SPARTA — Most football coaches can give you an approximate time things came together for their team during the course of a successful season. Highland coach Chad Carpenter knows the exact moment it happened for his Scots — when they kicked a last-second field goal to beat Northmor in Week 4.
The Scots hustled onto the field as time was expiring and Zack Miller booted a 36-yard field goal to give them a 25-23 victory. Highland went on to win its next six games and advance to the Division IV state playoffs. The Scots will open those playoffs Saturday when they travel to Ironton to play the Tigers at 7 p.m.
“It was rocky in the beginning. The kids never gave up, we just kept battling all year,” Carpenter said. “It just finally clicked at Northmor. After the Northmor game when we kicked that field goal with time expiring, that was the turning point of our season. From that point on, you could just see in the kids’ eyes, as soon as that game was won, something clicked. We came in the locker room after and they were so excited. That was the point where the kids really believed, ‘Hey, we can do this.’”
The Scots (8-2) had started the season losing two of their first three games, but the Northmor win helped get things started on the road to their fourth straight playoff appearance. They used a late stand to hold off perennial power Marion Pleasant the next week, then cruised through the final five games, outscoring their opponents 184-13 the rest of the way.
As a reward, the Scots now get to travel three hours to Ironton to take on another strong traditional team in the Tigers. Ironton is making its 27th appearance in the state playoffs, including 10 of the last 11 years. Ironton is led by Bob Lutz, the winningest coach in Ohio high school football history with 362 victories. The Tigers won the state championship in 1979 and ’89 and have finished runner-up six times, the latest being 1999.
“They’ve got a lot of tradition. We’re excited to get down and see that,” Carpenter. “I don’t think it’s going to intimidate this group at all.”
The Tigers (8-2) will mirror the Scots a lot on offense, as both teams run similar styles. But there will be one big difference — the line. Ironton’s linemen average nearly 260 pounds and has three guys that tip the scales at more than 300 pounds.
“They’re real big, physical kids. They’re the biggest we’ve seen all year,” Carpenter said. “They run our offense, so we’re very familiar with that. We’ll just try to keep it simple and do it well.”
The Tigers spread it around offensively, as several players have rushed for more than 500 yards. Quarterback Ethan Preston leads the attack as he can rush it as well. Tailbacks Tres Wilks and J.P. Taylor and fullback Keith Wetzel lead the three-pronged attack that averages 350 yards rushing and 30-plus points a game.
The Scots counter with the big-play ability of Justin Staton. The senior has rushed for 1,559 yards and 22 touchdowns to lead the area and the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference.
But, this year, the Scots are more than a one-dimensional team. Junior Artie McAndrew (550 yards rushing, four TDs) and senior Matt Young (462 yards rushing, six TDs) have helped give Highland a nice balance offensively.
“Our backs have run hard and they’re really starting to play well. It’s been a complete team effort. It’s taken a little bit of the pressure off of Justin. We don’t feel like we have to give him the ball every down. Now we can mix it around a bit, which has definitely worked to our advantage this year,” Carpenter said.
“We’ve had a lot of kids step up and fill key positions this year. It took us a while to get there, but right now we’re playing pretty well.”