Battle of UNBEATENS!

Battle of unbeatens: Harvest Prep, Ironton face off in OHSAA football regional final

In a tight game for the first time in more than two months, Harvest Prep found a way to advance to its third regional championship game in four seasons despite some rough moments.

The second-seeded Warriors’ 25-21 win over sixth-seeded Wheelersburg on Nov. 11 in a Division V, Region 19 semifinal at Nelsonville-York might not have been as close had they not lost four fumbles and committed five turnovers overall. 

There likely won’t be the same wiggle room available for Harvest Prep when it faces top-seeded Ironton for the regional title Nov. 18 at Waverly. 

Of the 28 regional finals, only eight feature a No. 1 seed against a No. 2 seed.

Both the Warriors and Tigers enter the matchup at 13-0 and will meet for the second time in three seasons. In 2020, Ironton won 21-14 in a regional semifinal on its way to a state runner-up finish.

Harvest Prep beat Wheelersburg 20-17 in last year's Region 19 final.

“We had five turnovers and (Wheelersburg) squibbed two kicks and got both of them,” Warriors coach Milan Smith said. “If you turn the ball over at this time of the year, you don’t win, but that says a lot about our kids’ desire and willingness to fight.” 

Harvest Prep-Ironton is one of only two regional finals that will pit two undefeated teams against one another; the other is top-seeded Kirtland and second-seeded Mogadore in Division VI, Region 21. The Harvest Prep-Ironton winner will play Germantown Valley View or West Milton Milton-Union in a state semifinal Nov. 25 at Cincinnati Princeton.

“They work hard and we work so hard,” Harvest Prep senior two-way lineman Xavier Cain said. “We wait for games like this all year and can’t wait to play in big games.” 

Ironton is coming off a 35-7 victory over fifth-seeded Portsmouth West, as senior quarterback Tayden Carpenter completed 17 of 20 passes for 253 yards and four touchdowns. He is 148-for-214 passing for 2,570 yards with 35 touchdowns and three interceptions on the season. 

Senior running back Jaquez Keyes, a Wisconsin commit, rushed for 49 yards in the regional semifinal and has 865 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season. 

Both Carpenter and senior linebacker Trevor Carter, a Cincinnati commit, were key players in 2020 during Ironton’s other meeting against Harvest Prep. 

Carter has 99 tackles and 12 tackles for loss.

“Ironton is Ironton,” Smith said. “They’re a physical team that’s going to line up with some good athletes. They’ve got a kid going to Cincinnati and a running back going to Wisconsin that’s a stud. They go a little inside-out and that makes it a little more difficult to deal with, and they’re going to play a physical brand of bully ball.”

Senior quarterback Aidan Rogers was limited to 113 yards passing with one interception against Wheelersburg but rushed 12 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns. He’s thrown for 23 touchdowns and rushed for 12 scores this season. 

Junior running back Marchello Cox had 10 carries for 136 yards and two touchdowns, pushing his season totals to 966 yards with 10 scores. 

Senior wide receiver Justin Batista had five catches for 70 yards and has 38 catches on the season. 

“We have a lot of faith in each other and just keep fighting,” Cain said. “I'm excited (to play Ironton). It’s going to be a good game.”