MOUNT CARMEL — Once things settled down after a pretty eventful first quarter, Mount Carmel was able to assert full control over Hughesville on Saturday.
The Red Tornadoes overcame several early self-inflicted wounds before breaking things open in the second quarter. Points and yards continue to come easy for an offense that is on pace to set school records in both categories.
Thanks to a 48-13 victory in the District 4 Class 2A semifinals, Mount Carmel earned a much-anticipated rematch with Southern Columbia on Friday night. The Red Tornadoes (12-0) defeated the Tigers, 35-21, back in Week 8.
“We just had some things not go our way (early),” Mount Carmel coach John Darrah said. “A couple of snaps were bad, a couple of penalties, things like that. Definitely not pleased with that, but especially on that first drive, it was good that we were able to overcome it.
“We were in a couple of third-and-longs, and we could still convert. You never want to be in those situations, but we did make the best out of it and played pretty well overall. There are some things we have to clean up, but I thought we did a good job overall.”
On their opening possession, the Red Tornadoes overcame a 3rd-and-31 to score. Cole Spears hit Garrett Varano to convert a 4th-and-12, and two plays later, Xavier Diaz found the end zone from 13 yards out to cap off a nine-play drive. It was just the start of a big day for Diaz, who showed his home-run hitting potential throughout the first half.
After Angelo Ferrigno briefly tied the game on a 25-yard pick-six, Mount Carmel fumbled the ensuing kickoff. Hughesville (5-7) turned the ball over on the very next play when Chase Balichik recovered a fumble, and that marked the beginning of the end for the Spartans.
Two plays later, Diaz turned on the jets down the right sideline for a 69-yard touchdown run. Luke Blessing followed that up with a 5-yard run on the opening play of the second quarter to make the score 21-7 before Diaz would strike again. This time, the junior outran the defense for a 60-yard touchdown that closed out his workload for the day in style. Diaz was certainly efficient on his seven carries, as he rushed for 162 yards and three scores.
“Just a really explosive kid,” Darrah said of Diaz. “He really gets into that second and third level cleanly and he’s just hard to bring down. There’s not many guys that are catching him. I thought he had a great game today. Obviously, he didn’t have a ton of opportunities, but he made the most of the opportunities he did get.”
As the first half continued, Mount Carmel encountered very little resistance defensively. Michael Farronato raced untouched to the end zone on a 63-yard run, and Blessing pushed the lead to 41-7 when he scored his second touchdown on a 14-yard run with just over three minutes left before halftime. The Red Tornadoes scored three times in a span of less than two minutes, as their offensive line opened gaping holes for their stable of ball carriers.
“Those are guys we lean on, those are guys we count on,” Darrah said. “I thought they did their job today. Whoever was fortunate enough to get the carries made the most of it.”
Due to an unforeseen injury, Hughesville was forced to move its starting quarterback, Luke Kaiser, to center. Junior Tyler Wetzel started at quarterback, and he was under consistent pressure for much of the first half before Kaiser switched uniform numbers and took over for him after halftime.
Mount Carmel held Hughesville to just 99 total yards for the game, including just 33 rushing yards on 27 carries. Varano had two interceptions, as the Red Tornadoes forced four turnovers on the afternoon. Things weren’t much different from the first meeting between the two teams on Oct. 7, which was a 46-20 Mount Carmel win.
“I thought our defense played really well overall the whole game,” Darrah said. “I thought even our young guys went in there, and they kept their older guys in and we battled pretty hard. Unfortunately, we gave up a score there at the end, but it was a big improvement from last time when we were in a similar situation like that.”
As the caliber of opponent increases for Mount Carmel, penalties could become a factor. The Red Tornadoes were flagged nine times for 120 yards on Saturday, which included a couple of roughing the passer infractions. Last week, Mount Carmel was guilty of ten penalties in the game against North Penn-Mansfield.
“That’s something we have to fix up,” Darrah said. “We know better. We have to eliminate that kind of stuff.”