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Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch Ironton receives the state runner-up trophy after a loss to Kirtland in the Ohio high school Division V state championship game on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.

CANTON, Ohio — Two years ago, Ironton was the fifth-best football team in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Today, the Fighting Tigers are the second-best Division V high school football team in Ohio.

“It feels great to have changed the program back,” Ironton senior defensive end Seth Fosson said Saturday night after Ironton (13-2) lost to Kirtland 17-7 in the state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

The “back” to which Fosson referred was playing for a state title, which the Tigers have done nine times, but not since 1999. Ironton won championships in 1989 and 1999.

Ironton has made 35 playoff appearances, tied with Cincinnati Moeller for second in state history, one behind Newark Catholic. In recent seasons the Tigers qualifies for the postseason, but didn’t advance deep.

“I’m just so proud of them,” Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton said. “This senior class doesn’t realize it. They’ve changed the course of Ironton Fighting Tiger football forever in a positive way. They brought it back to where it needs to be and it’s going to continue to be here because of the leadership and character that they’ve instilled in the younger guys,”

Many of the stars of the 2019 Tigers were freshmen and sophomores in 2017 when Ironton lost to Fairland, Coal Grove, Gallia Academy and Portsmouth in league games and went 4-6. Several players said they remembered that season well in building an OVC and region champion this year.

“We believed in our coaches and ourselves,” said senior quarterback Gage Salyers, who passed for 205 yards and one touchdown Saturday.

Kirtland made a few more plays than did Ironton, none bigger than a goal-line stand seconds before halftime when the Hornets stopped the Tigers twice from the 1-yard line. Pendleton didn’t want to discuss those plays, rather emphasizing the positives of the night and the season.

Kirtland played well,” Pendleton said. “We ran out of time and had to do some things we didn’t want to do.”

Kirtland’s quick defense held the Tigers to 48 yards rushing on 28 carries, forcing Ironton to the air.

“They wanted to come in and run it,” Hornets coach Tiger LaVerde said of Ironton. “They wanted to come in and pound it, rip off six, seven yards a play all night and that’s what we were afraid of. We couldn’t let them do that.”

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