SPARTA — In last year’s playoffs, against Ironton, the Highland Fighting Scots took what could only be described as a beatdown on the gridiron.
You’d think that would be something the Highland players would dwell on as they prepare for Friday’s rematch in the regional semifinals at Logan.
“We’re excited to play this game,” Highland head coach Chad Carpenter said. “Typically there would be a lot of nervousness in a game like this, but the players are excited.”
Carpenter says last year’s playoff game was not indicitive of how well the team played all year.
“We had some guys sick, our top running back was hurt, we had a four-hour drive –– all those things added up to the loss,” Carpenter said.
This year, the Scots are healthy and ready. But like last year, it won’t be easy. Last year Ironton dominated their first-round playoff game from beginning to end, outgaining the Scots 257-174 on the ground en route to a 36-0 victory.
Once again, Ironton comes into their playoff matchup with a heavy advantage, literally. Their linemen average 47 pounds heavier per man than Highland. And they dominated another large team last week in Coshocton, gaining 342 yards on the ground in their 32-12 win.
The difference this year: Highland has had more success with the passing game in 2010. Josh Gahm’s 822 passing yards and 102.9 passer rating was enough to earn him all-district honorable mention. And tight end Matt Stooksbury is generally regarded as one of the best all-around tight ends in the state.
“We still play the same game. We both like to control the line of scrimmage,” Carpenter said. “They’re bigger than us. Every one of those guys is huge. But we’ve faced bigger teams all year long,” Carpenter said.
Ironton’s top rusher, Zack Shaw, can pound through the line. But the Fighting Tigers can spread the wealth. Last week, no running back earned 100 yards. Tyler Hager and Bryan Warner each had 90, Trevor White had 82 and Tres Wilks had 52. Ironton might appear on paper to be a one-dimensional team. But by spreading the ball around, and using the sheer size of their blockers, their offense has all the makings of a true juggernaut.
“That’s what it comes down to. We have to beat them on the line, stop their running game, and force them into doing something they’re not typically doing,” Carpenter said.
Ironton does not throw often. Their T-formation is not suited for an air attack. But when they have to, they’ll turn to the arm of quarterback Tommy Waginger. He has thrown for just 351 yards this season, but that’s just enough to keep defenses honest. Their leading receiver in yardage, Michael Lawless, averages 24 yards per catch.
“Speedwise, we match up with them well. I think we’re almost equal,” Carpenter said.