The Jackson High School football team has already escaped two Tigers’ dens with seven-point victories. But, will the third time — as in the third Tiger territory this season — be the charm? That’s because the Ironmen go into the ‘Tank’ on Friday night for a crucial Southeastern Ohio Athletic League game against the Ironton Fighting Tigers.
JACKSON — The Jackson High School football team has already escaped two Tigers’ dens with seven-point victories.
But, will the third time — as in the third Tiger territory this season — be the charm?
That’s because the Ironmen go into the ‘Tank’ on Friday night for a crucial Southeastern Ohio Athletic League game against the Ironton Fighting Tigers.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Tanks Memorial Stadium in Ironton.
It is indeed true that the Ironmen will go into the storied ‘Tank’ on Friday.
The all-important question in Jackson is can the Ironmen escape a third Tigers’ den with a victory?
The Ironmen made it two-for-two in Tigers’ dens this season last week, winning at Marietta for the fourth time in six years.
Jackson emerged with a 35-28 victory, as their other road win this season was at Waverly 27-20.
In that contest, Jackson snapped Waverly’s 15-game home winning streak.
But despite being nicknamed “Tigers” — Waverly, Marietta and Ironton are all different animals.
Facing the Fighting Tigers at Tanks Memorial Stadium will be the most difficult test for the 5-1 Ironmen to date.
In fact, Jackson has not won at Ironton since 1969.
Fourth-year Ironmen head coach Shane Wolford wasn’t born until a decade later.
“We have a huge opportunity in front of us. What we’ve been trying to tell our kids this week is that it has been 39 years since we’ve beat Ironton at Tanks Stadium,” said Wolford. “I told the kids they have an opportunity to make themselves be remembered. Any time you have something like that ahead of you, it has to be something you are looking forward to.”
Unlike the Ironmen’s overall past against Ironton.
Ironton owns a hefty 31-4-6 advantage in the series, including last year’s 20-14 overtime triumph at Alumni Stadium.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Ironmen and the Fighting Tigers faced each other on annual basis as both schools were members of the SEOAL.
After Ironton left the league for two decades, their last meeting prior to three years ago was in 1995, when Ironton won 42-21.
The Red and White renewed its series with the Fighting Tigers in 2005, and upset Ironton 17-7 in a non-league tilt at Holzer Field.
That marked Jackson’s first, and only, victory over the Orange and Black since that same 1969 campaign.
The Ironmen and Ironton tied 7-7 in 1980, as Jackson’s last trip to the “Tank” two years ago resulted in a 48-20 Fighting Tiger triumph.
However, this season is a whole new ballgame, and Wolford said he wants his club to make some history this week.
While history is not exactly on the Ironmen’s side against Ironton, momentum from its win at Marietta is.
The Ironmen erased a 7-0 deficit to stake a 35-14 advantage before withstanding a late Tiger rally.
Jackson continued to crank out yardage on the ground, running the ball 49 times for 287 yards.
And, for the first time this season, the Ironmen had two backs surpass the century rushing mark.
Senior tailback Cody Huff had his third straight 100-yard rushing game with 126 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.
Senior quarterback Josh Brown added 103 yards on 15 carries as well as a hat trick of touchdowns.
“They (Marietta) couldn’t really stop us offensively,” said Wolford of last week’s win. “We were able to make some interceptions and make some plays when we had to. We set back and waited for their mistakes and they made them and we capitalized on them.”
With the exception of a Lukas Lindamood 85-yard interception return for a score, which tied the game at 7-7, all of the Ironmen’s touchdowns came on the ground.
In addition, Jackson only attempted three passes, completing two for 12 yards.
The win was much-needed after the difficult loss at Gallipolis.
“I thought we were a little flat coming out, but we got a big interception return from Lukas Lindamood. At that point, I felt like we were ready to step up and play,” said Wolford.
Wolford said the atmosphere around the Ironmen has been much better this week, just as it was the previous four weeks prior to the Gallia Academy loss.
“We’ve had great practices the last two days, the kids came out and have been really focused,” he said. “Everyone was very enthusiastic and practiced hard. I felt like we’ve had one of our hardest hitting practices yet.”
Meanwhile, the Fighting Tigers fell to 3-3 last week, losing their second straight SEOAL road game.
After a 35-10 loss at Logan, the Fighting Tigers tumbled — and fumbled twice — at Chillicothe 17-9.
The back-to-back setbacks snapped a three-game winning streak which followed a 23-22 season-opening loss against Wheelersburg.
In the loss at Chillicothe, Ironton amassed almost 300 yards of total offense, but committed three costly turnovers, including two lost fumbles just outside the 20-yard line.
“Turnovers killed us,” legendary Ironton coach Bob Lutz told The Ironton Tribune. “We should have scored twice in the first half. You keep making those kinds of mistakes when you have a chance to score and you’re leaving the door open for the other guy to take advantage of his opportunities.”
The Ironmen lost four fumbles at Marietta last week, but those Tigers did not necessarily take advantage.
Wolford said Ironton, though, will seize on any mistakes the Ironmen make.
Turnovers have been a trouble spot for Jackson in its losses the last three years, including two games to Portsmouth, this year at Gallipolis and last year against Ironton.
“It’s a must in every game, but for the last couple of years, when we’ve ended up losing close games, it’s been due to the fact that we have turned the ball over,” said Wolford. “I feel like that this is a game that we can’t afford to turn the ball over any. It’s a fact that we had a couple of crucial turnovers last year against them.”
The Ironmen have actually lost six fumbles over the last two weeks, which is way too many according to Wolford.
“We try to re-enforce every week how important it is to hang on to the football,” he said. “It’s just you get into a game and fumbles occur. But we definitely have to limit those this week and take the ball away from them.”
Assuming both teams can protect the football, look for both to establish their patented run attacks.
The Ironmen will operate out of the Pro-I, with Ironton relying on its traditional T-formation fullhouse backfield.
The Tigers, under the legendary longtime coach Lutz, have deviated little from the T in his nearly 40 years as the Ironton boss.
This year’s Fighting Tiger backfield is led by Chance Freeman (66 carries for 441 yards and six touchdowns), Keith Wetzel (52 carries for 244 yards and seven touchdowns) and Major Brice (24 carries for 169 yards and two touchdowns).
Although, with the development of two-year quarterback Jon Schweickart — and the transfer of wide receiver Michael Lamb — the Tigers have displayed more of an aerial assault.
Schweickart has completed 37-of-71 passes for 645 yards and five touchdowns, with four of those scores to Lukas Morris, who has 12 receptions for 285 yards.
Lamb leads the team in receiving with 17 catches for 336 yards and the other touchdown.
Freeman has caught seven passes out of the backfield.
“They are going to line up in the T and they want to run the football. That’s what they do,” said Wolford. “But they’ve also got a couple of receivers they like to throw to who are very dangerous. The quarterback also has a really good arm. We’ve been practicing with certain people playing over the top of certain people and things like that to try and cut down some of their threats. On defense, we’re going to have to attack.”
As for the Ironmen, Huff is closing in on 1,000 yards for the season, already at 881 and 11 touchdowns on 145 carries.
Brown has carried 33 times for 211 yards, while sophomore fullback Klay Arthur has chipped in 79 carries for 315 yards.
Wolford added that his Ironmen must be able to match Ironton’s physicality this week.
“We’ve tried to tell these kids how physical we’re going to have to be this week in order to win the game,” he said. “So far, from what I’ve seen, I feel like our kids are really getting ready for it. All in all, it’s going to be two teams lining up that want to run the football. You just have to see who is tougher and who wants it more.”
If the Ironmen are to remain in both the SEOAL championship and Division II playoff race, Wolford agreed that “this game is crucial.”
“Both teams are in a situation where they need this one,” he said. “To be honest, I don’t think a lot of people are giving us much of a chance in some of these last few games. But like I try to tell these kids, anyone can play with anyone. I know what kind of kids we have, they are tough and they play hard. This week, we have to take it up a notch more if we want to win.”
Just for kicks
Both Schweickart for Ironton and junior Ryan Mullins for Jackson have enjoyed solid kicking seasons.
Schweickart has booted 15 extra points and two field goals, part of 27 total points.
Mullins has made 23 extra points with only two misses, one of which was blocked.
He has also averaged 52.5 yards on kickoffs and 34 yards on punts, including nine kickoffs which have resulted in touchbacks.
Eighth is enough?
In truth, eighth is enough….as far as qualifying for the state football playoffs.
Both Jackson and Ironton are rated eighth this week in their respective regions of the Ohio High School Athletic Association football computer ratings.
The Ironmen are eighth in Division II, Region 8 while Ironton is eighth in Division IV, Region 15.
The top eight teams in each region qualify for the postseason with the top four teams earning first-round home games.
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Information from The Ironton Tribune and www.irontonfootball.com was used in this story.