Pregame Outlook —

Mustangs, Comets ready for district game

By JOCELYN SHEETS
Register Sports Editor

Register/Jocelyn Sheets
Owning it. Iola High’s Mustangs put a premium on taking the football away from opponents. Last week the Mustangs forced three fumbles but weren’t able to cash in on the Fort Scott mistakes, winning 18-12. Iola will have to do better against the Southeast Kansas League-leader Chanute Friday at Chanute in Class 4A, District 6 play.

Iola High’s Mustangs and Chanute High’s Blue Comets are both 1-0 in Kansas Class 4A, District 6 action. Both are challenging for the district’s two spots in the Class 4A playoffs.
Friday’s game at Chanute is a rival game between Southeast Kansas League teams. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
“But we’re telling our players not to get too caught up in that it is Chanute. Last year at home, our kids got a little intimidated before the game and were not ready to play the game,” Rick Horton said. “We’re telling them it’s just another game.”
Not buy into the hype of Iola vs. Chanute is a tough call. The schools have been arch rivals going on, well, forever.
Horton said the Mustangs recognize what the Blue Comets have done this season — going 5-1 in SEK play, reeling off four straight league wins over Columbus, Pittsburg, Independence and Coffeyville. The Mustangs know the Comets have one of the top offenses in the league and the top defense.
“We have to play our football game. The key to our success will be what it has been all season, how do we handle adversity,” Horton said. “In a game, something is going to go wrong, how we respond to that is important.”
The Mustangs have won two games in a row, both SEK contests. They were down by 10 points going into the fourth quarter and beat Labette County. Illness, injuries and ejection put the Mustangs behind the eight-ball last week against Fort Scott. They found a way to win.
“When we respond well to adversity, when we have kids step up, we’ve won.”
Horton said the Mustangs have to become more balanced offensively. He said they ran the ball well against Fort Scott but only had 14 yards passing.
Iola has starting quarterback Charles Apt back after missing last week with illness. That shifts Chris Heffern back to fullback.
“We can’t be as one dimensional against Chanute as we were in the Fort Scott game. So we’ll be using a lot of formations, including the wildcat with Chris taking the snaps,” Horton said.
As for Chanute, the Blue Comets lost 22 seniors to graduation from last year’s squad, 18 of those players started for the Comets. Chanute had a bit of a shaky start, narrowly beating Parsons then losing to Labette County.
“After losing to Labette County, our kids came back and worked hard. We knew we had good, young kids on the team this year and they’ve really come out believing in themselves after week two of the season,” said Don Simmons, Chanute head coach.
“Against, Iola we have to get after it because we know Iola will come down here ready to play. We have to limit our mistakes and turnovers.”
The Comets’ offense, which averages 30 points a game, is led by senior quarterback Matt Bollig. Bollig was a receiver last year and moved to quarterback.
“He is an outstanding athlete and is a dual threat for us at quarterback,” Simmons said. “What has been key for us is we’re very balanced offensively. We spread the ball around so teams really can’t key on one or two players.”
Running the football for the Comets are sophomore Jared McComb as starting tailback and junior Cody Catterson. Wide receivers to watch for are senior T.J. Walls and juniors Alec Haight, Ethan Beck and Griffin Williams.
Chanute has two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore starting on its offensive line.
The Comets have the top defense in the SEK, allowing just under 18 points a game. Simmons said although senior defensive end James Smith had 10 quarterback sacks and senior middle linebacker Damen Hartwig is another leading on the defense, “it’s a complete team effort. We have a lot of good players on defense who do their jobs well.”
Iola has to deal with the fact there is no school today or Friday. Horton said the varsity was practicing this morning instead of this afternoon for a couple of reasons.
“First, it forces our kids to get out of bed and we’ll get a good workout. Also there’s the freshman game here (tonight). But everybody will be back in (this) evening for the mandatory team dinner,” Horton said.
“We’re not going to change a lot on Friday. We’ve just got to go get them (Chanute) Friday night.”