MOUNT UNION - Going into Friday night's game against Inter-County Conference Gold Division leader Northern Bedford, the Mount Union football team knew it had a lot to overcome.
In the five games leading up to this matchup, Northern Bedford's defense had allowed an average of one touchdown per game. Northern Bedford also had a tough passing game. So to get Mount Union also had to be careful on defense. What the Trojans didn't see coming, however, was that it would be their own miscues that would turn out to be the biggest obstacle they would face all night.
In the 28-7 loss, Mount Union had plenty of opportunities to make it a closer game. The Trojans had 173 total yards, an improvement over last week's game against Bellwood-Antis, and they got the ball in the red zone a number of times. But penalties were the killer, and Mount Union could never again find the end zone after its score in the first quarter.
But if the Trojans were a major part of their own undoing, no one would have seen it coming in the opening drive of the game.
Getting the ball on its own 27 after a kickoff return from Bryn Brown, Mount Union put together several nice runs. Dylan Smith had a 13-yard run and a 24-yard rush from quarterback Trevon Walker set up a 23-yard touchdown run by Walker with 8:51 left in the first quarter. Northern Bedford's notoriously stifling defense, at least at first, appeared to not be a problem.
But then reality set in.
r Mount Union hosts Everett on Oct. 12
If Northern Bedford was fazed by Mount Union's quick strike, it didn't show. Breaking open the passing game right away, Northern Bedford moved the ball downfield at a rapid rate, eventually finding the end zone through a 6-yard sprint from Conner Kagarise seven minutes later.
Northern Bedford then scored again with 1:20 left in the second quarter to make it 14-7 going into the half, but the Trojans were still hanging strong. The offensive yardage at the half was close to equal for both teams, and it was either team's game to win.
But failure to convert on Mount Union's part would eventually result in the loss. Mount Union just couldn't put together any more scoring drives, and two more scores from Northern Bedford sealed the win for the Panthers.
Looking back at the game, Mount Union coach Corey Wertz thought his offense looked strong all night, but it was penalties which turned out to be his team's Achilles heel.
"We looked at the chart at half time, and every play was positive yardage - every play except two or three. But that doesn't count the penalties. The penalties pushed us back, and pushed us back. We've got to eliminate those. That was uncharacteristic of us to have so many penalties today," Wertz said.
One example of how penalties killed the Trojans occurred in the second quarter when Mount Union had the ball on Northern Bedford's nine. But a holding penalty, combined with a sack and two incomplete passes, forced Mount Union to lose the ball on downs.
Mount Union again had a chance to score after an 80-yard kick return from Brown again put the ball on Northern Bedford's 9-yard line. Mount Union again failed to convert and ended up relinquishing the ball on downs.
The real kicker about the turnover? On the very next play, Kagarise ran the ball 95 yards to score Northern Bedford's forth and final touchdown of the game.
"Two times we were at the nine...but we don't score either time. That's big in the game," Wertz said.
But even if Mount Union missed opportunities to score, credit Northern Bedford for a great game. Over had 232 total passing yards. Tayler Pressel got open to gather 145 receiving yards.
Despite the tough loss, Wertz is looking to the future.
"You've got to move forward. You can't dwell on it. You've got to fix your mistakes and move forward and improve. And if we don't do that, it's going to get worse, it's going to snowball."
Mount Union (2-4, 1-2) hosts ICC opponent Everett on Friday.