MOUNT VERNON — The 2009 regular season is drawing to a close with this week’s contest, and the Mount Vernon Yellow Jackets would like nothing better than to cap it off with another victory. Despite last week’s 28-0 loss at Big Walnut, the Jackets (3-6, 2-3 Ohio Capital Conference Capital Division) still believes in themselves and each other.
One look at last week’s numbers and it is easy to see how close the game really was. If there were not three interceptions returned for touchdowns, Mount Vernon would have battled the defending OCC champs to a 7-0 game.
“Our team knows how they can perform; we don’t have to pretend anymore,” said Mount Vernon coach Gary Keller. “They’ve shown they are capable of playing with the big boys in the conference week after week. Now, whether we have the firepower is still in question a little bit. It can’t be just up to the offense. Our defense and special teams have to create ways to score and counter what the other team is doing. ... That was obvious last week. (Big Walnut’s) defense scored three times on us.
“I thought our kids played really well in the trenches,” Keller added. “I thought we did a good job stopping their people. You take away those three mistakes, and it is 7-0. They moved the ball a little bit, but they only scored one time offensively. I thought we were very evenly matched.”
The Jackets’ play this season has been consistently improved, which is somewhat surprising considering the circumstances Mount Vernon has found itself in. A rash of injuries at key positions could have decimated the team, but instead, the Jackets stepped up their play, finding ways to compete and win. That is a testament to the players and coaches.
“Look at the changes, and you can see how we’ve improved,” said Keller. “When you look at the changes to our personnel that happened throughout the year, you can see how much we improved. Any team that loses their starting quarterback at the point where we lost ours, any team that lost their starting running back at the point we did would be lucky to have the success we did. We lost Mark Lawson, who was one of our mainstays on the offensive line at right tackle, before the season even got going. We lost our kicker for several games.
“Those are critical mishaps for our football team, so for our team to recover the way we did, you have to give our kids a lot of credit. They hung in there and won under those circumstances. We are a very competitive football team, much more than we have been.”
Heading into the final week, there is not much riding on the game for the Jackets. There is no conference title and no playoffs like other teams. What there is, however, is a chance to be a thorn in the New Albany Eagles’ side.
New Albany, with a win, could secure a piece of the OCC Capital title and keep its outside shot at the playoffs alive. The Eagles are coming off a 42-21 defeat of Delaware on Friday night, the Pacers first conference loss.
“They are an excellent football team,” Keller said of New Albany. “They are well coached with lots of firepower. They’ve got a lot of ways to score. They use a lot of formations, and have several big-time players on their team. One of the players has already committed to Indiana, if I’m not mistaken. They play good defense; they’ve got a good kicking game. There is a reason why they are a championship-caliber football team.”
Across the board, the Eagles have a wealth of talent. Quarterback Joe Morlan (64-of-101, 1,279 yards) leads a deep offensive attack. Bryant Bednarek (five interceptions) anchors a defense allowing 22.5 points a game.
“All you have to do is look at the film,” said Keller. “They are explosive. They are more explosive than any team we’ve played so far this year. They’ll lineup with two receivers that can go the distance at any point. Their quarterback is excellent; he makes good decisions and puts the ball where it needs to be. Their running backs are hard-nosed kids. They do a lot, and they do it well. They are the most balanced football team I’ve seen in my three years here. The reason for their success is not just offensively. You win championships by playing good defense, and they are playing good defense too.
“This is going to be a challenge for our kids; each and every week is a challenge for our kids,” Keller added. “They are a highly talented squad. We are going to have to play our best game in order to compete with these people. If we don’t, we could be in trouble. ... I think we can match up with them. We just have to handle the pressure. There is no question that they have the momentum on their side right now. They know good things are going to happen if they beat Mount Vernon.”
The one motivation that the Jackets do have in this game is their seniors. This will be the last time they step out onto the field at Yellow Jacket Stadium, and Keller would like to send them out with a win to say thank you for all they’ve done over the last three years.
“This senior class is a solid group of guys,” said Keller. “We have 21 seniors, not all of them are starters, but they have all contributed. They have dedicated themselves to seeing this season through and being successful. We’ve had ups and downs, but they come out each week to play football. They always show up and give a great effort. I think the fans realize that. Overall, they have given us good leadership this season.
“No question, it is going to be tough to see this group leave. We’ve had some really good people, students, student-athletes in this group. To lose this group is going to be hard. They are a special group. I wish we could have been more successful. I thought we did the best job we can. We’ve been able to produce more wins this year, and we are a very competitive football team. They are a good group of kids.”