Trojans look to rebound
MOUNT UNION — For Mount Union football coach David Smith, it’s deja vu all over again. The Trojans started last season 5-1 until injuries and illness saw them lose five straight to end the season — including a 56-10 loss at the hands of Bishop McCort in the District 6 Class 2A playoffs.
Flash forward to the present. Mount Union, thanks to a rash of injuries, has lost three consecutive games to fall from a third seed down to sixth. Next up is a road meeting with — you guessed it — the Crushers in the opening round of this year’s tourmament. Game time is 7 p.m. Saturday at Point Stadium in Johnstown.
For Smith, the three straight losses haven’t damaged the Trojans mentally as they head into the second season.
“Our psyche is great. The problem is injuries. We are very beat up. Our starting lineup has been different for three weeks,” Smith said. “Three weeks in a row we’ve constantly been rotating guys in and out of the lineup. Our psyche is in the right place. We are anxious and excited to play another game of football. We’re ready to go. The playoffs are a whole new season.”
The third-seeded Crushers went 8-2 in the regular season, with their losses coming at the hands of three-time PIAA champion Bishop Guilfoyle (19-0) and Class 4A playoff contender Johnstown (23-15).
“We did meet them last year, but McCort is way different from a year ago. They do similar things but with different personnel in some spots. Regardless, they are still very good,” Smith said. “This year they may be even bigger and stronger. We are going to have to work hard on the inside to stop those guys because they are so big. We are going to try a couple of things to give them a different look.”
Bishop McCort scores at a 32-point per game clip with all of its damage inflicted by a solid ground game. The rushing attack averages a whopping 334 yards a contest and uses a three-headed backfield approach.
Seniors Carnell Andrews (1,136 yards, 10 TDs) and Anthony Walters (941 yards, 17 scores), along with sophomore quarterback Will Miller (542 yards, five TDs) lead the Crusher rushing attack. Walters is a two-time PIAA runner-up in wrestling, while Andrews placed fifth a year ago at Hershey.
“Their fullback (Walters) is a tank. It takes a lot to bring him down. He is an absolute beast when he has the ball, so we’re going to have to get plenty of guys on him,” Smith said. “It’s a tall order, but it’s something we have to do. We have to stop their running game and control the clock when we’re on offense.”
The Crusher defense, led by Walters, limited opponents to only 14 points a game during the regular season. McCort must be at its best if it hopes to stop Mount Union star running back Daunte Martin.
Martin became the all-time leading rusher in Trojan history and the No. 2 rusher in Huntingdon County history this season. The senior racked up 1,721 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2017 and has career totals of 4,264 yards and 58 TDs.
The Trojan offense, similar to the Crushers, scores 32 points a game with 242 yards coming on the ground. With Martin being the majority of the offensive production, Smith must keep McCort guessing and not keying on the talented Mount Union back all game.
“We must get the passing game going, so they can’t key only on Daunte. We have to have other guys step up, make plays, and take the load off of him,” Smith said. “If 11 guys think of one person, there isn’t much of a challenge there, but if we can make them respect everyone else’s game that’s what’s going to open him up.”
Mount Union (6-4) has its hands full on defense and needs to get solid performances from linebacker Tavin McMickens (74 tackles, four sacks), defensive end Levi Hockenberry (67 tackles, eight sacks), linebacker Jake Ryan (four sacks), and defensive back Ethan Carbaugh.
Facing Bishop McCort is a cumbersome task.
“For us to be successful, we have to swarm to the ball, find those other contributors, and make the plays we need to make,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a tall task even if we are healthy. They are a solid football team, maybe even better than last year.”