ASHLAND - Ashland's senior football players hope to duplicate a feat accomplished by last year's class of seniors - never having lost to Ironton.
The Tomcats (3-1), ranked fifth in Kentucky Class AAA, entertain the Fighting Tigers (3-0), ranked No. 2 in Ohio Division V, at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Putnam Stadium. Ashland owns four consecutive victories in the series and has won seven of the last 10.
Ironton broke an eight-game losing streak to Wheelersburg in the season-opening game at Tanks Memorial Stadium. The Tigers hope to bust another string of losses on Friday.
The lone foe the Tomcats and Tigers have in common is Wheelersburg. Ironton beat the Pirates 30-6. Last week, Ashland lost 34-33 in overtime at Wheelersburg after leading 13-0 early. Whether that loss places enough doubt in the Tomcats' minds to affect them against the Tigers could be a key factor. Ironton, meanwhile, must avoid overconfidence.
Unlike many teams, the Tomcats have the size on the offensive line to match up with the Tigers' stifling defense, which has yielded a mere 13 points this season. Senior tackle John Stone (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) has drawn considerable college interest, as has fellow tackle Gary Swiney (6-4, 250). Guards Dane Wardle (6-4, 280) and Cameron Marushi (5-11, 265) are seniors, as is center Matthew Rayburn (6-0, 245). Jackson Foutch (6-2, 215) also sees considerable action.
Ashland will need more than size, however, to combat Ironton's quickness. Junior linebacker Reid Carrico (6-3, 235) is one of the premier high school players in the country, in great part because of his speed. Carrico has committed to Ohio State. Safety Gage Salyers, committed to Youngstown State, also is a star in a secondary who has interceptions in each game. Linebackers Cameron Deee and Seth Fosson are among the better defenders in the Tri-State and Ashland transfer Junior Jones is an athletic defensive tackle.
The Tigers' defense likely will be tested, as Ashland has scored big in each game, defeating Knox Central 21-13, Boyd County 53-7, George Washington 49-16 and losing to Wheelersburg 34-33. Ironton has allowed just two touchdowns in three games, but both were on big plays - Makya Matthews' 72-yard run in the opener and Max Ward's 82-yard pass to Gavin Hunt last week.
Ashland's potent offense is directed by 5-8, 165-pound junior Jake Gregg, who has completed 30 of 46 passes for 411 yards and three touchdowns. Gregg has thrown six passes to fellow junior J.T. Garrett for 96 yards. Running backs Blake Hester and Keontae Pittman also are capable receivers, who have posted strong rushing numbers. Hester has 579 yards and nine touchdowns on 82 carries. Pittman has carried 61 times for 361 yards and six scores.