Ironton visits Fairland in early OVC game
ROME TOWNSHIP, Ohio - It was a high school football game Fairland always will remember and Ironton has not forgotten.
On Sept. 8, 2017, Dragons quarterback Joel Lambiotte threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Reilly Sowards with 3.6 seconds to play, giving Fairland a 27-21 victory over the Fighting Tigers at Tanks Memorial Stadium. Ironton led 21-13 with 5:56 left before the Dragons rallied to snap the Tigers’ 13-game Ohio Valley Conference winning streak and become the first team from Lawrence County since South Point in 1961 to defeat Ironton.
The teams meet again at 7 p.m. Friday at Fairland’s Jim Mayo Stadium in a key OVC showdown of teams trying to dethrone league champion Coal Grove.
“I knew I was going to be open and I said there was no way I was going to not catch this ball,” Sowards, a sophomore, said after the stunning touchdown reception that capped an eight-play, 70-yard drive that took 1:42.
Sowards is back, as is Lambiotte, but both say last year’s game is in the past and this game is a new opportunity. Ironton (1-1) is all about newness, as first-year coach Trevon Pendleton leads his Tigers against the Dragons (2-0).
Ironton opened with a respectable 28-6 loss at defending Division V state champion Wheelersburg, then followed last week with a 16-7 triumph at Russell, that featured a TD by Reid Carrico off a blocked punt. The Tigers defense has been stout. The offense still is finding its way in Pendleton’s new I-formation and spread system that is a departure from more than 45 years of Fullhouse-T football.
“I gave it all I had,” Carrico said of the special teams touchdown. “All we went through this summer to get ready, we go hard on every play.”
Carrico also scored on a 74-yard run to set the score.
“I hit the hole,” Carrico said. ” I wanted the first down to keep the clock going, then I took off. The line blocked well all night. We had too many mistakes, things we have to clean up. We kept hurting ourselves.”
Pendleton agreed that the Tigers have work to do against a Fairland team that blew out Tolsia 42-0 two weeks ago and upset Athens 35-31 last week. He said the Russell victory was encouraging in that his team was persistent.
“It was a tough game and we had to scratch and claw for every inch,” Pendleton said. “They learned a lot. It was tough with many kids battling illness all week, but they kept fighting. I’m proud of their resiliency. We have to clean up a lot of things and get ready for league play. We will be ready.”
Fairland coach Melvin Cunningham, too, was proud of his team’s no-quit attitude in coming from behind five times to beat Athens, a school nearly twice as large as FHS. The Dragons scored on a Lambiotte to Brennan West 18-yard touchdown pass with 38 seconds left to win and secure Fairland’s first 2-0 start since 2013 when they won the OVC title and made the playoffs.
“That win against a team that played different guys on both sides of the ball,” Cunningham said, praising his squad’s conditioning and determination against a deep, talented Athens team.
Last season, Lambiotte was an efficient 21-for-28 for 253 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception against Ironton. This season, the senior quarterback is 30-for-48 for 526 yards and 10 touchdowns, with two interceptions. He also has run for a score.