Pregame Outlook

Mustangs, Bulldogs square off for playoff bid

Register Sports Editor

Register/Jocelyn Sheets
Creating havoc in the backfield all season for the Iola HighMustangs has been senior linebacker Nick Mueller (30). Mueller might not get as many tackles as others but he makes teams alter the way plays go allowing teammates to catch up for the putdowns. Mueller and the Mustangs are going to have to get after Anderson County High’s Bulldogs at home Thursday with a playoff berth on the line.

Two teams and only one playoff spot available. That’s what is on the line Thursday night when Anderson County High’s Bulldogs come to Iola to play Iola High’s Mustangs.
The Bulldogs (6-2) and the Mustangs (3-5) are both 1-1 in Kansas Class 4A, District 6 play. The regular-season finale kicks off at 7 p.m. at Iola’s Riverside Park.
Just like last year — “We win. We’re in.” — goes for both teams. Chanute High’s Blue Comets have beaten both Iola and Anderson County and plays Fort Scott Thursday to finish district action.
Chanute repeats as District 6 champion and already has a playoff berth next week. The winner between Iola and Anderson County will be runner-up.
Last year, the same situation presented itself and the Mustangs won at Garnett. It was the first time the Mustangs and been to the playoffs since 1985.
“District runner-up doesn’t sound as good as district champions but it is what it is. If we take care of business at home Thursday, we’re back in the playoffs,” said Rick Horton, Mustang head coach.
“We’re building tradition here in Iola and to do that is to make the playoffs each year.”
Sounds much like Anderson County’s Bulldogs. No matter what happens Thursday, the Bulldogs will have posted two straight winning seasons for the first time since anyone can remember.
“When I came in 1999, Anderson County was mired in losing seasons. Three out of the last four years, we’ve had winning seasons and that is a sign our program is moving in the right direction,” said Don Hilliard, ACHS head coach.
“Our kids expect the final game of the season to mean something — to be playing for a playoff spot.”
So here it is for the Mustangs and Bulldogs.
Horton said the key for the Mustangs will be to stop the Bulldog option offense directed by senior quarterback Galen Ryman. Then there is senior fullback Joseph Wittman, who has rushed for almost 1,200 yards this season. Also in the backfield are halfbacks Cody Chambers, a senior, and junior Alen Troyer.
“This is the third option team we’ve played in four weeks. It all comes down to discipline on defense. Playing the assignments. We have to contain Ryman, who makes very good reads for the offense,” Horton said.
Ryman’s head coach agreed with Horton’s assessment of the Bulldog quarterback.
“Galen is a three-year starter at quarterback for us. He knows this offense and makes decisions on plays at the line of scrimmage,” Hilliard said. “We’re a balanced offense and Galen has combined — throwing and running — for 1,000 yards this season.”
Wittman runs between the tackles a lot for the Bulldogs. Troyer is more of a slashing runner, according to Hilliard.
Hilliard said his offensive line has come together well in the last few weeks. Anderson County’s two losses were to Osawatomie to open the season and to Chanute.
“We have to handle the defensive pressure Iola likes to bring. And it sounds like it could be a wet night and a muddy field Thursday,” Hilliard said. “The team that handles the conditions best and makes the fewest mistakes should win.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs have strong linebackers in seniors Eric Pretzer and Chambers. Hilliard said the biggest difference from last year’s team to this year’s is the Bulldogs are better defensively.
Iola comes off the up-and-down ride of the loss to Chanute last week. But the Mustangs are back at full force.
Senior center Darin Hutton is back from being ill last week. There are changes defensively for Iola in that Chris Heffern, senior, has gone back to linebacker because junior Charles Apt is back in the free safety spot. Junior Marcus Sullivan returns as a cornerback.
Drew Shepherd, a junior, will start at noseguard but sophomore Drew Walden will rotate in for plays at that spot. Also rotating in at linebacker and noseguard will be senior Nick Mueller.
“First off, we have to get our run game going. We’ve talked about it all season. We have to establish control of the line of scrimmage,” Horton said. “If it rains, we should be able to handle the conditions. We’ve played several mud bowls already this season.”
Horton said Apt is starting to throw the ball well again. Senior tight end Seth Walden caught nine passes for 95 yards last week against Chanute.
“The best thing about this situation is we don’t have to rely on anybody else. To get into the playoffs, it’s all up to us. Win and we’re in,” Horton said.