Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
IRONTON — Before the start of Friday’s season-opener, Ironton junior Landen Wilson had a premonition.
“[Wilson] actually called it before the game,” Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton said. “He said, ‘If I get an outward breaking route, it’s going to the house.’ He was able to capitalize.”
Wilson not only capitalized on an opportunity, he changed the entire complexion of the game.
With 2:05 left in the second quarter, the Tigers led 20-6. However, Wheelersburg was driving and threatened to cut the lead in half. But Wilson had other plans.
He picked off a pass at his own 1-yard line, weaved his way through traffic and ran the 99 yards needed to give Ironton (1-0) a commanding 27-6 lead — what eventually turned out to be the knockout blow in a 40-6 drubbing to begin the 2021 season.
“I kinda messed up on a play before that, but I guess I made up for it,” Wilson said with a smile. “I saw him coming out and felt like I could make a play on it. So I just jumped the route.”
Wilson was far from the only Tiger to leave his paw prints on Friday’s outcome.
Early in the first quarter, Ironton starting quarterback Tayden Carpenter left the game with a hip injury. That gave way for Jon Wylie to make his entrance under center and, with a next-man up mentality, he dazzled all the way through.
The sophomore was 4-of-10 passing for 79 yards and a touchdown while adding 32 yards and a score on the ground.
“Jon is a great player. He does a lot of things well. It was a big moment but he’s a big-time athlete,” Pendleton said. “The stage is never too big for him. He was very poised in his first action in front of a big crowd. He handled it well.”
And then there’s Jaquez Keyes, who enjoyed throwing his coming out party all night long.
Keyes, a junior, ran downhill with a vengeance, cutting his way through Wheelersburg’s defense. He racked up a team-high 85 rushing yards on just six carries and scored twice.
“He’s a kid that we haven’t got to utilize the way that we want to,” Pendleton said of Keyes. “But he’s going to become more and more involved. He battled some injuries early in camp that kind of set him back a little bit. But now he’s getting to where he can really be a force.”
The Pirates (0-1) actually began the night’s scoring.
With 3:13 left in the first quarter, Bryson Stamper hit a streaking Brock Brumfield for a 70-yard touchdown strike. The ensuing PAT attempt was blocked but Wheelersburg was the owner of momentum and a 6-0 advantage.
“Honestly, it was eye control,” Pendleton said. “We knew it was coming. We scouted for it. But the kids lost eye control on that play. [Wheelersburg] was able to hit us on it. That’s something we have to clean up.”
But, with 11:42 left in the second, Wylie cashed in on a Wheelersburg mistake — something that started a trend.
After his defense forced and recovered a fumble deep in Pirate territory, Wylie found the end zone from 17 yards out to give Ironton its first lead at 7-6.
On the next possession, Stamper found receiver Josh Clark for a 71-yard pass that put the ball at Ironton’s seven-yard line. However, the Pirates coughed up the football again and the Tigers pounced. Just over a minute later, Keyes ripped off a 59-yard run to make it a 14-6 ballgame.
Wheelersburg answered with yet another turnover, its third in as many possessions, giving the Tigers the football near midfield. With 5:04 left, Keyes galloped to pay dirt, stretching the lead to 20-6.
It was then Wilson’s turn to make his mark.
Just under three minutes later, the junior logged his 99-yard interception return for a touchdown and produced a 27-6 halftime score.
It was Wheelersburg’s fourth and final turnover of the evening, each of which led to touchdowns on the other end.
“We talked about it all week, about breaking on routes,” Pendleton said. “We knew [Wheelersburg’s] quarterback was a younger kid and the ball comes out a little slower. So we talked about down in the red zone, we’re driving on everything. We weren’t worried about double moves.”
Ironton’s next score took place with 1:01 left in the third when Wylie connected with Ty Perkins for a 39-yard touchdown pass. The Tigers then put the exclamation point on the win with 3:11 left in regulation as Amar Howard scored from five yards out.
“It’s a testament to these guys and the work they put in,” Pendleton said. “The scratch, claw and fight. They’ll do anything. These guys put so much time and effort into this. I’m super proud of them. I love each of them like they’re my own. They’re reaping the benefits.”
Following Keyes’ statistics on the ground, Ashton Duncan ran the ball three times for 53 yards while Howard tallied 12 carries for 37 yards and a score. Perkins caught two passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.
For Wheelersburg, Stamper finished 4-of-8 passing for 145 yards alongside a touchdown and an interception. Clark and Brumfield led the team with 71 and 70 receiving yards, respectively. On the ground, Carson Williams led the Pirates with 22 yards on eight carries.
Wheelersburg will meet with Chillicothe next week while Ironton plays host to Jackson.
“Any good football team has to have a lot of good growth from Week 1 to Week 2,” Pendleton said. “So we have to clean up the unforced errors … the false starts, the offsides calls, penalties, missed assignments … we have to clean those things up.”