Spartans ready for homecoming battle

Homecoming is always a big game for any high school football team, but Friday’s Mississippi Valley Conference match-up between Sparta and Onalaska is bigger in more ways than one.
The Spartans haven’t won multiple games in the MVC for a decade, but last week’s 34-20 road win at La Crosse Central gives the Spartan gridders an opportunity it hasn’t had in quite a while.
The Hilltoppers are coming off a 29-28 overtime victory over West Salem, which improved their record to 2-0 in MVC action and 3-1 overall.
Sparta has just one MVC victory and a 1-3 overall mark, but the Spartan gridders have their sights set on a second straight win that will keep them in the playoff hunt.
It’s a new week and a new opponent, but for Spartan head coach John Blaha, it’s business as usual.
“We try not to change our approach week to week,” he offered.
“We believe if we take care of things in our power – the turnovers, penalties, correct alignment on defense and mental focus – that we will be in a great game and then we just have to make plays when the opportunities arise,” continued Blaha.
Defensively, the Hilltoppers will run multiple fronts (four and five) and play a lot of cover two shell that rotates to motion.
“They do a good job of forcing teams to take chances and be riskier than they normally are,” said Blaha.
“Offensively, they throw a lot of formations at you and make you adjust. They do not huddle and either go on a quick snap or change their call on the line,” he continued. “Their base offense is a split-back veer, but they will run a single back and trips to see if you adjust.”
Blaha said the keys for Sparta on both sides of the ball are reads.
“Defensively, we must improve our pad level and key reads, prevent big plays and continue to ensure we are gap and assignment sound against the option,” offered Blaha.
“They have won two games in overtime by being sound with the ball and using their multiple formations to find a weakness in the defensive adjustments,” he added.
“Offensively, we must start like we did against Central,” continued Blaha. “We had sound execution, but we must limit our turnovers, We must also be able to run when they leave seven in the box and force them out of their two high safety look.”
Blaha said Hilltoppers to watch Friday include running backs Jalen Zubich and Josiah LeFebre, wide received Jalen Sample and defensive tackle Konrad Ernst.
Against West Salem last week, Sample caught three touchdown passes from quarterback Brayton Duin and finished with six catches for 93 yards, while Zubich carried rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown.
Friday’s MVC match-up between the Spartans and the Hilltoppers is set to get underway at 7 p.m. at Sparta Memorial Field.

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