By Steve Joos
Friday’s football game between Mount Vernon and the visiting Mount Carmel Aces was all offense in the first half and all defense in the second half.
And plenty of trouble for the home team.
The Wildcats fell behind 20-0 early in the game, missed two opportunities at the Mount Carmel goal line and had to use four signal callers over the course of the game.
That all adds up to a 38-19 defeat at the hands of the Illinoisans in the Big Eight conference opener for both schools and the Wildcats’ home opener.
“We dug ourselves a hole,” Coach Paul Maier said. “We didn’t play real well. We knew exactly what they were going to do; we practiced against it all week. They executed better offensively than we did defensively.”
The Aces are trying some new wrinkles offensively this season, moving from the option (which has been a trademark of the Mount Carmel offense for the past 20 years) to a spread defense utilizing the running game.
Maier said they looked OK in the season opener at Harrisburg and looked much better against the Wildcats.
That didn’t bother the Cats as much as Mount Carmel’s execution of that offense, the coach said.
“They did a very nice job offensively of running the ball,” Maier said. “They ran the ball way better this week than they did (in a season’s-opening loss at Harrisburg) and that hurt us.”
Most of all, it hurt the Cats early—and often.
Starting on their own 36-yard line with just over eight minutes to play in the opening chapter, Mount Carmel moved downfield in less than two minutes, with Sam Wampler breaking away from 34 yards out for the first touchdown of the night. Quarterback Reece Metcalf connected with Caleb Kline for the Aces’ only successful two-point conversion try of the night and put them up 8-0 with 6:12 left in the first quarter.
That was plenty of time for them to put more points on the board.
After the Cats went three and out on their next possession, Mount Carmel’s Thomas Allen returned a punt 42 yards to the Wildcat 30-yard line. Five plays later, Wampler struck again, this time from nine yards out, making the score 14-0 with 3:29 left on the clock.
After again shutting down Mount Vernon and getting the ball back at the 50-yard line, what else did Mount Carmel have time for?
Why, another score, of course.
This time, Metcalf found Kline teamed up again for a 45-yard pass play, stretching the lead to 20-0 with a second left on the clock.
Austin Guthrie put Mount Vernon on the scoreboard by taking the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, but the Cats closed out the opening frame facing a 20-6 deficit.
Metcalf needed a mere 21 seconds to answer Guthrie’s return, getting through the defense and churning 75 yards for a touchdown to open the second quarter. The junior signal-caller was a big reason for Mount Carmel’s success Friday, completing 14 of 23 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a team-high 89 yards and another score. Austin Thompson was Metcalf’s favorite target, hauling in seven passes for 150 yards and one of those scores, as the Aces racked up 497 yards worth of real estate in the evening, including 388 in the first half.
While Metcalf was giving the Wildcat defense fits, Mount Vernon was, well, trying to find a healthy quarterback.
Ethan VanZant started the game in place of Riley Snodgrass, who was injured in the team’s last series against North Posey. He went down in the third quarter and was replaced by River VanZant, who was hurt as the Cats were driving deep into Mount Carmel territory in the third chapter.
Receiver J.T. Silver (the team’s emergency signal-caller) got in a few snaps before being shaken up. Freshman Kaleb Grabert finished the night under center for Mount Vernon, whose quarterback corps went a combined six of 14 through the air for 73 yards.
“It’s like we’re snake-bitten at that position this year,” Maier said. “I think we’ve played five quarterbacks now in a varsity game. We’ve got to get a little consistency there. We finished the night with a freshman at quarterback. He’s not ready yet. I don’t want to throw (Grabert) into the fire, so somebody’s got to play quarterback this week.”
Ethan VanZant was able to help the Cats make things a bit more respectable in the second quarter, scoring from five yards out to pull the Cats to within two touchdowns at 26-12 with 6:58 left in the second chapter, but then Metcalf matched that with a 77-yard strike to Thompson, which opened a 32-12 gap.
Guthrie (something of a bright spot for Mount Vernon with 97 rushing yards) scored what proved to be Mount Vernon’s last points of the night on a seven-yard run with 2:14 left in the second period. Michael Cannato’s extra point made the halftime score 32-19, but Mount Vernon got no closer as the defensive units took over after halftime.
Not that Mount Vernon didn’t have other chances to score.
The Cats were unable to take advantage of a first-quarter Mount Carmel fumble deep in Aces’ territory.
In the third quarter, the Wildcats were knocking at the door as the third quarter expired, but an interception in the end zone thwarted that drive.
“You’ve got to take advantage of (red zone opportunities),” Maier said. “We had two turnovers and didn’t get any points off of those turnovers. That will kill you every time.”
The Aces tried to bring the ball out instead of downing it for a touchback and were forced to start their drive on the one-yard line—as if that seemed to matter.
Six plays later, Metcalf hooked up with Eli Lewis, who took the ball 69 yards for Mount Carmel’s last score of the night.
Despite the rough start, Maier felt that his team competed well and played better after a rough first quarter, never giving up despite the deficit. That will be especially important against an improved Vincennes team (2-1 after a loss to Terre Haute North Friday).
And what will the Wildcats’ quarterback situation be at Vincennes?
“You might have to ask me Friday before the game,” Maier said, adding that somebody will have to go under center against the Alices.
There were two presentations prior to Friday’s home opener. Jace Redman was presented with a check from Kevin Schickel of Expressway Ford in Mount Vernon for the dealership’s matching donation to the recent “Miles for MV” fundraiser for the school’s athletic department, while senior girls’ soccer player Kate Cox was recognized for scoring her 100th career goal.