Pregame Outlook —

Mustangs out to prove something

Register Sports Editor

Register/Jocelyn Sheets
A year ago on a muddy and wet field at Central Heights Iola High’s Marcus Sullivan (22) found running room. Sullivan scored the winning touchdown in overtime as the Mustangs beat the Vikings 24-17. Central Heights comes to Iola Friday for a rematch.

Challenges were made.
“We challenged the kids after last week. We need to control the line of scrimmage,” said Rick Horton, Iola High head coach.
Iola High’s Mustangs have to find confidence after losing 34-10 at Columbus last Friday. Central Heights High’s Vikings are buoyed with confidence coming off a 30-7 win over Uniontown.
“Plus Central Heights comes into this game knowing they took us to overtime last year at their place. They are the smaller school and played right with the ‘4A’ team,” Horton pointed out.
The Mustangs and Vikings meet for only the second time in the schools’ histories Friday at Iola’s Riverside Park. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
And much like last year — a game Iola won 24-17 in overtime at Richmond — the teams look to be playing on a muddy and wet field.
The Vikings come to Iola under a new head coach, Mike Swendson, but not much has changed with the team. Swendson was an assistant under longtime head coach Kevin Tooley, who retired at the end of the school year.
“We haven’t changed much but we have new players in positions they haven’t played because we graduated a good group of players from last year,” Swendson said. “So we had question marks going into the season.”
The Vikings started an-swering those questions in the second half of last week’s game at Uniontown. Down 7-6 at halftime, the Vikings powered to 24 second-half points behind the work of their offensive line.
“What helped late in the game was our size up front and our conditioning. We have the ability to run the football,” Swendson said.
Senior fullback J.D. Johnson (5-8, 165) moved from being a lineman last year to the Viking backfield. Johnson and sophomore tailback Dalton Schwab (5-9, 160) scored the touchdowns for the Vikings against the Eagles. Schwab had three scores and Johnson scored twice.
Skye Mills, a 6-2, 185-pound senior, stepped into the starting quarterback role for Central Heights.
Providing the blocking up front for the Vikings are seniors Aaron Wilson (5-11, 290), Travis Venniro (6-0, 240), Cody Hoskins (6-2, 250) and Russell Hampton (6-3, 280) and junior Tyler Conus (6-0, 260).
“Central Heights runs out of a power I offense. There’s nothing fancy. They just want to run the ball down your throat,” Horton said.
“That’s what we want to do also. That’s the challenge for our team this week. We have to be better in the trenches and provide the blocking necessary for us to run the football.”
Horton and the Mustangs know they are facing another team with a bigger front line, offensively and defensively, but Iola’s head coach said the Iola offensive line has under gone some adjustments.
“We realized our splits were too tight and we’ve corrected that. The challenge is to our offensive linemen to create a crease so our runners can hit a gash and gain yardage,” Horton said.
Iola will have Drew Shepherd back at center this week. Shepherd suffered bruised ribs during last week’s game but is good to go this week.
Swendson said the Vikings’ main concern with the Mustangs is “their speed. They are faster than we are so we have to be sound in how we play on both sides of the football. Iola has some good skill players back and we’re playing in Iola. It’s always tough to play on the road.”
And the Vikings will have opened the season with back-to-back road games. Swendson said he was pleased with how the Viking defense played last week.
As for the Mustang defense, “we addressed the missed tackles. We forced three turnovers last week but we just didn’t celebrate that much. We need more intensity on the field. We have to get better at what we do — pursue the ball and hit hard on defense, run the ball on offense,” Horton said.
Note: On Monday, Iola travels to Central Heights for a junior varsity game starting at 4:30 p.m. There will be no freshman game or even a fifth quarter. Central Heights had 15 players available for the game.