, Kyle Howell 1-5, Ashton Duncan 1-2; Roger Bacon: Ryan Hallau 3-39 TD, Jake Tschida 2-41 TD, Corey Kiner 1-11, Danny Hudepohl 1-7
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved