MOUNT VERNON — After starting the season 4-0, the Mount Vernon Yellow Jackets (4-3, 0-2 OCC) have dropped three straight. That even has the winless Mansfield Comprehensive Rams licking their chops, although two of the Jackets’ three losses have come at the hands of a pair of the Ohio Cardinal Conference’s better teams, Ashland and Wooster.
Now in the second year of a rebuild under coach Dave Stupka, the 0-7 Rams come into Mount Vernon’s Yellow Jacket Stadium for Friday’s OCC matchup with something to prove.
“I think (Madison is) much improved,” Mount Vernon coach Mike Kerr said. “They’re doing all the right stuff and they are headed in the right direction. I think our kids have a healthy respect for them. Our kids are looking to get back on the winning track, so it should be a fun Friday night, for sure.”
The Jackets have done better than the Rams against common opponents — Wooster, Ashland and Marion Harding. The Jackets lost a close one to Wooster, 35-28, last Friday. Running back Wyatt Gregory, led Mount Vernon with 182 yards on 32 carries. The Jackets outgained Wooster in total yardage, 381-327. Mount Vernon quarterback Trey Davidson was 12-for-26 for 151 yards passing. Gavin Moyer caught six of those passes for 105 yards, for the Jackets.
On defense, the Jackets got a critical stop against Wooster early in the fourth quarter. Then, they got the ball back and tied the game. The Jackets could not stop Wooster late in the game, however, when Wooster scored the go-ahead touchdown with a little over five minutes remaining in the game. The Mount Vernon comeback fell short.
“The big thing is that we are so close,” Kerr said. “In all three of those games, we have been extremely close. It was just a matter of a couple of plays here and there and we are in the win column. It’s really just a matter of focusing on those little details. It’s important that our kids understand How critical those small things are. It’s just understanding when to step down and whatever gap they have. It’s just those little things that end up making a big difference in games. We have to make sure that the kids understand the importance of those things.”
Wooster beat the Rams soundly in season’s third week, 54-21. Marion Harding knocked off the Rams, 42-13, last Friday. The Jackets defeated Marion Harding, 15-14, in the season’s opening week with some late-game heroics, but Kerr knows that he needs his players to make winning plays, throughout the game. Both the Jackets and the Rams lost to Ashland, although the Rams lost by a wider margin.
“Yeah, and I think it’s maintaining optimal focus for those four quarters,” Kerr said. “I think our kids make a great effort. I don’t think effort is the issue, but I do think that attention to that focus and making sure that every play is important, whether it is in the second quarter, the third quarter or late in the game. It’s about finishing those plays and understanding that every one of those can be the difference. That’s really where the difference is. The kids always give great effort and it’s just that kind of understanding and that is the sign of a winning program. It’s that every snap can be the difference, whether it’s the first snap or the last snap. We have to play with the same intensity and focus.”
Madison’s offensive strength will be the running game, led by Jamaal Coleman. Teammate Luke Hess is utilized in short-yardage situations, while senior Dom Snavely is used in passing situations. Rams’ junior guards Zach Phelps and Gavin Conn will lead the line that will try to clear a path for them. Quarterback Kaden Mullins throws sparingly, but has three capable receivers — Corbin Crowe, Hunter Shasky and Lance Heinbarger.
“I think that they are running the ball pretty effectively at times,” Kerr said. “They are in a lineup to try to run it right at us. We haven’t seen a team that has done that in a while. I think that’s going to be a unique challenge for us. So many teams want to spread it out now. They want to get you with different formations. Madison wants to line it up in an old school ‘I’ formation and run it right at you. I think that will be the big key — making sure that we can line up and meet their physicality right at the point of attack and stop them there.”
The Jackets’ only concern, physically, is the ankle of middle linebacker Will Small, but Kerr believes that his defense will be able to stop the Rams running attack with the people they have.
“I don’t think we’ll change up much,” Kerr said. “I think that there are some options for some different personnel packages if need be, but we will change a little bit scheme-wise just as far as we haven’t seen a team that plays a tight end in a while and they play two tight ends. It’s going to be making sure that we can recognize those formations and shift our scheme a little bit and understand what’s going on. We have some different personnel packages that we can use if need be, but we should be OK in our base personnel, most of the time.”
Offensively, don’t look for anything different from the Jackets.
“We’re going to stay with what we do,” Kerr said. “They are a four-man front and they play a lot of man coverage, but we’ve done a great job this year, really establishing our running game. That’s what we’re going to do, right off the bat, is establish the running game and get it going. Then, that just opens everything up for us. If we can do that, then that gives us some other options. Those other options are starting to pay big dividends for us. Hopefully, we can establish the run.”