IRONTON - If Ironton High School's football team were a rock band, the 2019 season would be its comeback tour.
The Fighting Tigers (3-0), No. 2 in Division V the Ohio High School Athletic Association computer rankings, visit Ashland at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Putnam Stadium. Ironton will try to break a four-game losing streak to the Tomcats (3-1), fifth-ranked in Kentucky Class AAA.
Some luster wore off anticipation of the game after Ashland's 34-33 overtime loss at Wheelersburg (1-2) last week prevented this from being a battle of unbeatens. Ironton pounded the Pirates 30-6 in their season opener. Comparing scores, however, can be deceiving, especially in a rivalry game, but no doubt the Tigers' ease of victory over Wheelersburg has Ashland's attention.
Ironton has displayed a solid, improving offense and a stellar defense in victories over Wheelersburg, Russell (10-0) and Fairland (49-7). Last week, the Tigers held a potent Dragons offense to 179 yards. That defense will be challenged by a Tomcats offense that favors the running game led by a big offensive line that must find a way to block Tigers standout linebacker trio of Reid Carrico, Cameron Deere and Seth Fosson. Defensive tackle Junior Jones, a transfer from Ashland and former South Point player, also has proven to be a force.
"It's no secret our defense like to be aggressive," Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton said.
Sometimes that aggressiveness leads to a big play by an opponent. Such was the case last week when Fairland scored on an 82-yard touchdown pass from Max Ward to Gavin Hunt on the game's first play. Pendleton said the risk/reward approach works for his team.
"I love the way we've handled adversity this year, whether it be early in the game or late in the game," Pendleton said. "Everybody has kind of rallied around each other. It's been nothing but positivity on the sidelines."
Positivity and perseverance. Fairland shut down the Tigers on Ironton's first two possessions last week, holding them to minus-11 yards on the first six plays, all which went for losses or no gain. The Tigers might need more of that against Ashland and quarterback Jake Gregg, who is just 5-foot-8, 165 pounds but who has completed 30 of 46 passes (65.2 percent). Gregg's favorite target is J.T. Garrett, who has six catches for 96 yards. The Tomcats much prefer to run, with Blake Hester leading the way with 579 yards and nine touchdowns on 82 attempts. Keontae Pittman rushed for 361 yards and six TDs on 61 carries.