HUNTINGTON — Ironton has outscored its last two high school football opponents by a combined score of 100-7.
Those teams — Gallia Academy, which the Fighting Tigers beat 52-0, and Portsmouth, a 48-7 loser to Ironton — are a combined 17-3 and each is headed to the playoffs.
The Tigers (9-1), too, are in postseason play, taking on Wellston (7-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday in a Division V first-round game at Tanks Memorial Stadium. Ironton will be at home for the playoffs for the first time since 2014 when it defeated Martins Ferry 26-13. The Tigers have reached the playoffs three times since, losing in the first round in 2015, 2016 and 2018, all on the road. Ironton is strong is home playoff openers, going 13-1.
Interestingly, Wellston’s last playoff appearance ended in a 41-0 loss to Martins Ferry. The Rockets made the postseason in 2004, losing to Bellaire 40-6.
Ironton, meanwhile, is making its 35th playoff appearance, tied with Cincinnati Moeller for second-most in Ohio behind Newark Catholic, which is in the postseason for the 36th time. The Tigers won state titles in 1979 and 1989.
Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton said tradition is important, but the past doesn’t factor into the game with Wellston.
“The season begins now,” Pendleton said. “0-0. We have to earn the right to call ourselves a champion again.”
The Fighting Tigers lead the series with Rockets 19-4-1 and have won 13 in a row. The teams first played in 1920, but haven’t met since 1981 when Ironton won 54-19 in the season finale. The Tigers and Rockets met each season from 1969 through 1981 when both were in the now-defunct Southeastern Ohio Athletic League.
Wellston features a veteran squad, returning eight starters on offense and nine on defense from 2018’s 3-7 team.
The Rockets rely heavily on senior running back/defensive back Rylan Molihan, who has carried 160 times for 1,160 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also has caught 10 passes for 101 yards and one TD and threw for a score. Molihan intercepted five passes.
Wellston has been a bit of an enigma. The Rockets opened the season with a quite respectable 18-6 road loss to undefeated Division III team Jackson and beat Tri-Valley Conference co-champion Nelsonville-York 36-7.
Wellston, though, beat a 4-6 Alexander team just 8-0 and were shut out 20-0 by 5-5 Vinton County. The Rockets made the playoffs despite beating only one team with a winning record.
Rockets coach Mike Smith is a familiar face in Tri-State football. Former head coach at Tug Valley, Tolsia and South Gallia, the first-year coach of the Rockets brings plenty of experience to the field.