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Ironton, Wheelersburg rivalry goes minus Lutz

Aug. 22, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Wheelersburg High School coach Rob Woodward had an idea of what to expect from Ironton when the teams meet in their annual football season opener.

Two tight ends, a fullhouse backfield and a power running game. That's how veteran Ironton Fighting Tigers coach Bob Lutz did things on offense. Lutz, though, retired after the 2011 season as the winningest coach in Buckeye State history.

Mark Vass, who played for Lutz and later served on his coaching staff, is the successor to Lutz.

Woodward doesn't expect Vass to scrap the Lutz system and make wholesale changes for 2012 and beyond. The Vass era begins Friday when the two teams meet at 7:30 p.m. at spruced-up Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg.

"More of the same," Woodward said. "I don't see Mark changing what's been done for the last 30 years. It starts with attitude. They've got more size and what they do they do well."

Ironton has won three straight in the series and holds a 16-5 advantage overall.

"I've looked forward to this," Vass said. "It's a relief. I'm glad it's finally here. I've put a lot of work into it and the people here are excited."

Vass admits there could be an element of surprise.

"We've shown a little bit," he said of Ironton's play in scrimmages. "Some old, some new. The kids have prepared well. You never know how things will turn out until you play that first game."

For Vass and the Fighting Tigers, the facility they enter Friday night isn't close to what they've seen in past years when it was their turn to travel up U.S. 52 for one of the biggest opening weekend games in Ohio.

Wheelersburg's home got a $3.2 million facelift and now features expanded seating on the home side, new press box, field house and field turf complete with two shades of green turf for 100 yards and end zones done in orange.

"It's going to be a hostile environment," Vass said. "Their fans will be fired up. I've talked to the kids and told them there will be adversity. The key is how we react to it."

"I expect the same classic Ironton-Wheelersburg game we get every year," Woodward said. "It will be a great atmosphere. It'll be packed and I'm excited to see how it sounds. This is something you want to be part of on Friday night."

Woodward's record with the Pirates is 35-11. They finished 7-3 a year ago and did not make the Ohio Division V playoffs.

"They're hungry," Woodward said. "They were counted out last year and responded. They're ready to strap it up and do it again."

Of the 44 players on the Wheelersburg roster, 22 are sophomores. Woodward got to evaluate the team in scrimmages against Chillicothe and Columbus Bishop Ready.

"It's time to fine tune things," Woodward said. "We're confident in what we do and in each other. We have to buckle down, know the direction we want to take the team and sell it to the guys."