JACKSON — Ironton head football coach Bob Lutz has earned legendary status.
After all, he has 342 career victories — and two state championships at Ironton — in 38 years as a head coach.
However, he’s never defeated 27-year-old and third-year Jackson mentor Shane Wolford.
Wolford and his Ironmen would like to keep such a record intact.
On Friday night, for the first time since the 1984 season, Lutz is coaching in a Southeastern Ohio Athletic League football game, as his Fighting Tigers invade Alumni Stadium to take on the Jackson Ironmen.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The contest marks the SEOAL opener for both teams, and Lutz’s first league game since the 1984 campaign when the Tigers last captured the conference crown.
Lutz, whose Ironton teams dominated the league for a decade-and-a-half, was not on the sidelines last season, but returned to lead the Fighting Tigers this fall.
Beginning in 1972, Lutz’s first season at Ironton, the Tigers won or shared every SEOAL football title except in 1977. Of his current career record of 342-75-5, Lutz was a staggering 78-3-1 in the SEOAL.
The Tigers left the SEOAL after the 1984 season, and only returned to the league a year ago.
Last season, Merrill Triplett was the Ironton head coach, and led the Orange and Black to a 6-5 overall record and a Division IV, Region 15 playoff berth.
But Triplett stepped down after just the one year, and Lutz — to the delight of many in Ironton — announced his return to the Fighting Tigers’ helm.
This is Lutz’s 35th year at Ironton, but a year in which the Tigers are in the midst of a rebuilding phase.
Ironton enters Friday’s affair at 1-2, having won its first game of the season last week over Ashland (Ky.), 27-7.
According to a Sept. 6 article in The Ironton Tribune, the Fighting Tigers lost all but two starters and feature their most inexperienced lineup in the past 35 seasons.
That inexperience showed early on, as Ironton lost to Wheelersburg and Olentangy Liberty by a combined score of 95-6. It was Ironton’s first 0-2 start since Lutz’s first season.
“Every year, Ironton has a tough schedule in the beginning. And I think they had some problems turning the ball over in those two games against two very good teams (losses to Wheelersburg and Olentangy Liberty),” said Wolford. “I think some people are shocked at how their season has gone so far, but I’ve seen them on film and they’re not a bad team. They’re still a strong Ironton team coming in here.”
In fact, prior to Friday’s win over Ashland, Lutz’s last win came at Alumni Stadium on Nov. 12, 2005. That’s when his Tigers toppled Westfall in the Region 15 semifinals.
It was also Lutz’s second trip to Jackson that season, as his initial tilt at Alumni Stadium — and only meeting against Wolford — did not turn out so well.
The Ironmen upset the Tigers on Sept. 16, winning 17-7 to the shock of many throughout the state. Ironton entered that game at 3-0, and was ranked third in the first release of the Division IV Associated Press statewide poll.
“That first year (2005), we knew that Coach Lutz was going to do the same things that he has done for years,” said Wolford. “I felt like we were well prepared for the fullhouse backfield and things like that. This year, I expect the same Coach Lutz type of team. They are going to line up and run the ball at you, and throw when they need to.”
As for Jackson, it enters the matchup at 2-1 overall, having successfully rebounded at Vinton County following a difficult loss to Waverly.
The Ironmen faced a similar situation two years ago, although they looked much more impressive against this year’s Vikings than they did in a 14-6 squeaker in 2005.
The Red and White got its ground game going at Vinton County, rushing for 385 yards en route to a 35-12 rout.
“It all starts up front, so hats off to the offensive line,” said Wolford. “Any time there’s about 10 men in the box and you’re still able to run the ball, you’re doing something right.”
Senior fullback Bruce Smith and junior tailback Cody Huff — for the second time this season — surpassed the century mark on the ground.
Smith amassed 182 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries while Huff hammered out 161 yards and one touchdown on 16 totes.
“The backs broke a lot of tackles. Cody Huff is very elusive and had some of the best runs I’ve ever seen, and Bruce Smith ran the ball his same hard way,” said Wolford.
For the season, the one-two punch of Huff and Smith have racked up 346 and 304 yards respectively. Huff has 41 carries and three touchdowns while Smith has accounted for 53 carries and five scores.
“Their (Jackson) backs aren't as fast as Ashland's two backs, but they do have some quickness and they run hard. They come right at you,” Lutz told The Ironton Tribune. “Jackson is hard to prepare for because they give you so many looks on defense and offense.”
Wolford hopes his Ironmen can continue their patented rushing assault this week.
However, the coach said his club must cut down on turnovers. The Ironmen committed five turnovers in the loss to Waverly, giving the quick-strike Tigers excellent field position on all six of their scoring possessions.
Last week, Jackson had three turnovers and five penalties, as two of the turnovers set up both of the Vikings’ touchdowns.
“We haven’t taken care of the ball well enough,” said Wolford. “I’ve tried to stress this week that any time you turn the ball over that much, you’re not going to beat an SEOAL opponent. We’ve always worked on ball security with our backs, but this week we went a little more indepth. Some of the turnovers we’ve had, there’s no excuse for. We’re not carrying the ball tight enough and tucking it away. That makes it easy for the other team to strip it out of there. I’ve just told our team that turnovers can’t happen. And we’ve worked extra hard this week in practice on it (preventing and eliminating turnovers).”
The Ironmen, in contrast to their first three opponents, will face the run-oriented Tigers and Lutz’s trademark fullhouse offense. The Tigers’ Tony Murphy rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries last week against Ashland.
Wolford said his defense must also account for speedster wideout Marc Carter, who scored three touchdowns last year in Ironton’s rout of the Ironmen at Tanks Memorial Stadium.
“I feel like our kids know pretty much what they (Fighting Tigers) want to do. It’s just up to us to stop them,” said the Jackson boss. “I expect them to line up in the fullhouse backfield. They try to balance you up so you don’t know which way they’re going to run the ball. They will also spread Marc Carter, who’s very fast, very dangerous. He probably had over 150 receiving yards last year against us. We have to shut him down in some way.”
Hence, in a game which is expected to be a smashmouth power-running fest, perhaps the passing attack could play a key role in deciding the outcome.
“Whichever team can stop the run, it’s obvious you’re going to have to pass a little bit,” said Wolford. “It’s very important that we’re able to complete some passes and get our passing game going. We’ve had a couple of big plays with it here and there, but a lot of that was with playaction. We haven’t broken it out as much as what we’ll probably have to.”
For the Ironmen, they have experienced a degree of success when throwing the football this season.
Junior quarterback Josh Brown has connected with his targets for some big plays, including a 67-yard touchdown strike to tight end Brandon Trace last week.
Against Waverly, Brown found Trace for a 35-yard gain on a playaction pass which set up the Ironmen’s only score.
In the 56-6 season-opening win over Wellston, Brown hooked up with Lukas Lindamood twice, including a 51-yard reception which set up a second-quarter touchdown.
For the season, Brown is 9-of-19 passing for 221 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. His other touchdown went to Lindamood for 14 yards in the Wellston game.
Wolford said that, by run or by pass, he expects his team to be ready and prepared to face the Fighting Tigers. Many observers projected a 2-1 start to Jackson’s season with Lutz and Ironton looming.
The Ironmen aim that 2005 repeats itself, and that Wolford remains undefeated over Lutz. Meanwhile, the Red and White would move to 3-1 overall.
And, this time, 1-0 in the SEOAL.
Wolford said that a win over Ironton is key for momentum with three straight league road tilts on the horizon. In other words, the Ironmen are indeed in the meat of their difficult schedule.
“The stretch that we’re in right now is very tough with Ironton, at Portsmouth and at Chillicothe,” he said. “I told the kids that we have to cut out some of the mistakes that we’re making, we’ve got to play our style of football, and we’ve got to have some people step up and start doing a better job than what they have been. If we’re able to get this win, it would be huge in my mind.”
Brothers in legs
For those who have forgotten, Jackson enjoyed the services of placekicker Justin Mullins, who is now kicking for Division I-AA Morehead State University.
One of Mullins’ career highlights was kicking a field goal against Ironton in Jackson’s 17-7 triumph two years ago.
Now, his brother Ryan is enjoying a solid freshman season as the Ironmen placekicker.
In fact, a perfect season — so far.
Ryan Mullins has been successful on all 14 extra-point kicks he has attempted this season.
Lutz’s league losses — and lone tie
The legendary Lutz has lost only three SEOAL games in 34 years as the Ironton head coach. They came to Gallipolis twice (1976 and 1984) and Logan once (1977).
His one tie was a 7-7 draw against Jackson in 1980. That year, the Ironmen and Ironton shared the conference championship with 6-0-1 league records.
But that was then, and this is now, and this is the new SEOAL.
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Information compiled by Randy Heath, longtime historian for the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League, was used in this story.