Pregame Outlook—

Mustangs clash with Titans in SEK play

By JOCELYN SHEETS
Register Sports Editor

Register/Jocelyn Sheets
When Iola High’s Mustangs play Columbus High’s Titans, it is old-fashioned smash-mouth football. The two Southeast Kansas League foes face off to open the season each year and the game sets a tone for the season. Both teams made the Class 4A playoffs a year ago.

Coaches know that for their teams to be better they have to play better teams.
Iola High’s Mustangs begin the 2009 football season doing just that. According to the Southeast Kansas League coaches’ preseason poll Columbus High’s Titans are neck-and-neck with Pittsburg High’s Purple Dragons atop the SEK.
Under the first Friday night lights of the season, the Mustangs go into “one of the rowdiest places we play” to place the Titans in SEK action. Game time is 7 p.m. at Columbus High’s stadium.
“This is a test to see where we are at because Columbus is a big, physical team. And playing at their place is a big advantage for them,” said Rick Horton, Mustang head coach.
“Columbus’ fans are very vocal and do a good job of being in the game. We’ve talked to our kids about the atmosphere they’ll be in Friday.”
With that said, Horton likes his team’s chances.
“Hey, I believe our team is one of the better teams in the league and our kids have given great effort in preparing for this season,” Horton said.
“There are no surprises. We know what they do and they know what we do offensively.”
Horton and Columbus High head coach Dan Grundy both told the Register, “our kids are ready to hit someone else.” Both coaches talked about how their players are excited about the season opening.
Iola against Columbus tops the football schedule each season. It’s a proving ground for the teams.
A year ago, the Mustangs and Titans battled in Iola with Columbus rallying late to win 12-7. The Titans scored with 14 seconds left to take the lead.
Some of the personnel on each team from that hard fought league contest have changed, while some are back for another round of Iola-Columbus football.
“We’re a very senior- heavy team with great leadership,” Grundy said of the Titans. “We’ve been able to push ahead in our progress this season because the kids know the system and we haven’t had to go back to square one as in the past.”
The Titans are led in their spread offense by senior quarterback Damion Tinnin. Columbus returns its top running back in senior Lewis Kellogg and top receiver, 6-4 senior Matt Crain.
Columbus is also much bigger up front along the offensive line than Iola. Senior Tank Burns is 6-2 and 270 and senior David Lloyd is 5-10, 250 as the team’s offensive guards.
“We know they’re bigger than we are. Most teams will be bigger, but we have speed. They have all-state caliber players on their offense so that’s their strength,” Horton said.
“Our strength is our defense. It will be strength against strength.”
The Mustangs are set to use quickness to offset the size of the Titans. “We fly to the football defensively and our kids hit hard,” Horton said.
Leading the defensive charge is All-SEK linebacker Kyler Thompson, a 6-2, 221-pound senior. Thompson led the Mustangs in tackles a year ago.
“Kyler has slimmed down and is playing at a faster speed this season,” Horton said.
Thompson combines with four other linebackers making up the heart of the Iola defense. They are seniors Seth Walden, Chris Heffern and Shane Snavely and junior Kyle Heffern.
Iola has bookend defensive ends in senior twin brothers Aaron and Ethan Fulton. Playing at noseguard is sophomore Drew Walden.
Speed is in the defensive backfield also with juniors Marcus Sullivan and Charles Apt and senior Seth Browning.
Thompson also helps anchor the Mustang offensive line with classmate Darin Hutton (6-1, 260) on the left side. The rest of the offensive line is new.
“We had a great practice Wednesday and our offensive line is gelling. We’ve got Drew Shepherd at center with Carlin Turner and Kyle Heffern at right guard and right tackle,” Horton said.
Directing the Iola offense is Apt (6-2, 187) at quarterback. Sullivan returns as the starting tailback and Chris Heffern starting as fullback. Seth Walden is a three-year starter at tight end.
Browning, sophomore Jerrik Sigg and senior Connor Frazell are rotating at the wide receiver spots.
“The big thing is we need to be assignment correct to be successful. We have to take advantage of the mismatches on offense,” Horton said.
Iola has one advantage — the kicking game. Frazell is one of the top placekickers in the state plus punts and puts the football in the end zone for touchbacks on kickoffs more than not.