IRONTON — No doubt, these were worst-case scenario starting blocks for the upset-minded Portsmouth Trojans for Friday night.
As a result, for the second consecutive season, the Trojans bowed out against undefeated Ironton in the Division V Region 19 quarterfinals inside historic Tanks Memorial Stadium —and actually, unfortunately for them, extended their losing streak against the talented and highly-touted Fighting Tigers to six in Ohio’s second-oldest high school football rivalry.
Without standout wideout Reade Pendleton for the entire game — and losing fellow senior wide receiver Nolan Heiland early on — the 7-5 and ninth-seeded Trojans punted on their opening five possessions, and didn’t cross midfield until their penultimate play of the first half.
Ironton, on the other hand, had 21 points through its first six plays — and only seven minutes in.
The final tally was 48-7 in favor of the now 12-0 and top-seeded Fighting Tigers, as Ironton — only from two weeks ago — emphatically followed up its 42-7 triumph over the Trojans in the regular-season finale, which locked up its fourth straight outright Ohio Valley Conference championship.
In last year’s Region 19 quarters, it was Division V Southeast District Offensive Co-Player of the Year and PHS record-setting quarterback Drew Roe giving it a go —but he played banged up, before being replaced by Tyler Duncan.
Ironton, ultimately, advanced with a hard-fought 17-6 win.
This time, Duncan didn’t have Pendleton at all —the two-time first-team all-Southeast District receiver, who paced the Trojans in receptions (74) and receiving yards (730) and tied Heiland in touchdowns with seven.
Pendleton previously, and seriously enough, injured an ankle in Portsmouth’s 28-26 opening-round Region 19 win at Union Local.
Speaking of Heiland, as he and Pendleton played key roles on defense and combined for 53 total tackles (Pendleton 33 and Heiland 20), he suffered an apparent ACL injury in the first quarter —and ended his final campaign with 33 receptions for 644 yards and seven scores.
Truth be told, missing two Trojan weapons on both sides of the football only compounded problems, as Portsmouth probably had to play perfectly —or at least close to it —in order to remain within striking distance.
Ironton ended those realistic hopes within a matter of six first-quarter plays —scoring on three two-play drives of 40 yards and 33 seconds, 35 yards and 28 seconds, and one yard and 38 seconds following a blocked punt and return of 29 yards to the six-inch line.
Portsmouth coach Bruce Kalb commented on his Trojans’ tough start, and playing a couple of key cogs in the machine short.
In fact, it was a polar opposite from merely a week ago —when Pendleton scored on a fumble recovery return on the opening play of the game.
“As good as we started at Union Local, it started the other way for us tonight. But hats off, because Ironton is a good program and has a pretty darn good team again this year. They came out with guns blazing and we were behind the eight-ball from the get-go,” said Kalb. “We’re down Reade Pendleton and Nolan Heiland is out early with an ACL. Those are two of our most productive guys on offense, plus pretty darn good defensive players, to play without and against a team like this. We had a lot of those young guys out there. It’s like fighting with one hand tied behind your back.”
Even with two free hands, and even with those two Trojans, defeating the Fighting Tigers was going to be an uphill battle —let alone pile on a downhill start.
Ironton entered the season with a number of talented newcomers, incomers and experienced returnees, including three players — running back Jaquez Keyes to the University of Wisconsin, linebacker Trevor Carter to the University of Cincinnati, and wide receiver Ty Perkins also to the University of Cincinnati — already verbally committed to Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
With six minutes and 45 seconds remaining in the second stanza, Keyes took a toss sweep 42 yards to the house for his second touchdown — as Ironton ended its first-half scoring with a three-play, 50-yard and one-minute and seven-second drive.
With 4:25 prior to halftime, quarterback Tayden Carpenter completed a 27-yard scoring strike to Braden Schreck, as Evan Williams — with her fifth and final extra-point kick — made it 35-0.
From there, although it wasn’t actually officially by letter-of-the-law supposed to begin until the second half, the game was played with the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s running-clock rule in effect.
Trailing 41-0, and with 10:11 remaining, the Trojans averted the shutout — with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Duncan to Jayden Duncan and Zach Roth making his final extra point of the year.
That capped an eight-play, four-first down and 66-yard scoring drive, which began at the midway mark of the third quarter.
By then, though, the clock was well past running —and many of the Fighting Tigers’ reserves were seeing significant snaps.
That’s because, in the opening half, Portsmouth punted three times following three-and-outs —including after Carpenter completed his first touchdown toss, to Landen Wilson with only 37 seconds gone by and from 22 yards out.
Carpenter completed 6-of-8 for 134 yards —the only incompletions coming on straight-up dropped passes, and within two plays of each other late in the first quarter.
As for early in the canto, Keyes carried a toss sweep to the right for 38 yards on the first play from scrimmage, rushed for a 13-yard touchdown three minutes and 10 seconds in to make it 14-0 with Williams’ extra point, and finally dashed the aforementioned 42 yards following three more carries of five, two and two.
Keyes carried eight times for 110 yards, while Jesse Copas carried three times for 33 yards —and Ironton’s final score.
Ironton head coach Trevon Pendleton praised his Fighting Tigers’ play from opening kickoff to final whistle.
That included the first-quarter blocked punt by Braylon Sturgill, as DeAngelo Weekly caught the blocked ball out of the air— and returned it 29 yards to just outside the goal line.
Two tries later, Weekly was in the end zone, Williams was good with her third extra point, and Ironton was ahead 21-0 with only seven minutes elapsed.
“We felt we had a good gameplan put together as a coaching staff, we knew we had some advantages we liked in certain formations and we ran some plays off those, and our kids we repped them all week and they were able to execute at a high efficiency early in the game. Three touchdowns on six plays. If you’re doing that, your kids are executing what’s called and they are doing a great job of that right now,” said Pendleton. “And defensively, our guys buckled down. Our defensive staff does a great job of getting our guys geared up and understanding their roles and assignments. We haven’t given up a whole lot of points over the past four or five years.”
They only allowed the late seven on Friday night.
In fact, with the Trojans trailing 35-0, it wasn’t until the sixth play of a seven-play series and inside the final minute of the second quarter that PHS crossed midfield.
That occurred on a Tyler Duncan connection to Jayden Duncan, as Jayden Duncan and Beau Hammond became Tyler’s top targets in all three’s final game.
Tyler Duncan threw for 122 yards on 15-of-19, as Jayden Duncan (55 yards) and Hammond (52 yards) had six receptions apiece.
Brenden Truett rushed for 56 yards on 15 carries, but the PHS rushing numbers were skewed —largely due to Duncan being sacked three times for losses of 10 by Carter, 10 by Lincoln Barnes and 13 by Sturgill.
It marked the final game for nine Trojan seniors — which were heavily involved in playoff victories in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2001 and 2002.
Over the past four FULL seasons, Portsmouth is now a revived 30-16.
Last season was the first for the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s expanded playoffs to 16 teams per region —so the Trojans repeated as winners being nine-seeds, winning at Zane Trace 38-22 in that opening round.
“These seniors fought to the end. That was something we talked a lot about. You give it everything you have, every down, every play for 48 minutes. That’s all you can do. They could have laid down, but they never once did that this whole game, and I am very proud of them for that. They represented our program well tonight. They’ve accomplished a lot as a senior class. We’ve won playoff games in back-to-back years, paved a good way for these underclassmen,” said Kalb. “This group of nine seniors has set a standard, they had a lot of playing time and growing pains their sophomore year during the COVID year. They stepped up this past offseason, they led this team to where we are today, and I think they’ve left a great impression upon this program.”
The Fighting Tigers, meanwhile, will play in their fourth consecutive regional semifinal under Coach Pendleton —and against his alma mater of West.
The fifth-seeded Senators shut out 13th-seeded Columbus Academy in another Region 19 quarterfinal —by a count of 21-0.
Ironton and West will play in the Region 19 semifinals on Friday night inside Portsmouth’s Trojan Coliseum —with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
* * *
Portsmouth 0 0 0 7 —7
Ironton 21 14 6 7 —48
I— Landen Wilson, 22-yard pass from Tayden Carpenter (Evan Williams kick), 11:23, 1st (7-0 I)
I— Jaquez Keyes, 13-yard run (Evan Williams kick), 8:50, 1st (14-0 I)
I— DeAngelo Weekly, 1-yard run (Evan Williams kick), 5:01, 1st (21-0 I)
I— Jaquez Keyes, 42-yard run (Evan Williams kick), 6:45, 2nd (28-0 I)
I— Braden Schreck, 27-yard pass from Tayden Carpenter (Evan Williams kick), 4:25, 2nd (35-0 I)
I— C.J. Martin, 27-yard pass from Bailey Thacker (kick failed), 6:11, 3rd (41-0 I)
P— Jayden Duncan, 8-yard pass from Tyler Duncan (Zach Roth kick), 10:11, 4th (41-7 I)
I— Jesse Copas, 16-yard run (David Fields kick), 5:26, 4th (48-7 I)
First downs 13 17
Scrimmage plays 42 33
Rushes-yards 23-31 22-180
Passing yards 122 180
Total yards 153 360
Cmp-Att-Int. 15-19-0 8-11-0
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 2-20 3-35
Punts-Ave. 6-21.3 0-0
RUSHING — Portsmouth: Brenden Truett 15-56, Beau Hammond 4-8, J.T. Williams 1-0, Tyler Duncan 3-(-33); Ironton: Jaquez Keyes 8-110 2TD, Jesse Copas 3-33 TD, Shaun Terry 1-15, Ty Perkins 1-12, Landen Wilson 1-11, C.J. Martin 1-8, Zayne Williams 3-3, DeAngelo Weekly 2-1 TD, Tayden Carpenter 2-(-13)
PASSING — Portsmouth: Tyler Duncan 15-19-0-122 TD; Ironton: Tayden Carpenter 6-8-0-134 2TD, Bailey Thacker 1-2-0-27 TD, Braden Schreck 1-1-0-19
RECEIVING —Portsmouth: Jayden Duncan 6-55 TD, Beau Hammond 6-52, Chase Heiland 1-10, Brenden Truett 1-3, Nathaniel Berry 1-2; Ironton: Ty Perkins 2-62, Landen Wilson 2-23 TD, C.J. Martin 1-27 TD, Braden Schreck 1-27 TD, Shaun Terry 1-22, Bailey Thacker 1-19