MASSILLON — The Ironton Fighting Tigers indeed got the Division V state championship rematch they so desired.
The outcome, on the other hand, wasn’t the least bit what they wanted —or remotely even expected.
That’s because, for the second consecutive OHSAA Division V football final in Stark County, the Kirtland Hornets defeated the Fighting Tigers —this time on Saturday by a whopping 38-0 count inside spectacular and historic Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon.
That’s correct, for it was that lopsided.
Only a year ago, or less than a full calendar year ago in Canton, the Hornets topped the Fighting Tigers 17-7 —denying Ironton its third all-time state championship after previous titles 10 years apart (1979 and 1989).
That halftime score was 10-0 —the same as Saturday’s as Kirtland kicked a field goal with a minute-and-a-half remaining in the first quarter, followed by a 1-yard Liam Powers quarterback sneak coming 10 minutes later.
But Saturday’s second half — unlike last season — was all Hornets, which ran three times as many plays (31-10) and poured on 28 more points over a span of nine minutes and 23 seconds.
The Hornets had their way with the Fighting Tigers — for pretty much the entire game but especially over the final 40 minutes.
Ironton only amounted three first downs to Kirtland’s two dozen plus one (25), ran just 28 total plays compared to the Hornets’ 70, was outgained by over 350 yards (407-56) including by over 220 rushing (263-42), and was dominated 2-to-1 (32 minutes to 16 minutes) in time of possession.
The 38-0 final marked the Fighting Tigers’ largest margin of defeat, and the first time they were shut out, since archrival Ashland blanked them 35-0 in 2017.
“Hats off to them. They (Hornets) are a great football team,” said Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton. “We ran less than 30 offensive plays, which is crazy but it’s not a successful formula. We lost the time of possession 2-1 and the turnover battle 3-1, so it’s hard to win football games when you lose those two phases like that. Then they keep you off-balance enough on offense.”
The Fighting Tigers truly hurt themselves with three turnovers and eight penalties —as they lost two crucial third-quarter fumbles which directly resulted in 14 Hornet points.
In the end, Ironton ends up as state runner-up for the second straight year — and for the eighth time (1973, 1982, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1999, 2019, 2020) in program history.
It was the Fighting Tigers’ 10th all-time state championship game — half of which have occurred in famed football-crazy Massillon.
Ironton is now 0-5 all-time in title tilts played there.
The Fighting Tigers finish at 11-1 in this coronavirus-shortened season, as Kirtland —at 11-0 — captured its sixth all-time state championship, with all occurring in the past decade.
In that decade of pure dominance, the Hornets have won five state titles —in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2018 as a Division VI program, before bumping up to Division V last season.
The runner-ups include 2012, 2014 and 2017, as the Hornets have appeared in at least the regional championship game in every season since 2008 —sans 2009.
In fact, the Hornets have the longest current active winning streak in the entire state of ANY school — having won 41 consecutive contests dating back to the 2017 Division VI state championship game against Marion Local.
Kirtland also —for the second straight year — went back-to-back and wire-to-wire as the top-ranked team in the Division V Associated Press statewide poll.
The Fighting Tigers were the runner-up on paper as well, although there was the prevailing thought among Ironton and even some statewide observers that the only finals rematch from 2019 would produce a different result.
By the time it was 17-0 in the third quarter yet again, Ironton —which hadn’t allowed any more than 19 points in any one game this season — saw its comeback hopes essentially dashed by the Sullivan siblings on one snap.
Mason Sullivan, with five carries of the seven plays on the 65-yard drive, scored from 17 yards out only two minutes and 51 seconds into the third.
Two plays later, the Fighting Tigers fumbled at their own 35-yard-line —and this time Sullivan made them pay with his arm.
After the only Kirtland penalty, a 15-yard personal foul in fact on the recovery which pushed the Hornets back to midfield, Sullivan fired a halfback pass — and found his brother Gage wide open at the 20-yard line.
Gage Sullivan sprinted to the end zone for the 50-yard scoring strike, which occurred only 52 seconds after Mason’s touchdown —and had the Hornets only one score away from putting on a running clock.
As for Ironton fans which may have forgotten Gage Sullivan, he made the 47-yard sideline reception on the first play of last year’s state final —setting up the Hornets’ first touchdown only a minute-and-a-half in.
As for this year, the running clock actually went into effect with 4:55 remaining in the third, as Ironton —which punted four times — went three-and-out for the third time in the game.
Mason Sullivan picked up 24 yards on the first play following that punt, as Ironton was whistled for a chop-block penalty — moving the ball to the Fighting Tigers’ 21.
Anthony DeMarco ran in from eight yards out three plays later, making it 31-0 —as the game’s final 16:55 was played under the OHSAA’s running-clock rule.
But, it only went from bad to worse — and seemingly barrelling downhill — from there.
On the very next snap, the Fighting Tigers fumbled the exchange — and the Hornets had the ball in Ironton territory again at the 39.
Seven plays later, and taking 4:21 off the third-quarter clock that spanned the first 14 seconds of the fourth frame, Kirtland scored again —this time with Powers finishing the drive with an 18-yard touchdown toss to Danny Davidson.
Mario Rodin, the Kirtland kicker which drilled the field goal plus the four following extra points, made his fifth of five attempts for what turned out to be the 38-0 final.
It was only on the first two plays following that score that Ironton quarterback Tayden Carpenter completed two of his three passes on eight attempts —both completions to Kyle Howell for 15 yards.
The first of those was for 11 yards, which was Ironton’s only third first down.
While the Hornets hit for 28 second-half points, it was a 23-yard first-half pass completion —after replay review —which totally turned the tide.
Ironton’s initial three possessions had resulted in a pair of punts sandwiched around a turnover on downs, whereas the Hornets drove 12 plays and 57 yards and five minutes and 16 seconds — before Rodin registered the late 30-yard first-quarter field goal.
Kirtland’s next series saw it pick up five first downs in a massive 14 plays, including on a 4th-and-1 call— in which Sullivan’s second effort and spin gained three yards to the 37.
Then, on 3rd-and-7 at the 34, Powers completed a pass along the sideline to Joey Grazia, who made an acrobatic one-handed and two-footed catch that was initially ruled as caught out of bounds.
However, with the benefit of video replay for the state championship games, the call was reversed —as Grazia got both feet in at the 11-yard line for the 23-yard reception.
How good was it for Kirtland?
That play not only made ESPN Sportscenter’s “Top Plays” segment for Saturday, but it was right at the top of the list.
How bad was it for Ironton?
As Newfound Glory once sang, it was all downhill from here.
The standout senior Sullivan, who amounted a game-high in carries (19) and yards (126), carried from the 11 to the goal line on the next snap — as Powers pushed across at the 3:34 mark on the sneak.
Rodin’s first of five extra-point kicks made it 10-0, as that aforementioned 14-play drive covered 76 yards and five minutes and 52 seconds.
Pendleton said it was one of several early instances, even into the second half, in which the Fighting Tigers tried to seize momentum — and simply never could.
“There were several times that we could have swung momentum, and unfortunately we obviously didn’t do anything to do that,” he said. “High school football is a big game of momentum, and we just never got it in our favor.”
In part, because the Hornets have a lightning quick, fundamentally sound, and iron-clad defense.
“They are just disciplined and well-coached. They do things the right way,” said Pendleton. “Very similar to us, but we just never made them undisciplined or got them off-balanced.”
Reid Carrico, as part of Ironton’s 42 rushing yards on 20 attempts, led with 28 yards on 11 totes.
Carrico — the Ohio State signee and apparent frontrunner for Ohio’s prestigious Mr. Football award — was the Defensive AND Offensive Player of the Year in the Southeast District for Division V.
He was also the leader of the Fighting Tigers’ talented and highly-touted senior class, which was mightily important to back-to-back appearances in the state championship game.
The seniors were part of Ironton’s 12th and 13th all-time regional championships — the program’s first of those since 1999.
Their only missing piece to the puzzle will be another state title — despite getting the rematch that they oh so desired.
“That’s where the focus needs to be at. I can’t say enough about these kids and the work they put in. Just countless hours and mornings and afternoons where no one is watching, these guys just show up and work,” said Pendleton. “They are great leaders and men off the field too. I’m proud of them for what they’ve done and the place they’ve left the program.”
* * *
Ironton 0 0 0 0 —0
Kirtland 3 7 21 7 — 38
K — Mario Rodin, 30-yard field goal, 1:32, 1st (3-0 K)
K — Liam Powers, 1-yard run (Mario Rodin kick), 3:34, 2nd (10-0 K)
K — Mason Sullivan, 17-yard run (Mario Rodin kick), 9:09, 3rd (17-0 K)
K — Gage Sullivan, 50-yard pass from Mason Sullivan (Mario Rodin kick), 8:17, 3rd (24-0 K)
K — Anthony DeMarco, 8-yard run (Mario Rodin kick), 4:55, 3rd (31-0 K)
K — Danny Davidson, 18-yard pass from Liam Powers (Mario Rodin kick), 11:46, 4th (38-0 K)
First downs 3 25
Scrimmage plays 28 70
Rushes-yards 20-42 55-263
Passing yards 14 144
Total yards 56 407
Cmp-Att-Int. 3-8-1 10-15-0
Fumbles-lost 3-2 1-1
Penalties-yards 8-45 1-15
Punts-Ave 4-42.75 1-40
RUSHING —Ironton: Reid Carrico 11-28, Cameron Deere 3-6, Tayden Carpenter 3-0, Trevon Carter 1-5, Trent Hacker 1-4, Team 1-(-1); Kirtland: Mason Sullivan 19-126 TD, Anthony DeMarco 17-76 TD, Liam Powers 11-29 TD, Nick Schwartz 4-16, Mason Rus 3-11, Joey Grazia 1-5
PASSING — Ironton: Tayden Carpenter 3-7-1-14; Kirtland: Liam Powers 9-14-0-94 TD, Mason Sullivan 1-1-0-50 TD
RECEIVING — Ironton: Kyle Howell 2-15, Reid Carrico 1-(-1); Kirtland: Joey Grazia 5-51, Gage Sullivan 3-71 TD, Danny Davidson 1-18 TD, Anthony DeMarco 1-4
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