MOUNT VERNON — It has been said that offense leads to wins, but it is defense that wins championships. In all reality, it takes both to be a competitive team.
The Mount Vernon High School football team continues to learn those lessons the hard way, with the latest being a 29-22 setback to the Worthington Kilbourne Wolves on Friday night. The Yellow Jackets’ defense looked strong, giving up only two legitimate touchdowns.
“I was pretty pleased from the standpoint that we were missing one of our top defensive performers — Kolton Wilson,” said Keller. “Trey Williams stepped in and did a pretty good job. I also believe our other kids stepped up and picked up the pace a little bit. They played harder. We’ve been having solid play, especially from our seniors. We have a good group of senior kids, and they are playing hard, accepting the challenge each week. I think that is a credit to them.”
The Wolves scored another time after a Mount Vernon special team’s fumble inside the red zone, and once more by recovering a fumble inside the Jackets’ end zone. Other than that, however, Mount Vernon’s defense, especially up front, controlled the game.
“We’ve got a couple of guys that are doing pretty good,” said Keller. “Our front four are pretty good. John Fernandez, Tyler Lewis, Josh Wright and Zak Palmer are doing a good job of anchoring our defensive line. We also have Dane Cullen that we are able to swing in there sometimes if we need an extra body. Those guys have been doing a nice job. Our linebacking corps of Bradley Fenton, Alec Curry and Derek Baker has also been doing a solid job. Our secondary is even starting to come along. We’ve had some ups and downs, but it is coming together. ... The reason why our defense is starting to play better is because the kids are stepping up and doing the things we need to do.”
The Jacket offense also had a strong outing, piling up 192 yards on the ground. That, Keller believes, is a direct result of what else was going on during the game.
“I think they go hand in hand,” said Keller. “The team feeds off each other. If our defense is doing well, that pumps up our offense and vice versa. I also think that if we get a big play on special teams, that can generate some enthusiasm. We’ve talked about football being a game of momentum, so if we can get that momentum on our side, that goes a long way to enhance the play of our whole team.”
If practice makes perfect, the Jackets may improve on those offensive numbers this week at Hilliard Bradley. Keller has seen improvement each and every day, which can only lead to good things on Friday night.
“Offensively, I think we are making good progress,” Keller said. “Even after (Tuesday) night’s practice, I think we looked more crisp and on the same page. We are executing our offense better. Our quarterback play has improved significantly over the last couple of weeks. (Shawn Maxwell) was put into an unfair situation with only one practice under his belt. It is almost like feeding him to the wolves. His progress has been good. Coach (Jerry) Williams has done an outstanding job in helping him come around. ... I think that even our backup quarterback, Josiah Burney, has improved with the green light being flashed on. He has stepped up and has been showing some good things.”
The Jaguars, in their first year, got off to a great start by winning their first two games. Since then, however, they’ve dropped four in a row, including a 34-6 loss at Big Walnut last week. Hilliard Bradley is averaging just 12.3 points a game, and has given up 130 points in the last three weeks alone. Still, Keller believes the Jaguars are better than their record.
“There is no question that the teams in our conference have some players,” Keller said. “We’ve got to understand that we can’t take anyone lightly and we won’t take anybody lightly. They have played well; they won two games right off the get-go. This is a very tough conference that we play in, and the kids are going to have to be ready to go. It is a test every week.
“I think they are a first-year program and they are going through those first-year growing pains,” added Keller. “There is a mentality that you have to develop and it takes a little bit of time. This is a very demanding conference. Hilliard (Bradley) is going to come out and battle us. They are lacking seniors, but they have some good athletes. They just don’t have that senior leadership that, when you get into a tough situation, can help you turn it around. I can see and understand where they are at. .. That is an advantage for us; I think it is an advantage for anybody that plays them, but I don’t want people to think that this is a gimme. It’s not. They are well coached; they play hard; and they are trying to get their wins just like we are. I look for a great contest on Friday.”
The Mount Vernon coaches have been keeping it simple this week in practice. They aren’t looking at what Bradley can do as much as what their team can accomplish.
“We’ve been preaching this week that we are aiming for a win,” said Keller. “We want to go down and play our best game as a football team. We are working hard in practice, and the attitude and spirit of the team has been high. I think, even though we lost last week, our kids realized that we played with a good football team. To be within a touchdown, within striking distance at the end of the game, has put a little wind back in our sails. Now we have to take that and build on it.”