JACKSON — At times, sparkling Alumni Stadium has doubled as Heartbreak Hotel for the Jackson High School football team. Unfortunately for the host Ironmen, Friday was one of those nights.
A driving rain that fell following the end of the game only capped Jackson’s soggy conclusion – a 20-14 overtime loss to Ironton in the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League opener.
The Ironmen saw a 14-0 halftime lead evaporate. Both teams are now 2-2 overall.
For Tigers head coach Bob Lutz, it was his first SEOAL victory since the 1984 campaign. Ironton rejoined the league last season, but the legendary Lutz was in the stands as opposed to the sidelines. He returned this year after a brief retirement.
The win ran Lutz’s all-time SEOAL record to 80-3-1. He has 343 career victories.
Lutz also avenged a loss to Jackson two years ago, in which the Ironmen upset the Tigers 17-7. It is Lutz’s only loss to the Ironmen in his 35 years at the school.
For the first half anyway, it appeared as if third-year Jackson coach Shane Wolford would improve to 2-0 against Lutz.
The Ironmen led 14-0 at halftime, scoring on their third play from scrimmage and returning an Ironton fumble 43 yards for another touchdown.
The second half was a different story.
Following a Jackson fumble inside the Tiger 20-yard line, Ironton began its comeback, and ultimately forced the game into overtime tied 14-14.
In the extra session, after Jackson missed a 31-yard field goal attempt, Ironton completed its come-from-behind victory with a 1-yard quarterback sneak by junior Jon Schweickart.
While the early second-half turnover was indeed the initial spark, the Fighting Tigers fought back behind 189 total yards of offense in the second half and overtime. Of that amount, 153 came on the ground.
Meanwhile, Ironton limited the Ironmen to only 92 yards of offense in the second half and overtime. Over the same time span, Ironton also amassed 14 first downs to Jackson’s five, and ran off 38 plays to Jackson’s 22.
While the Ironmen failed to put the ball in the end zone following the first half, the Tigers tallied 20 unanswered, thanks to a 16-play, 81-yard march for the first score and a 15-play, 84-yard march for the tying TD. Fullback Tony Murphy scored Ironton's first TD on a 2-yard run, while Marc Carter caught an 8-yard TD pass from Schweickart with 1:12 remaining to tie it.
The loss left Wolford stunned.
“I’m at a loss for words guys,” Wolford said. “This is a hard one to swallow. I really feel like we just handed it over. We made mistakes. We weren’t able to make the plays in crunch time and they were. We had a couple of times where we could have put the game away.”
Since the stadium’s opening three years ago, Jackson has suffered excruciating defeats to Gallipolis (14-13 in 2004), Marietta (52-51 in double overtime in 2004), Waverly (17-16 in 2005), Logan (14-7 in 2005) and Portsmouth (21-19 in 2006).
“We’ve been in this situation before and this is a tough one, but we’re going to play next week and we’re not going to give up,” said Wolford. “We just have to bounce back, that’s all I can say.”