WHEELERSBURG —No doubt, it was a good old-fashioned Southeastern Ohio defensive slugfest on Friday night.
Thus, leave it to a former 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 regarded 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.
“Obviously, it wasn’t pretty, but I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day of the week. The beauty about it is at the end of the year when the records go up, they don’t have an asterisk next to it saying how you got it done. It’s a testament to our kids. To be honest, I don’t feel I called a good game or helped our kids out, but it’s a testament to our kids to figure out how to get it done,” said Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton. “I think the sky’s the limit for us. We just have to get those first-game jitters out of the way.”
But Wheelersburg was right in it with Ironton again — from opening whistle to the Fighting Tigers’ kneeldown.
The contest was an overall turn-black-the-clock kinda matchup, nostalgic for those still hungry for smash-mouth power-based football.
“Too many times, I felt like we shot ourselves in the foot, and weren’t necessarily stopped by them. I definitely felt that leaving that game, we were the better team. The score didn’t show that, but I felt as a coach, that we were the better team,” admitted Wheelersburg coach Rob Woodward. “I thought that our defense played outstanding all night. We really made them (Ironton) earn anything that they got. Aside from that play, (Felder’s run), there weren’t any plays for big chunks of yardage. Eric (Lattimore) had that big second-quarter interception in the end zone and we had a number of big stops in fourth-down situations. We just needed that one big break to fall our way, but that didn’t happen.”
The underdog 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.
‘We knew we were going to get their best punch. We tell our kids you’ve got two options. You’ve got to be the storm or you’ve got to withstand the storm. We withstood the storm until we got a little glimmer, and then we were the storm for a little bit,” said Pendleton. “Wheelersburg played hard. They have a good team. They had a great gameplan.”
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.
“Proud of the way our line blocked and our backs ran hard, but we just have to continue to get better. Penalties and situations that happen in a week-one game, you’ve got to make sure to clean up, in order to come out ahead especially against a team that has talent like Ironton has,” said Woodward. “On that play (Felder’s 45-yard run), they were definitely able to hit a crease, and my guess was they had that play waiting when they got the ball back. They caught us in an alignment in which we were off or maybe just missed an assignment there. That was the difference in the game in terms of field position, because they didn’t have real good field position most of the game.”
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.
“We’ve got weapons all over the field. We just have to do a better job of getting them the ball,” said Pendleton. “But we’re going to do it.”
The Pirates play their next three games on the road —including at Division IV powerhouse Cincinnati McNicholas this Friday night (Aug. 26).
“We’re going to have to continue to keep working and stay the course, because we have more tough opponents ahead. I’m excited about where our guys are, but we have to make sure we limit mistakes,” said Woodward. “You’re biggest gains come from week one to week two. We have to be ready to take on these challenges going forward.”
Ironton also travels for this 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
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved