SPARTA — The only way to distinguish the Ironton Fighting Tigers from the Sparta Highland Fighting Scots will be by the color of their uniforms.
Not only is each team 8-2 on the season, but Ironton and Highland are similar in their offensive approach. Both teams use the T-formation and like to run the ball while using the passing game when the opportunity arises.
However, orange-and-black Ironton relies on a plethora of running backs in their stable while red-white-and-blue Highland looks to 6-foot, 172-pound senior workhorse Justin Staton.
Staton who has rushed 247 times for 1,566 yards — a 6.3 yards per carry average — and has scored 20 touchdowns.
Seventh-year head coach Chad Carpenter changed the Scots from a spread offensive to a running team when he arrived and he has produced four straight playoff appearances at a program that had only one prior trip in 1999.
The running style is evident by the production of quarterback Jake Ultrey who is 23-of-52 for 362 yards and only one interception.
“We ran the wing-T for years and we dabbled with the T. We found we had three guys who could carry the ball this year, so we played around with it a little more,” said Carpenter.
“We ran it a little more and had some success. When I saw Ironton ran it, I was really surprised. It’s not very popular any more.”
Also in the backfield and getting more touches this year are Artie McAndrew (5-10, 150) and Matt Young (5-9, 160).
“Prior to this year, we’ve been a one-back offense. We wanted to try and go away from it this year,” said Carpenter. “We had some younger guys step up. We feel comfortable giving it to them and letting them run. We still have one primary back but we give it to other backs to keep teams honest.”
Carpenter said there are some differences. While Ironton likes the inside belly series, he prefers to run more of an outside belly.
“Their blocking schemes are different. It looks the same, but it’s not,” said Carpenter.
One glaring difference isn’t in what they do, but what they’re doing it with. Ironton has a definite size advantage. That’s nothing new to the Scots who have been the smallest team on the field all season.
“They give us a lot of problems because they’re a mixture of a lot of teams we see. We’ve seen some teams that are big up front, but they’re not that fast. Ironton kids move really well, and then of course all their skilled kids. They run to the ball well,” said Carpenter.
The Scots biggest lineman is right tackle Dustin Eichom who stands 6-1, 256. Left tackle Ethan Zuber is 6-5, 220, but the next biggest linemen are center Jason Belz at 6-0, 204 and end Matt Stooksbury at 6-4, 200.
“Our kids are not very big, but they worked hard in the off-season to get strong,” said Carpenter. “The difference is our kids are a lot quicker. They get off the ball well. That’s been an advantage for us. The kids are not so big on the line but they’re scrappers.”
Carpenter said the key is keeping his players’ mentally focused on playing the game.
“I don’t want the kids to get caught up in the size difference. I want them to focus on the game plan and to control the ball,” said Carpenter.
“We want to play solid defense and run to the ball well. I want them to enjoy the opportunity to play. We want to keep it close in the fourth quarter and give us a chance to win.”