WHEELERSBURG —No doubt, it was a good old-fashioned Southeastern Ohio defensive slugfest on Friday night.
Thus, leave it to a f0rmer Mountain State standout to truly break the offensive ice — and salt Ironton’s opening non-league football win over the archrival Wheelersburg Pirates.
Amari Felder, a Fighting Tiger transfer who was a Huntington High in West Virginia standout running back before this season, finished off Ironton’s bend-but-don’t break battle with a nine-yard untouched touchdown run — clinching the Fighting Tigers’ 12-3 triumph in front of an overflow and electric crowd inside Ed Miller Stadium.
As the Fighting Tigers clung to a slim 6-3 advantage halfway through the fourth quarter, Ironton’s defense denied the Pirates on a 4th-down-and-4 situation —and forced a turnover on downs.
With Ironton in business at its own 32, the five-foot and nine-inch and 190-pound senior Felder found running room to the right on a toss sweep —then cut up into a hole for a 45-yard pickup, easily Ironton’s greatest gainer of the entire night.
Three Jaquez Keyes and one more Felder carry later, Felder found the end zone untouched from nine yards out —and with only two minutes and 45 seconds remaining.
That made it 12-3, the Pirates punted after three incomplete passes, and Ironton exhaled finally — following a physically-demanding defensive onslaught, in which Wheelersburg actually outrushed Ironton in terms of carries by 10 (38-28) and yards by 30 (171-141).
However, the Fighting Tigers topped the Pirates for the third consecutive regular-season meeting —sandwiched around Wheelersburg’s 17-14 upset victory in last season’s Division V Region 19 semifinals.
The underdogs Pirates, playing an Ironton unit stockpiled in skilled position talent including the newcomer Felder, attempted another upset bid —and led 3-0 following their opening drive, which consisted of a dozen running plays and ended with a 25-yard Connor Estep field goal.
It began from the 10:13 mark of the opening quarter after an Ironton three-and-out opening series, and concluded with a minute and 50 seconds remaining on that first-quarter clock.
The next Fighting Tiger series actually ended in the end zone, but a Tayden Carpenter pass was perfectly played, positioned, defended and ultimately intercepted by Wheelersburg’s Eric Lattimore in the corner.
Lattimore covered up wideout and University of Cincinnati commit Ty Perkins, made the pick, and re-energized the Wheelersburg fan base —but only momentarily.
The Pirates punted following a three-and-out, and Carpenter charged back to engineer a nine-play, 47-yard, four-minute scoring series — that Perkins capped off by making a six-yard diving catch in the front left corner of the end zone.
That made it 6-3 at the five-minute mark, as Carpenter — who completed 7-of-13 passes for 39 yards in arguably his first full healthy contest in over a year —couldn’t connect with Trevor Carter on the two-point conversion pass.
But with Ironton’s iron-wall defense, no worries for the talented and highly-touted Fighting Tigers.
The next two Pirate possessions —to close the first half and to open the second —stalled out with punts following six plays apiece.
On the final play of the third quarter, Landen Wilson intercepted Eli Jones at the Fighting Tiger 16-yard line —as another six-play Pirate series, this one ending with the aforementioned turnover on downs, did Wheelersburg ultimately in.
Ironton did not allow a Wheelersburg touchdown, as Jones completed just two of 10 passes for 15 second-half yards —both to senior tight end Caleb Arthur.
Ethan Glover (nine carries for 51 yards) and Derrick Lattimore (11 carries for 41 yards) loaded up on most of the Wheelersburg carries, but the Pirates punted five times —and committed 10 penalties for 66 yards.
Felder finished with 68 yards on nine tries in his one-and-only Ironton debut, as Keyes —a University of Wisconsin commit —carried 11 times for 36 yards.
The Pirates play their next three games on the road —including at Division IV powerhouse Cincinnati McNicholas next Friday night (Aug. 26).
Ironton also travels for next Friday night —to Division III Southeastern Ohio stronghold Jackson.
* * *
Ironton 0 6 0 6—12
Wheelersburg 3 0 0 0 — 3
W — Connor Estep, 25-yard field goal, 1:50, 1st (3-0 W)
I — Ty Perkins, 6-yard pass from Tayden Carpenter (pass failed), 5:03, 2nd, (6-3 I)
I — Amari Felder, 9-yard run (kick failed), 2:45, 4th (12-3 I)
First downs 11 10
Scrimmage plays 41 48
Rushes-yards 28-141 38-171
Passing yards 39 15
Total yards 180 186
Fumbles-lost 2-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 5-32 10-66
Punts-Ave 4-43.25 5-39.4
RUSHING —Ironton: Amari Felder 9-68 TD, Jaquez Keyes 11-36, Bailey Thacker 3-21, Tayden Carpenter 3-12, Lincoln Barnes 1-6, Trevor Carter 1-(-2); Wheelersburg: Ethan Glover 9-51, Derrick Lattimore 11-41, Eli Jones 8-28, Jake Darling 6-28, Creed Warren 3-8, Eric Lattimore 1-15
PASSING — Ironton: Tayden Carpenter 7-13-1-39 TD; Wheelersburg: Eli Jones 2-10-1-15
RECEIVING —Ironton: Braden Schreck 3-22, Ty Perkins 1-6 TD, Lincoln Barnes 1-5, Landen Wilson 1-5, Amari Felder 1-1; Wheelersburg: Caleb Arthur 2-15
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