Pregame Outlook

Mustangs open 4A district play with Tigers

By JOCELYN SHEETS
Register Sports Editor

Register File Photo/Jocelyn Sheets
On a collision course are Iola High’s Mustangs and Fort Scott High’s Tigers. A year ago Mustang tailback Marcus Sullivan (22) ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-15 win at Fort Scott. It was the first time Iola had beaten Fort Scott since 1986. Iola (2-4) hosts Fort Scott (1-5) Friday in a Class 4A, District 6 game, which also is a Southeast Kansas League contest.

On Friday night, Iola High’s Mustangs and Fort Scott High’s Tigers are 0-0. That’s right, the slate is clean.
It’s Kansas high school football district play — what a team does in the final three games (for most 11-man football teams) determines if it advances into postseason play. The top two teams in each district advance to the playoffs.
Iola and Fort Scott join Chanute and Anderson County in the Class 4A, District 6. A year ago, Chanute and Iola went 1-2 in the district and advanced to the playoffs.
The first round of district games has Fort Scott coming into Iola’s Riverside Park for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday while Chanute travels to Garnett to play Anderson County.
“The season hasn’t gone as we wanted it but our goal of making the playoffs for a second year in a row is attainable,” said Rick Horton, Mustang head coach. “Every team in the state is 0-0 going into Friday night’s games and we have to be ready to play Friday against a good Fort Scott team.”
The Mustangs and Tigers are coming off big wins for their programs.
Iola trailed 13-3 last Friday night to rally for a 17-13 win over Labette County and record its first Southeast Kansas League win. The Mustangs improved to 2-4 on the season and are looking to notch another SEK win plus a district win Friday.
Fort Scott broke an eight-game losing skid by defeating Parsons 35-6 at home last Friday. The Tigers improved to 1-4 in SEK play and 1-5 overall.
“Our kids are excited about going to Iola and playing. They know what is at stake in terms of district play plus they’d like to get a little revenge I’m sure after losing last year to Iola,” said Don Epps, Fort Scott head coach.
“After the win on Friday, our kids came in this week and worked hard. We’re concentrating on the Iola game and know its important to win the first district game. Iola has a good team again this year and had a big road win at Labette County.”
Fort Scott operates out of the split back veer offense, much like Labette County. Sophomore Luke Brown stepped in last week for injured starting junior quarterback Trevor Smith and led the Tigers to a victory. Senior receiver Gary Floyd and junior tight end Griffin Knopp made big catches in the game.
“Both Luke and Trevor are ready to go for this week. Luke will probably start but we plan to use both of them at quarterback,” Epps said.
“It’s going to be a muddy field and we have to establish our running game, plus stop the run and force Iola to pass.”
Fort Scott has seniors Chris Archie and Cody Cannon in the backfield as running backs. A week ago, the Tigers rolled up 301 yards of total offense, 120 coming on the ground.
“Seeing the same offense two weeks in a row is good for our kids but Fort Scott runs the veer option a little different than Labette County,” Horton said. “Fort Scott is going to come in here to run the ball and say ‘here you go, stop us.’ It comes down to our kids doing their jobs defensively.
“Labette County did a few things well against us early until we made the adjustments. Our defense is built on speed and a ‘get-there’ mentality.”
Iola has junior tailback Marcus Sullivan back after a hamstring injury put him on the sidelines for two and a half games. Sullivan gashed Fort Scott for 157 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns in the 45-15 win last year. That was the first Iola win over Fort Scott in 22 years.
“Marcus has worked well this week. We’re still keeping an eye on things with him as he works back into game shape. He’ll start but we’ll probably play running back by committee,” Horton said.
Senior Chris Heffern is at fullback but he moved to tailback last week when Iola lost sophomore Drew Walden and senior Ethan Fulton to injuries in the first half. Walden, who has a high ankle sprain, is out for this week but Ethan Fulton is back.
Horton said Sullivan, Heffern, E. Fulton and possibly freshman Stephen McDonald will be in the backfield at times in the game. Aaron Fulton, a senior, and Mc-Donald rotated in at fullback during the second half last week.
“Fort Scott has moved the ball all season but has not been able to score because of penalties or turnovers. We’ve had similar problems with penalties and turn-overs. Defensively, we have to get back to forcing turnovers,” Horton said.
With Drew Walden out, Drew Shepherd, a junior, moves into the starting noseguard spot for Iola’s defense. Ethan Fulton re-turns as defensive end. Senior center Darin Hutton is expected to get some playing time along the defenisve line this week.