MOUNT CARMEL — A casual fan would look at the final score of Southern Columbia’s 41-7 win over Mount Carmel last week and think the Red Tornadoes were totally overmatched.
But if you were at the game, you knew that, for the second straight season, Mount Carmel got a bangup job from its defensive line, which limited the Tigers to 130 net yards rushing on 36 attempts, a 3.6-yard average. If you don’t think that’s impressive, consider this — Southern averaged just under 300 yards per game and 8.2 yards per rushing attempt last year.
“That’s one of the best defenses we’ll see all season, even in the playoffs,” Southern head coach Jim Roth said. True, the Tigers have a lot more weapons than just the running game, and quarterback Stone Hollenbach and wide receiver Julian Fleming eventually burned the Red Tornadoes, but it’s doubtful many other teams on Mount Carmel’s schedule will be as potent.
Mount Carmel will find out tonight when it faces another big hurdle, Lewisburg (2-0) at Christy Mathewson Stadium at Bucknell University, yet another challenge on a daunting overall schedule.
In 2017’s regular season, Mount Carmel held Southern to 160 yards on the ground, although the Tigers came back for a 384-yard effort in the District Four AA championship game in November.
When it’s at it’s best, Mount Carmel’s defensive line uses its speed to take away lateral movement of good backs. It held Southern’s Gaige Garcia to 57 yards on 14 carries, and much of what he got was because of his pure strength.
Mount Carmel head coach John Darrah said the Tornadoes’ success against the run is a combination of doing what they do and planning for a specific team.
“We run a 4-3 defense. That’s what we do and I think it’s important for the program to run a defense year in, year out,” Darrah said. “For any opponent, you want to take away their strength as much as possible.”
The guys up front for the Red Tornadoes this season are ends Michael Hood, Logan Wills and Damon Dowkus, and interior linemen Bill Anderson and Colin Herb. Hood, a senior, Wills, a junior, and Dowkus, a sophomore, all use their athletic ability to take away outside lanes, while Anderson (6-2, 275 senior) and Herb (6-0, 260 senior) plug up the middle.
“These guys are veterans,” Darrah said. “They’re all two, three or in some cases, even four-year starters. They’ve been doing the same thing the past few years and they’re very good at recognizing what their weaknesses are and working hard to improve.”
Hood had 36 tackles, including two sacks and eight tackles for loss in 2017 and is way ahead of that pace, with 14 tackles, including four for loss, after two games. Anderson had 46 tackles, including nine for loss, last season. Wills had 52 tackles, including 22 for loss and 5.5 sacks, in 2017, and has 14 tackles including three for loss so far this season. Herb has six tackles including three for loss so far.
“Me, and Logan and Hoodie spent a lot of time in the weight room last winter, and Colin was there a lot too even though he’s on the wrestling team,” said Anderson. “We’re a veteran group.”
“We put a lot of work in in the offseason,” said Wills.
Herb said he thinks his job as a defensive lineman is to “make the game easier for everyone else. We’re the unsung heroes. If a team gets beat by 50 points, you can usually look up front and see they got physically beat. And if we can physically beat the other guys, it gives the rest of our athletes time to do what they do.”
As the youngest player on the unit, Dowkus appreciates the help his teammates have given him.
“These guys all had my back last year (as a freshman),” he said. “They helped me get through double sessions and get to where I needed to be. I learned a lot from Manus, too. (graduated fullback-linebacker Manus McCracken). He taught me a lot of techniques to use if a guy is bigger than me, which happens a lot.”
Tonight against Lewisburg, they’ll face a back very similar to Garcia in sophomore Max Moyers, who has carried the ball 28 times for 388 yards and six touchdowns so far.
“They’re both physically strong backs,” said Hood. “Both teams have solid lines and both of those guys run very low. They’re also both good receivers out of the backfield.”
Add in their former classmate, Dylan Farronato (11 catches, 239 yards) at wide receiver and the challenges are similar. It’s yet another test in a rugged early schedule.
“Anytime you come off a loss by the score we did there’s the possibility of a hangover,” Darrah said. “But it’s good to have a big game the next week. Plus we can build on last week. It gave us a good idea of areas where we need to improve.”