MOUNT CARMEL -- Mount Carmel built an early 20-point lead, and despite a late Mount Vernon charge, held on to narrowly defeat the Wildcats 30-24 at Riverview Stadium on Friday night, in a game that came down to the last drive of the ballgame.
If you're a fan of controversy and explosive plays, this was the game for you.
Mount Carmel's (2-0) first touchdown of the game came in controversial fashion, with Mount Vernon shanking a punt down the Mount Carmel sideline. The ball appeared to land out of bounds, but followed with a high bounce in bounds. Realizing the officials hadn't blown the ball dead, several Aces encouraged punt returner, senior Aden Gill, to snag the ball mid air off the bounce. Gill caught the ball -- still no whistle -- and dashed 65 yards for the score. Whether it actually went out of bounds or not is up for debate, but Gill and the Aces who quickly realized the situation deserve applause for playing through the whistle on a play that possibly changed the outcome of the ballgame.
In dire need of some momentum following the disastrous turn of events, the Wildcats (1-2) took the field and made another blunder -- fumbling the ball on the seventh play of their drive, a fumble which was recovered by Aces junior TJ Mobley.
The Aces made quick work in making Mount Vernon rues their blunder. Inheriting the ball on their own 15-yard-line, Mount Carmel Head Football Coach Michael Brewer dialed up a wildcat look with sophomore running back Zeke Hadra lined up behind center. Hadra received the shotgun snap, received a monstrous lead block by senior Cade Newkirk and was off to the races, blazing past the Wildcat secondary for an 85-yard touchdown and putting the Aces ahead 14-0 on the first offensive play of the game.
"We came out of the gate like we wanted to," Brewer spoke of his team's first two scores. "It's something we talked about in being ready to play, slow starts in the past have not helped us at all. A good heads up play by Aden, him just knowing what's going on in the game, we talk all of the time about how intelligent he is, just a good awareness play for him. Then just a great job by the line and those backs, Cade Newkirk creating a walk in for Zeke and a great run by Zeke. That's hopefully something we can expect regularly from him."
As the first quarter winded down, the Aces began another drive lined up at their own 30-yard-line, but were determined to find the endzone once again.
Junior quarterback Kaleb Applebey was back at quarterback, which had to be a relieving sight for Aces fans. Applebey wasn't forced to much throwing tonight, as the Aces run game was lethal between him and Hadra.
Applebey began the second quarter with a 43-yard run, setting the Aces up in the redzone, threatening to score again. They'd punch it in a couple plays later, with Hadra scoring his second of the ballgame, this time from 3 yards out. Mount Vernon deflected the ensuing point after attempt, putting the score at 20-0 early into the second quarter.
The creativity dialed up in the first half to this point by Brewer was quite impressive, between the wildcat look, rotating Gill into quarterback duties for a couple plays, and some tricky speedy option type pitches the Aces utilized.
"The wildcat look is just an old way to get Zeke downhill quick and that's what we were trying to do there," Brewer spoke of Mount Carmel's playcalling. "We were spreading out a little bit in the second quarter, trying to get some different looks, I think Kaleb got a big run from that. We're trying to do some different things to keep the offense clicking, whereas with Elijah and Luke you just feel like you can pound the ball on people. We just feel like we need to be a little more balanced and change it up a little bit to make sure we were efficient offensively."
On the ensuing drive Mount Vernon discovered their best recipe for success against the Aces defense, which had stifled the Wildcats' run game. Mount Vernon had likened a matchup their receivers had in the secondary and began to attack it with vertical and out routes on the outer half of the field frequently.
They discovered this matchup in the second quarter, when Mount Vernon quarterback Rhett Snodgrass connected with one of his receivers on a 65-yard bomb. Fortunately for Mount Carmel Gill somehow recovered ground and raced halfway across the field to make a touchdown saving tackle. They'd hold the Wildcats to a 33-yard field goal, putting the score at 20-3.
As the half neared Mount Vernon had a tremendous punt return set them up deep in Mount Carmel territory, and after a horsecollar tackle was called on the Aces, Mount Vernon would be beginning their drive at the Aces' 5-yard-line. With little distance to go Mount Vernon punched it in on the very next play from scrimmage, scoring from 5 yards out to draw closer, trailing now just 20-10.
Neither team mustered a score prior to the completion of the first half, but the Aces would receive the ball to begin the second half.
The second half began with a long punt return by senior Satchel Patberg, who returned the ball to their own 46-yard-line. Mount Carmel was now in Mount Vernon territory, but Hadra coughed up the ball, surrendering possession to the Wildcats and concluding what was a promising drive.
The Aces defense picked up their offense though, forcing the Wildcats to punt after just four plays.
Mount Carmel's offense wouldn't be on the field very long the next drive -- Hadra rushed twice for 10 yards in the first two plays, setting the ball at their own 44-yard-line before Hadra broke off another big run. Hadra took this one 56 yards to the house, scoring his third touchdown and voicing to his teammates, "That was for that fumble." Expressing his displeasure in himself for the mistake, though assuredly making up for it with such an explosive play.
Now trailing 27-10 with 7:40 remaining in the third quarter, Mount Vernon needed points in a hurry to remain competitive. The Wildcats used a pair of deep balls down the right side of the field to do just that, quickly responding on a two minute, 80 yard drive to make the score 27-17.
Fast forwarding to the fourth quarter, Mount Carmel inherited phenomenal field position at the end of the third quarter, following a Mount Vernon punting mishap. The ball was badly shanked, allowing the Aces to start at the Mount Vernon 24-yard-line.
It appeared as if the Aces were set to tack on another score, that is until a bad snap hampered the drive, causing the Aces to lose 7 yards on the play, setting a third and long. The Aces couldn't convert on third, but summoned junior kicker Rayce Loudermilk for a 40-yard field goal attempt, his first field goal attempt of the season. Loudermilk calmly nailed it down the middle, on a kick which would have likely been good from 45-50 yards, giving the Aces a 13-point advantage in the fourth.
Mount Vernon, now in desperate need of forcing the tempo and points, started to continuously attack with deep balls and attack the Aces secondary through the air. They did so successfully once again, but this time scored on a 43-yard screen pass to receiver Triston Clowers.
With just a 6-point gap separating the two foes now, Mount Carmel was in need of a slew of first downs to put the game away.
The Aces received a tough blow on what could have been the game-sealing drive, when Applebey exited and limped off the field. Applebey was holding his knee, obviously calling for a level of concern, but early indications are that the junior quarterback should be fine.
"He had the situation earlier in the year and he took a shot on that knee, got hit there," Brewer updated Applebey's status. "We'll kind of see. As of right now I don't think it's something major, but time will tell."
With Applebey now out of the game, Gill entered to resume quarterback duties in his stead. Needing a few more firsts to put the game out of reach, the Aces were plagued by a couple negative plays, a bad snap and a couple penalties that negated positive plays. They were forced to punt, giving Mount Vernon the ball with 1:40 left in the game, needing to drive 80 yards for the victory.
Unlike in some prior possessions in which the secondary had been targeted, the Aces defense rose to the occasion. They were swarming to the ball and forced the Wildcats to throw three incompletions in four plays to seal the ballgame.
"It was just a deal where we had guys who were gassed, but we had to find a way to close it out, finish a drive," Brewer spoke of his defense on the final drive. "Penalties weren't helping, but again, really proud of our defense and how they closed it out."
As Gill took one final knee from under center the Aces sideline erupted in celebration. This was a crucial game for Mount Carmel against a former Big Eight Conference foe. Not only was it vital for their postseason aspirations, but it was vital to the team's morale. Such a win could be a tremendous building block game going forward, after enduring Mount Vernon's best and hanging on for the victory.
Hadra finished the game as the Aces' leading rusher, totaling 234 yards on the ground and three touchdowns on 23 attempts. Applebey rushed for 86 yards to complement Hadra's attack. Just a sophomore, Hadra could be setting himself up for a special high school career.
"He's a special player," Brewer spoke of Hadra. "He's a kid that'll keep working and keep getting better, we hope he stays healthy and sticks with it. We've got to take care of the football, but yeah, Zeke's a fantastic running back, he's a fantastic kid, fun to coach, loves football, he's just a lot of fun to be around."
Impressively the Aces defense held Mount Vernon to just 44 rushing yards on 23 attempts, a certainly pleasant sight to Brewer. Snodgrass did post 323 passing yards and a touchdown for the Wildcats however.
"Terrific job by our defense," Brewer said. "First half they got left out there a lot, we had that ball we picked up and scored on and had another quick one, they were out there a long time. To hold that offense to what they did, it was a really, really good effort. That's a resilient group, that was a tough task that they were given. They did a nice job."
Next week the Aces will leave the friendly confines of the Snake Pit for the first time, making the 25-minute drive to face rival Princeton on Friday.
The Tigers enter the game with a 1-2 record, having defeated Washington (Ind.) 24-7 on Friday night to pick up their first victory of the season. Prior to the victory the Tigers were in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, dating back to last season.
"We'll do our best to make sure -- I was talking to the guys before I came up -- the goal has to be to get better. Regardless of the record and whatever happens with that, you have to get better every week so we can accomplish some things that we want to accomplish. Had this one went the other way, glad it didn't, but the focus has to be to get better next week."
Kickoff for Friday night in Princeton is slated for 7 p.m. Follow the Mount Carmel Register's Facebook page for updates of the game.
MV -- 0 10 7 7 -- 24
MC -- 14 6 7 3 -- 30
1Q: (MC) Gill 65-yard return (Loudermilk kick) 10:20 1Q.
(MC) Hadra 84-yard run (Loudermilk kick) 6:44 1Q.
2Q: (MC) Hadra 3-yard run (PAT blocked) 10:42 2Q.
(MV) Angel 32-yard field goal 9:16 2Q.
(MV) Hook 5-yard run (Angel kick) 4:44 2Q
3Q: (MC) Hadra 56-yard run (Loudermilk kick) 7:40 3Q.
(MV) Quinzer 5-yard run (Angel kick) 5:34 3Q.
4Q: (MC) Loudermilk 40-yard field goal 11:16 4Q.
(MV) Snodgrass 43-yard pass to Clowers (Angel kick) 5:04 4Q.