Mount Union faces daunting opponent

MOUNT UNION — First, the good news: The Mount Union football team, under first-year coach David Smith, made the District 6 Class 2A playoffs.

Now the bad news — the sixth-seeded Trojans are limping into the fray, losers of four straight after a 5-1 start and saddled with injuries. Standing in their way is a tough Bishop McCort squad, who get to play a home game at Point Stadium in Johnstown on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

“We certainly would like to be healthier and be on a roll heading into the playoffs but we are not going to let that us hold us back. We are going to show up and give it our all. We lost several kids for the year. Honestly, I have no depth left,” Mount Union coach David Smith said. “Playing Saturday gives us the chance to rest up an extra day and get some kids ready.  I would have liked to finish the regular season a little stronger than we did, but we are glad to be in the playoffs. Everybody is 0-0 now. It’s a new start.”

The Crushers, seeded third, went 8-2 in the regular season, with their losses coming at the hands of two-time PIAA champion Bishop Guilfoyle (31-14) and 4A playoff contender Johnstown (34-20).

Bishop McCort scores 37 point per game with most of its damage inflicted by a solid ground attack. The rushing contingent averages 241 yards a contest and uses a backfield by committee approach. Six players on the roster have more than 200 yards rushing for the season.

Juniors Anthony Walters (90 attempts, 634 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Carnell Andrews (48-for-321, six TDs) make up the all-star wrestling starting backfield. Walters placed second at the PIAA wrestling championships last season at 170 pounds and Andrews qualified for states at 138. Senior quarterback Levi Cook ran for 358 yards and passed for 781 on the season.

Other quality backs are seniors Andre Nash (260 yards) and Kristian Fleming (213 yards) and junior Imil Britt (257 yards). If the Trojans have any hope of winning, stopping the Crusher rushing attack is paramount.

“They run a lot and are productive on offense. The quarterback is good, he is a big kid about 220 pounds. They are a solid team,” Smith said.

Defensively, McCort gives up just 12 points per game with senior linebacker Ridge Phillips (101 tackles, 15.5 for loss) leading the way. Walters (77 tackles, 5.5 for loss), junior defensive end Zach Goins (four sacks) and Britt (four interceptions) anchor the Crusher defense.

Smith hopes to counter the defense with a balanced attack on offense. The Trojans average 155 yards on the ground and 142 yards a game through the air. Running back Daunte Martin is the main man on offense. The junior rushed for 1,367 yards and 16 touchdowns in the regular season. He’s a threat at receiver as well with 14 grabs for 167 yards and a score.

Senior quarterback Devon Kuhstos comes in with 1,360 yards passing with 10 scores. He also has four rushing touchdowns on the season. His main targets are wideouts Cole Wilson (20-359-1), Quinton Posey (18-364-3) and tight end Zach Brenneman (17-251-2).

The Mount Union defense is led by linebackers James Woods (93 tackles) and Pat Walker (86 tackles) and defensive linemen Cole Ritchey (72 tackles, four sacks) and Tucker Helfick (four sacks).

According to Smith, playing mistake-free football and winning the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball are keys to a Trojan victory on Saturday.

“First off, we have to play turnover-free football. Protect the ball and be fundamentally sound. We have to be engaged in all three phases of the game,” Smith said. “Our offense has been doing well, but not well enough.  It all starts up front. We have to slow down their rushing attack and make them throw. We must take advantage of our opportunities.”

Notes: Mount Union was in fourth place and in line to host a playoff game before its four-game slide. At the end of the season, the Trojans dropped from fifth to sixth on a tiebreaker with West Shamokin (opponents’ winning percentage, the third criteria).