Cross-county rivals duke it out on the gridiron Friday

It’s been a long time since a gridiron match-up between Sparta and Tomah took on more significance than just your average high school football rivalry.
Make no mistake about it, the Sparta-Tomah rivalry is a great one, but when the Spartans and the Timberwolves meet under the Friday night lights tomorrow at Sparta Memorial Field, it will be much more than a rivalry game.
Both teams will be fighting for a playoff spot.
It’s simple, really, for the Spartans – a win gives them a chance and a loss pretty much shuts the playoff door.
“If we win our last two and finish above .500 in the conference, we will qualify,” said Spartan head coach John Blaha. “If we lose, we’re unlikely to make the playoff field.”
But winning two games isn’t on Blaha’s mind right now, because he knows Friday’s match-up is the only thing on Sparta’s plate at the moment.
The Spartans are coming off a big MVC road victory over La Crosse Aquinas and Blaha and his staff are working hard to carry that momentum over to Friday’s game against the Timberwolves.
“We need to keep our focus on what we can control,” he offered.
“We need to ensure we are getting better every practice,” continued Blaha. “We need to make sure we understand we will make mistakes, but with high effort and helping each other and focus on the next play – we can have success.”
As for the Sparta-Tomah rivalry, Blaha is looking at it as an opportunity for his team to compete and improve.
“We expect high effort, focus and intensity in every game and every play if we want to be a good team,” he added.
Tomah runs pro-style formations with an I-back on offense, and has had a lot of success running the football.
Blaha said the Timberwolves also like to catch opponents in with eight or nine players in the box by passing over the top or running a bubble screen.
Defensively, the Timberwolves primarily play a 4-4 that employs double A-gap tackles, and they like to walk their outside linebackers up to the tight-end side of the ball.
In the defensive backfield, Tomah plays mainly a cover three with a mix of one in short-yardage situations.
Sparta will have to focus on Tomah running back Josh Peardot, who has rushed for more than 200 yards in back-to-back games.
“We have to be gap sound and ensure we attack the openings in their offensive line from out linebacker positions,” said Blaha. “We have to improve our key reads with all the guard pulling they do.”
Sparta enters Friday’s game with a 2-3 MVC record and a 2-5 overall mark, while Tomah comes in with a 3-2 league record and a 4-3 overall mark.

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