MARION — After two close matchups over the past two seasons between Mount Vernon and Marion Harding, Friday’s matchup is the tie-breaker between the two programs.
Two seasons ago, the Jackets got the better of the Presidents, winning in a 22-20 decision that came down to the wire. Harding got its revenge in 2017, besting Mount Vernon with some late-game magic en route to a 14-10 win.
“We had a great game with them two years ago that we won and a game with them last year in which they won in the last second,” Mount Vernon coach Mike Kerr said. “We are definitely attacking this as this is our turn to win. We’ve got to take this third game and we are hoping it doesn’t come down to the last minute.”
“A lot of guys that are going to be playing Friday night played in both those games,” Kerr said. “They kind of understand who Marion Harding is and what it takes to beat them. A few plays here and there and we win that game last year, so they definitely understand the importance of every play this year.”
Although the Jackets are familiar with Harding, they are somewhat unfamiliar with the program’s new head coach in Jerrod Slater, who served as an assistant and defensive coordinator for the Presidents for the past four years.
Despite the head coaching change, the Presidents will rely on familiar playmakers, with Noah Thompson at quarterback and Kwauve Booker taking a bulk of the carries. Kerr sees Harding’s rushing attack as the thing to stop Friday.
“Our first key is to stop the run. They’ve got a really solid power running game,” Kerr said. “They really want to run the football right down your throat. I think the idea going in is if we stop the run, we give ourselves a chance.”
Mason Durfee, Austin Kerr, Gabe Harmon and Easton Groom are slated to make key contributions in the trenches as the defensive line, with senior captain Harry Ogle and junior Will Small also expected to plug up some of the holes as the middle linebackers.
In line with his theme for the fall, Kerr expects to get the ball around on offense, getting several players involved in both the ground and aerial attacks.
“On offense, the key is spreading the ball out and getting a lot of players involved and attacking in different manners so they can’t get comfortable with just one guy they have to stop,” Kerr said.
With both the 2016 and 2017 matchups between the two programs coming down to the final seconds, a big emphasis has been placed on finishing out a full 48 minutes to seal the win.
“We’re really focused on that fourth quarter and winning that fourth quarter,” Kerr said. “The last two games we have played with them have come down to the fourth quarter, so we are really focused on putting together a full 48 minutes. We understand that we just can’t play three quarters.”
With a Week 1 matchup against an opponent that has been tough over the past two seasons, Kerr said this week’s game can be a good barometer for the team heading forward.
“I think that Harding is a very talented team and a well-coached team,” Kerr said. “It dictates the season of where we are and where they are. It lets us know what’s in store. It’s a crucial game for both teams. If we come out of this with a victory, it will give us a lot of confidence.”
When it comes to Week 1 of a new football season, Kerr said that new assignments and tasks for his players, compared to last year, does affect the game, but that the contest will come down to execution. With the start of a new season, the Jackets hope to put out a good product.
“There’s nothing like a first game on Friday night,” Kerr said. “There is that anticipation and excitement level that ramps up just a little bit more on game week. … The kids have responded to it and are working harder than ever. I’m excited to see what happens on Friday night.”