MOUNT VERNON — The final home game. Playing Big Walnut. That’s enough to get the Mount Vernon football players and coaches excited.
But, this Friday’s game has some added incentive. The Yellow Jackets are in the race for the Ohio Capital Conference title for the first time since 2006. They are currently tied for second place with the Eagles, who visit Friday at 7:30 p.m., just one game behind league-leader New Albany.
“I think we have a different attitude right now. We believe we can win ballgames. We’re playing hard and with an attitude. I think that momentum really helps our team,” said Mount Vernon coach Gary Keller. “Right now, practicing in this situation where we’re still in the hunt is a good thing for us. It’s something new for our kids. I think they’ve enjoyed it. We’re looking forward to playing Big Walnut.”
The Jackets (5-3 overall, 4-1 OCC) have their work cut out for them, though, with the Eagles (7-1, 4-1). Big Walnut may be coming off a huge loss to New Albany, but the Eagles still bring a solid football team with a good offense that’s caused a lot of teams trouble.
Junior Tyler Beam runs the wide-open offense for the Eagles. He’s a dual threat as he has passed for 395 yards and also rushed for another 317.
“Big Walnut is a team that likes to throw and use multiple formations. It’s a different mindset and our secondary will be more responsible. Bradley Fenton will control the defensive secondary calls. We’ll have him making the checks on the different formations,” Keller said.
The defensive line will also be key for the Jackets in attempting to stop Beam. Zack Shoro, Josh Wright, Zane Smith and Derek Woodruff will have their work cut out for them
“We’ll have to get a pass rush with our defensive line. I think we’ll be able to do that, but the thing that hurts us is they’re in the gun most of the time. It makes it a little more difficult for our defensive line to get to the quarterback because of the distance he’s away from the line of scrimmage,” Keller said. “We’re going to try to get after him and try to keep him contained. He’s a quarterback who can move the ball around. He’s elusive. He’s got good speed. We might shut down the routes, but he’s a threat to run the ball. We really have to keep him corralled inside with our defensive line pressure.”
The Eagles aren’t afraid to run the ball, though. Lucas Garcia, a 5-foot-8, 150-pound junior, leads the team with 618 yards and six touchdowns. Another elusive back is Nick Shyrock, who has 318 yards. Big Walnut can also power it inside with Jacob Walaszek, a 6-1, 220-pound senior who has 266 yards and four TDs.
The best way for the Jackets to keep the Eagle offense under control may be its own offense. A good, time-consuming, ball-control offense would keep the ball away from the Eagles and their powerful offense.
The Jackets have been doing just that, especially the last four games, averaging 282 yards a game rushing in that win streak.
Senior Jordan Montgomery has led a Jacket offense that’s averaging 282 yards rushing in winning its last four games. He rushed for 129 yards and passed for another 54 in last week’s victory over Watkins Memorial.
Junior Leevi Stump is leading the team with 835 yards rushing and has three runs of longer than 50 yards.
“I think now we have an identification with our offense and what we’re trying to do. Whether it’s Monty, Ethan Abell, Leevi or any of the other guys, we’re getting yards and points. That’s what we need to win ballgames,” Keller said.
The biggest thing Keller has stressed all year has been getting better each week. That will have to happen again this Friday against Big Walnut.
“We’re trying to play our best game. It’s still out there. Hopefully, Friday, we’ll play our best game,” he said. “We’re getting better and better. We just have to continue to take that next step.”
For this year’s senior class, Friday’s game is also its last time on the field at Yellow Jacket Stadium. That, along with all the other stuff at hand, will make for an emotional night for players, coaches and fans.
“The last home game is important to the seniors. This has been a good group. It’ll bring more emotion to the game and the idea of where we’re at will add enough spice. It’ll be like icing on the cake. The kids will definitely be ready,” Keller said. “The community has been very supportive this year. When you hear the crowd yelling positive things, it means a lot to the players. They feed off that.”